News reports over the last couple of days have the CIA confirming the existence of Area 51, a government site in Nevada long considered the holy grail for many UFO enthusiasts and the basis of all manner of sci-fi films, novels and even a popular video game. Independence Day and, more recently, Super 8, are at least two examples of how the myths surrounding the top-secret site have figured into popular culture.

So, does the recently declassified material tell us anything about crashed alien vehicles and subsequent alien autopsies being performed?

Nope. Just the testing of spy planes like the U2 and probably various kinds of weaponized technolgies.  For a full rundown on what we know now (and mostly knew already), take a look at Sharon Hill’s great piece here.

As I explore in Monsters in America, the US government spent much of the Cold War hiding various aspects of its policies from the American people. For example, “Project Blue Book” existed not to investigate UFO sightings, but to tamp down any rumors about dangerous radioactive emissions (that the government sometimes tested on civilians without their knowledge).

The top-secret activities of the national security state, not monsters from the stars, helped create UFO conspiracy culture.  Maintaining support for containment necessitated lying about the survivability of an atomic exchange. For example, much of the information that came from United States Civil Defense had less to do with preparing for nuclear war and more to do with preventing panic (and open questioning of US foreign policy). The infamous “Duck and Cover” film provides the best example of this impulse, a film that compares the devastation wrought by atomic weapons to house fires and manageable natural disasters.

The truth was out there, to paraphrase the X-Files tagline, but it wasn’t a truth about aliens.

This does not mean that the monsters aren’t real. They are. Part of the real horror of Area 51 is the number of workers poisoned by various kinds of toxic material over several decades. I’ll be writing more about this aspect of the story in an upcoming essay for an online magazine… so stay tuned.

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