On Oct. 30, 1938, Orson Welles narrated an adaptation of H. G. Wells's novel The War of the Worlds over the radio. Produced in documentary style, the episode (as part of Welles's The Mercury Theatre on the Air radio production) became infamous for causing widespread panic to the U.S. radio-listening audience.
Although the impact of the radio show - that depicted realistic news bulletins of a Martian invasion - is debatable, according to a new book written by LA Times journalist Annie Jacobsen, Welles's War of the Worlds adaptation was the inspiration behind the "flying saucer" that was reportedly recovered near Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. The remains of the "spacecraft," and its "extraterrestrial" pilots, were then moved to Area 51, Nevada, in 1951.
No, aliens didn't intercept Welles's broadcast (that we know of), according to Jacobsen it inspired Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to create the mother of all hoaxes.
DNEWS VIDEO: HOAXING UFOS
Around the beginning of the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Russia, tensions were high. The U.S. had demonstrated its nuclear weapon prowess on Japan only two years earlier, thereby ending the Second World War. So, in an attempt to gain the upper hand - yet lacking in the atomic bomb department thus far - Stalin built a flying saucer-like aircraft, piloted by grotesquely deformed children made to look like aliens (big head, "gray" alien-style), and crashed it in U.S. territory.
Why? To make the U.S. think an alien invasion was under way. The logic: Alien invasion = U.S. air defenses made to look pathetic = mass panic = lots of giggling in the Kremlin.
Although the Soviet alien invasion plot is only a small part of Jacobsen's "AREA 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base" book, it's had the most impact on the world's media.
The bulk of the book delves into the secret history of the infamous "Area 51″ - a top secret military base that is probably the most famous top secret U.S. military base. (Here's what it looks like on Google Maps. Nope, no flying saucers.)
Area 51 is synonymous with military cover-ups, alien testing, hyper-advanced alien technology, Will Smith punching tentacled aliens in the face and a brilliant Futurama episode. However, Jacobsen primarily focuses on the Cold War weapons, spy planes and espionage, and according to many reviewers, her investigative reporting is sound.
But as she drives down Conspiracy Avenue, things start sounding more and more like an X-Files storyline.
In an effort to make the Soviet aviators look more alien, according to Jacobsen, the Soviets were inspired by Nazi-era human experimentation and hired the help of Josef Mengele, former German SS officer and physician in the Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during the war.
According to Jacobsen's anonymous source - a source she assures the reader was legit, having worked in Area 51 and saw many of the experiments first-hand - the pilots of the craft were children that had been surgically altered to look alien.
Here's some detail from AREA 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base, courtesy of NPR:
"The child-sized aviators in this craft [that crashed in New Mexico] were the result of a Soviet human experimentation program, and they had been made to look like aliens a la Orson Welles' War of the Worlds, and it was a warning shot over President Truman's bow, so to speak. In 1947, when this would have originally happened, the Soviets did not yet have the nuclear bomb, and Stalin and Truman were locked in horns with one another, and Stalin couldn't compete in nuclear weaponry yet, but he certainly could compete in the world of black propaganda - and that was his aim, according to my source. ... "What is firsthand information is that he worked with these bodies [of the pilots] and he was an eyewitness to the horror of seeing them and working with them. Where they actually came from is obviously the subject of debate. But if you look at the timeline with Josef Mengele, he left Auschwitz in January of 1945 and disappeared for a while, and the suggestion by the source is that Mengele had already cut his losses with the Third Reich at that point and was working with Stalin." "The plan, according to my source, was to create panic in the United States with this belief that a UFO had landed with aliens inside of it. And one of the most interesting documents is the second CIA director, Walter Bedell Smith, memos back and forth to the National Security Council talking about how the fear is that the Soviets could make a hoax against America involving a UFO and overload our early air-defense warning system, making America vulnerable to an attack."
Despite Jacobsen's disclaimer that this portion of the book is based purely on one source's recollections, this story has just become one of many conspiracy theories that surround the Area 51 rumor hothouse.
Although the old adage "truth is stranger than fiction" may apply to many Cold War stories, it seems a stretch to think Stalin would go through that much trouble on the off-chance that a faked alien invasion might have some kind of impact on the U.S. public.
Wouldn't the money to develop a flying saucer-looking aircraft, sending it packed with surgically-altered children and crashing it in U.S. territory be better spent on... I don't know... developing the Soviet atom bomb?
Sure, Roswell and Area 51 have gone down in the history books as locations of mystery and intrigue, but could such a plan ever have been conceived of having any game-changing effect on the direction of the Cold War? In short: No.
As TIME Magazine's Mark Thompson remarks, this portion of Jacobsen's book "needs to be taken with a grain of salt."
Aliens, of extraterrestrial or Soviet origin, probably didn't crash in the New Mexico desert, not because it is impossible, but simply because there is no evidence to support either theory.
So what did happen in Roswell in 1947 and what was Area 51′s role in it? To find that answer, we should first be skeptical of any claims that come from anonymous sources.