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What ‘Really’ Happened: Roswell, New Mexico

Tuesday, 29 April, 2014

It’s 1947: WWII is over, relations between the US and the USSR are Michael Cera awkward, and the US Army has sent fruitflies into space. The problem is, in late June, something comes back. The small town of Roswell, New Mexico is rocked by rumours of a crashed flying saucer being discovered in the nearby desert, following a mysterious night sky lightshow that could only be described as ‘shitter than Soundwave’. Something hit the ground hard and then almost immediately the military closed the area off. Makes sense, I guess. Except for the fact that what they claimed hit the desert was a weather balloon (basically a glorified kite), worth nowhere near that kind of effort or coverup.

As soon as reports of the unidentified, no-longer-flying object hit the newspapers, a wave of UFO hysteria swept the United States. This was a lot better than the last thing to sweep the United States, which at that point was Spanish Influenza. The thing is, the FBI completely messed up dealing with the Roswell Incident. Whatever did crash land into the sandy, barren wastes of New Mexico, the FBI could not have made it seem more suspicious if they tried. For one, nobody would ever believe that someone would have a “weather balloon” in the middle of New Mexico. Deserts have one kind of weather: being a fucking desert. Besides that, there were eyewitness accounts from people who made it to the site first, detailing gross smelling, tiny, and dead humanoid figures. If meteorological research involves shaving apes, dyeing them green and then tying them to balloons, I am definitely in the wrong field.

Notably, a lot of FBI documentation on UFO activity, sightings, and theories was declassified in 2011, and is readily available on their website. Here’s where it gets interesting. For an organisation that flat-out denied alien involvement at Roswell during the UFO mania of the late ‘40s and ‘50s, the FBI have a lot of documentation about it. I mean, the sheer volume of material they produced on the subject outweighs even my own research in the field. Of course, the FBI files aren’t tear stained haikus depicting the daily habits of my ex-girlfriend, nor are they bound with locks of my own hair, but the point remains that there’s still a lot of them. They were pretty serious about tracking UFO sightings.

Which, of course, makes sense in context: Roswell is not the first UFO event that the US government dealt with. WWII was a hotspot for UFO activity, from the foo-fighters encountered by the allied airmen throughout the war to the 1946 plague of “ghost rockets” in Sweden. While these pants-shittingly weird incidents are hard to explain, there is one event that really, really makes no fucking sense.

On 24 February 1942, 1400 anti aircraft shells were expended in the middle of Los Angeles, fired at an unidentified light in the sky, seen by thousands. The bombardment kept up all night, and by morning there was no sign of the source of the lights, which stood hovering above the city. Considering this brazen, inexplicable and frankly bizarre event, it might be a little tiny bit plausible to say that the US government had some kind of inkling that there might be forces at play we don’t totally understand. Even if they did turn out to be nothing, they were a potential threat, with an even greater potential to spread panic and hysteria.

But what if that threat turned out to be more insidious, deadly, and subversive than even the cold reaches of space could conjure forth? What if it turned out to be the Soviets? In a 2011 investigation into the Roswell incident, Annie Jacobsen wrote possibly my favourite theory on what happened at Roswell. Soviet spies, genetically engineered to be about the size of twelve year olds and to have large, creepy eyes and generally grotesque appearances, were to land a modified stealth aircraft in US cities, and spread terror through faking an alien invasion. They just happened to crash before they could do it. It’s sound logic, but fails to take into account one important detail: that experiment succeeded, and Danny Devito is a great actor.

Seriously, I really like Danny Devito. Twins is hilarious.