The Day After Roswell
by Philip J. Corso
384 pages, Gallery Books, $11
The UFO phenomenon baffles just about everyone. We have lots of blurry photos and obviously insane people who think UFOs exist, but so do some of the best minds on planet Earth. It seems like by moving this field into the zone of conspiracy thinking, it was forever doomed to confusion.
Some think this is necessary. If humans were to realize that we are not only no longer the apex predators in our world, but in fact surviving only because aliens have not yet seen reason to eliminate us, panic might set in, like it did with the “War of the Worlds” broadcast by Orson Welles back in 1938 which is extensively cited in this book.
As Corso takes pains to remind us, that broadcast provoked panic, which explains why all the secrecy around UFOs was viewed as necessary by the powers that be, an assertion he repeats frequently in this somewhat circular compilation of UFO lore presented as fact.
The writing is not bad, although clearly more than one author contributed, and varies a great deal, with most of it focusing on the bureaucratic workings of the US government and the human histories of technologies it attributes to aliens. This begs us to ask: is this tabloid fodder, propaganda, misdirection, or all three?
In the 1980s, both President Reagan and Chairman Gorbachev recognized the need for cooperation against a common enemy. While neither officially owned up to the threat of EBEs and alien hostilities, both acknowledged that if the United States and the Soviet Union could lay aside their differences and participate in a shared policy to defend the space around the earth, then both superpowers would benefit. (120)
In Corso-lore, an alien craft crashed in Roswell, NM back in 1947 and the Pentagon Foreign Technology Division ended up possessing artifacts from it that were later used to jump-start human inventions of microchips, lasers, kevlar, fiber optics, night vision, particle beams, irradiated food, and depleted uranium munitions.
As if subverting its own point, the book frequently tracks human technologies before the crash, showing how close the Germans and their Operation Paper Clip scientists as well as ordinary American inventors were to these technologies without having seen the artifacts.
In this way, the book backtracks on its own thesis: our inventions, which we were on the verge of making anyway, apparently came from the bits of twisted metal and plastic found at the crash site. However, all the other cool stuff the craft could do we never figured out or at least, he cannot tell us that we did.
As Corso tells it, humanity has been at war with Extraterrestrial Biological Entities (EBEs) since the 1940s and the Cold War was mostly a smokescreen for this process. This leads us to wonder what his intention was in writing what looks like a compilation of folklore about aliens and UFOs up to the point when it was published in the 1990s.
We hear the familiar stories about the grey, big-headed, doe-eyed aliens who wear skintight suits and communicate telepathically, and all about how government hid the information away lest the public panic or the Soviets develop a new technology. It is like The X Files made into an official-sounding document, four years after that show aired.
Indeed, Corso writes so much about the workings of the military and the Washington bureaucracy that one wonders who he is trying to convince. Most of the book concerns the human history of these inventions attributed to the alien crash and the political machinations behind the scenes.
The KGB and the CIA weren’t really the adversaries everybody thought them to be. They spied on each other, but for all practical purposes, and also because each agency had thoroughly penetrated the other, they behaved just like the same organization. They were all professional spies in a single extended agency playing the same intelligence game and trafficking in information. Information is power to be used. You don’t simply give it away to your government’s political leadership, whether it’s the Republicans, the Tories, or the Communists, just because they tell you to. You can’t trust the politicians, but you can trust other spies. At least that’s what spies believe, so their primary loyalty is to their own group and the other groups playing the same game. The CIA, KGB, British Secret Service, and a whole host of other foreign intelligence agencies were loyal to themselves and to the profession first and to their respective governments last.
That’s one of the reasons we in the military knew that the professional KGB leadership, not the Communist Party officers who were only inside for political reasons, were keeping as much information from the Soviet government as the CIA was keeping from our government. Professional spy organizations like the CIA and the KGB tend to exist only to preserve themselves, and that’s why neither the U.S. military nor the Russian military trusted them. If you look at how the great spy wars of the Cold War played out you’ll see how the KGB and CIA acted like one organization: lots of professional courtesy, lots of shared information to make sure nobody got fired, and a few human sacrifices now and then just to keep everybody honest. But when it came down to loyalty, the CIA was loyal to the KGB and vice versa. (41)
As we go deeper into the book, the entire thing feels like a misdirection. The enemy is not the Communists or the government, but those who speak out against those things instead of getting patriotic for the war against the aliens which is being covertly waged out of sight by the military.
In my view, the entire book can be summed up as this old human rationalization: “we are actually in control.” Instead of having us not know the truth about UFOs, Corso gives us some truth and from it spins a narrative where instead of being befuddled, humans know all about the aliens and in fact are winning against them.
The real story seems to be that we are helpless. Any aliens arriving here have technology so far beyond our ken that we will be helpless against it. Even more, we do not know if they exist at all, per the Fermi Paradox:
If, as the argument goes, there were intelligent beings elsewhere in our Galaxy, then they would have eventually achieved space travel, and would have explored and colonized the Galaxy, as we explored and colonized the Earth. However, they are not here; therefore, they do not exist.
Platonists will point out naturally that most likely these alien civilizations collapsed before they could explore far, since every civilization of intelligent beings seems to self-destruct with peer pressure and the resulting mob- or dictator-driven self-consumptive societies caused by a lack of internal order. Natural selection endures.
This leaves us with a giant mystery in the form of the question of whether or not humans are actually apex predators. This unsettles us. If we are top dogs, we should be exploring the stars; if we are not, we exist at the whim of such species and should anticipate that they may manipulate us and possibly destroy us if we get in the way.
In other words, if we are not apex predators, we are likely to stay at our current level because, much as is the case here on Earth, the aliens might want a monopoly on interstellar travel before our self-destructive species takes to space. This is why the nuclear bombs used in WW2 kicked off much of the serious speculation about UFOs.
This was where the Cold War turned out to be a tremendous opportunity for us, because it allowed us to upgrade our military, preparedness in public to fight the Communists while secretly creating an arsenal and strategy to defend ourselves against the extraterrestrials.
The real story behind the vast missile arsenals, the huge fleets of bombers, and the ICBM submarine platforms that both sides deployed was the threat to the aliens that if they occupied a portion of our planet, we had the fire power to obliterate them. (58)
With the advent of nuclear weapons, humans could destroy themselves, which means that they must get their act together and keep their civilizations, organizations, and social groups from self-destructing on waves of ego, self-interest, and desire for anarchy paid for by someone else.
Corso tells us a comforting fairy tale instead: we have met aliens, they are just as crazy as we are, and our government despite being as inept and insane as the rest of human organizations has managed to defeat them, so humans are in control, still apex predators, and you the voter can go back to sleep while reading this weird story.
In retrospect I can see how all this smacks of the thinking of Senator Joe McCarthy, but I was at the White House during the army McCarthy hearings and I can tell you straight out that Joe McCarthy – unwittingly – was the best friend the Communists ever had in government. Single handedly, Senator McCarthy helped give respectability to a bunch of people who would never have had it otherwise. He turned behaving in contempt of Congress into a heroic act by his very tactics, and the Communists in government were laughing at the free rein he gave them. All they had to do was provide him with a human sacrifice every now and then, someone completely unimportant or actually innocent of any wrong doing, and McCarthy pilloried them on television. But when he turned against the US. Army, he crossed into my territory and we had to shut him down. (91)
He also writes a fantastic ode to mental sloth by praising government indirectly. Despite being riddled with Communists and bureaucracy, somehow it managed to make peace with the Soviets for the task of defeating aliens, and so all of that other stuff does not matter; the two governments are working together and that is good.
Obviously all of this is nuttier than a raped fruitcake. Like all good fiction and propaganda, The Day After Roswell recites to us some things that we recognize as likely to be fact from our existing world. By reciting the known, he extends his claim on the unknown.
Deep inside our intelligence services and even within the President’s own cabinet were cadres of career government officers working — some knowingly, some not — for the Soviet Union by carrying out policies devised inside the KGB. Some of the position papers that came out of these offices made no sense otherwise. We also knew the CIA had been penetrated by KGB moles, just as we knew that some of our own policy makers were advocating ideas that would only weaken the United States and lead us down the paths that served the best interests of our enemies.
A handful of us knew the awful truth about Korea. We lost it not because we were beaten on the battlefield but because we were compromised from within. The Russian advisers fighting alongside the North Koreans were given our plans even before they reached those of us on Mac Arthur’s staff. And when we threw our host technology into the field and into the air, the Soviets had already formulated plans to capture it and take it back to Russia. When the time came to talk peace at Panmunjom and negotiate a POW exchange, I knew where those Americans were, ten miles north of the border, who wouldn’t be coming home. (18)
In every sense, this book tries to explain away the obscure and unknowable by claiming it is under control as part of an ongoing human march toward some kind of progress. In order to do this, he must claim that ordinary dysfunction is in fact function, and in doing so, vindicate not just government but humanity itself.
While many of us believe that UFOs are at least a theoretical possibility, since there are other habitable worlds despite Earth-like planets in life-friendly solar systems being relatively rare, almost no one has an answer to this question which will probably remain an unknown until humanity rises to a technological level.
Among other things, it is entirely possible that we are simply Dunning-Kruger Effect limited in what we can recognize as alien technology. Meteorites shooting past, psychic projections, and maybe even housecats could be of alien origin.
On his way to writing one of the most enigmatic looks into the Roswell mythos, Corso manages to create another mythos of government itself, and perhaps this will be the enduring legacy of this book:
The Strategy there is an old story I once heard about keeping secrets. A group of men were trying to protect their deepest secrets from the rest of the world. They took their secrets and hid them in a shack whose very location was a secret. But the secret location was soon discovered and in it was discovered the secrets that the group was hiding. But before every secret could be revealed, the men quickly built a second shack where they stored those secrets they still kept to themselves.
Soon, the second shack was discovered and the group realized they would have to give up some secrets to protect the rest. So they again moved quickly to build a third shack and protect whatever secrets they could. This process repeated itself over and over until anyone wanting to find out what the secrets were had to start at the first shack and work their way from shack to shack until they came to where they could go no further because they didn’t know the location of the next shack. (37)
Disposable departments certainly seem to be in vogue in late stage Tammany Hall managerial-administrative bureaucratic statehood, but even more, this explains our corporate structure where executives at a pharmaceutical firm lie in order to profit then transfer to new jobs before the lawsuits hit.
Corso writes almost mechanically, with his conversational tone forced, and huge parts of this book are recursively circular, moving between the same few topics with a little more detail each time, sort of like someone rolling up a giant ball of gum from the sidewalks of San Francisco.
As a result, it is quick to read but not a quick read and it bogs down under its own inertia. The finest writing, which is not like the rest, is his history of digital gadgets which carefully tracks the ideas of founders to their modern day gadgets. The least exciting is the Army bureaucracy and a dubious story about CIA tracking him.
However, if you want a crash course in the UFO lexicon and general pillars of the story, Corso delivers that in a manner seeped in paranoia and bubbling with intrigue, which makes this book a fun experience in parts of your journey into the esotericism of learning to distrust humanity.