Five Books That Go Behind the Legends of Area 51

Slate's Culture Blog
May 24 2011 9:54 AM

Five Books That Go Behind the Legends of Area 51

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The following is a guest post fromAnnie Jacobsen, author of   Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top SecretMilitary Base.

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Conspiracytheories have long dominated the discussion about Area 51, the mysteriousmilitary base in Nevada whose existence the U.S. government has neveracknowledged. The three most popular legends involve the reverse engineering ofcaptured aliens and UFOs; the notion that the lunar landing was faked andfilmed there; and an alleged underground tunnel-and-bunker system that connectsthe base to military facilities and nuclear laboratories around the country.Each of these wild theories contains elements of fact and offers importantclues about the real truth of Area 51, which I explore in my new book . Here are five more books that gobehind the myths of America's most cryptic location.

Yes, indeed,the CIA does monitor UFO reports, but not because it's looking for otherworldlyvehicles it's actually tracking sightings of its own hush-hush aircraft. In the1950s, over half of all UFO sightings on the West Coast could be attributed tothe CIA's U-2 spy plane, which was then secretly flying out of Area 51. Comethe 1960s, the same went for the CIA's even higher flying spy plane the A-12Oxcart an odd-shaped craft that flew three times the speed of sound. In Radar Man , Lockheed physicist EdwardLovick, Jr., now 92, recounts his life as the man whose team invented stealthtechnology for the CIA and helped oversee testing of these radical, flyingobjects. He's also the man who inspired my own book, by offering me access tonewly-declassified documents about Area 51 at a dinner party four years ago.

TheRight Stuff , by TomWolfe

In this bestsellingbook, first published in 1979, Tom Wolfe gave American astronauts rock-starstatus. But the Apollo astronauts had barely touched down on the moon when theconspiracies started to swirl, casting their heroic deeds into doubt. Overtime, Area 51 would get drawn into the lore, with conspiracists claiming that thelunar landing was faked and filmed there. In fact, as I describe in my book, theApollo astronauts did visit Area 51's nearestneighbor, the nuclear testing ground known as theNevada Test Site .Why? Practice makes perfect. The geology of the atomic craters there resemblesthe lunar landscape, and the astronauts needed to practice what it would belike to walk on the moon.

Conspiracytheorists claim that Area 51 is where government scientists reverse engineeralien spacecraft. In fact, reverse engineering didtake place there, but not on vehicles from outer space. In S cream of Eagles , journalist Robert Wilcox explainshow the Navy's Top Gun program was created at the Miramar Station inCalifornia. As I reveal in my book, the original Top Gun program was born atthe secret base in Nevada. In 1966, an Iraqi Air Force Colonel named MunirRedfa made international headlines when he defected to Israel in a Soviet MiG.What didn't make the news was that the MiG was then shipped to Area 51 to beanalyzed and put back together again. After the technical phase ended, thetactical phase began, and fighter pilots started flying the MiG in mock air-to-aircombat missions in the skies over Area 51. The rest is history, and the stuff of movies .

TheWar of the Worlds , by H.G. Wells

The War ofthe Worlds' 1938radio broadcast caused Americans to panic, thinking that Martians had landed inNew Jersey. The U.S. government became alarmed by how easily citizens mistookscience fiction for fact. Conspiracy theorists have long said that Area 51 ishome to captured alien spacecraft, but the infamous "flying saucer" thatcrashed at Roswell in 1947 was Russian, not Martian sent by Stalin as a War of the Worlds -type hoax. As I describe in my book, Stalin had recruitedthe Nazi physician JosefMengele tocreate a crew of grotesquely deformed, child-sized aviators, which he then loadedonto a disc-shaped aircraft and sent to America, in the hopes of stirring uphysteria. But the aircraft crashed and was then taken to Area 51, where itlaunched a million tales about little green men. [ Read more about that here .] By the 1950s, CIA DirectorGeneral Walter Bedell Smith became so concerned about the public'ssusceptibility to "hysterical mass behavior" regarding UFOs that he convened aPsychological Strategy Board to try and debunk the stories. But the publicwouldn't have it, and to this day Americans love theorizing about UFOs.

To researchand write A NuclearFamily Vacation ,journalists Hodge and Weinberger traveled to the most nuclear-bombed out placeson the globe as "Armageddon tourists." This included a visit to Area 51's neighbor,the Nevada Test Site, where, starting in the 1950s, America set off more than100 atmospheric nuclear bombs. Some conspiracy theorists claim that Area 51 is thecentral hub of an ornate system of underground tunnels connecting top-secretmilitary bases around the country. In fact, in addition to its atomic bombcraters, the Nevada Test Site is also home to a complicated network of tunnelsand chambers, which have been used for underground nuclear weapons tests formore than 50 years. One tunnel in Rainer Mesa, located in the test site's Area12, reaches down as far as 4,500 feet. 

Photographof warning sign on Area 51 border courtesy of Dan Callister/Getty Images.

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Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor, and is also the vice president for content at Figment.