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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Dreamland: Inside Area 51

It covers several sprawling square miles of ground in arid southern Nevada. Ringed by notices which carry dire warnings to trespassers, it is known officially as the Nevada Test and Training Range. To the several thousand Federal Government employees who work there it is, with a touch of whimsical irony, known as Dreamland. To the public, and to conspiracy theorists the world over, it is better-known by the number of the land grid that it occupies, which carries the simple designation of Area 51.

Beyond the stern warning signs is a facility that ostensibly is (or was) used to test new technology in military aircraft: reason enough for every employee on the site to be subject to the Internal Security Act – and also reason enough for the Central Intelligence Agency to have a finger deep in this particular pie. The adjacent white expanse of Groom Lake – which is not a lake but a dry salt flat – makes a natural surface to exploit as a runway, and the various large covered hangars and other peripheral buildings keep their secrets safe, both from the prying eyes of powerful binoculars viewing from the surrounding hills and from digital visitors on [1]Google Earth.

Since its inception in the 1950’s, rumours have persisted that the base is really an elaborate cover for more clandestine activities, as bizarre as they are secretive. These rumours claim that the base is really a holding ground for captured Unidentified Flying Objects – UFO’s – and more specifically (and perhaps more sensationally), for their alien crews. There are two alternative ways of viewing these stories. A lack of available firm knowledge about something creates a vacuum into which speculation naturally rushes. Prompted by the veil of secrecy surrounding the site, and boosted by claims of sightings of unknown aerial craft in the vicinity, the rumour mills began to grind. But the opposite cause could equally be true: that these stories were actually generated by the CIA itself as a smokescreen for the secret military activities which take place there.

You can read about these [2]claims in depth on any number of conspiracy theory websites, so merely repeating them here would serve little purpose. My own focus is different, and has more to do with the way in which smoke can be generated without fire. In spite of all the speculation, and the whistle blowing by [3]former employees, not a scrap of hard evidence has emerged that would give solid support to these theories. And yet they not only persist, but are believed in passionately by their adherents: aliens are on our planet, and they are being held under conditions of top security at Area 51. Why, even the President himself has met them!

Where is the truth in all this? It is impossible to say. An alleged smuggled-out grainy black-and-white film purporting to show an autopsy of an extra-terrestrial is only ever going to be circumstantial. Is it a clever (or a clumsy) fake? Who knows? Common sense might say ‘yes’, but what fascinates me is the way in which the human mind naturally clings to something, is willing to go on believing in that thing, even when there is no supporting evidence to back it up. The obvious parallel is with religion. Religion has to be about faith – the faith to believe in something for which there is no clear evidence.

Area 51 on Google Earth. Click on the image to view it screen size.

In the Book of [4]Exodus we read how Moses encountered a voice that spoke to him from a bush which, though burning, was not consumed. But how do we know about this? Moses was the only one present, so any credence we give to the story is based on hearsay. Hearsay …and the faith which is generated by the simple fact that the story appears in scripture. Place the story in a secular context, and the very people who believe passionately in the actuality of the story would dismiss it as the deluded ramblings of an old Bronze Age shepherd, whose actual existence is itself a matter of belief. They might still give it value as a story, but its actuality would carry no more weight than we would give to such a story as Odysseus’ defeat of the giant cyclops Polyphemus. [5]Homer might thrill us with his storytelling, but not for a moment do we imagine that this incident actually happened.

Belief without evidence is smoke without fire, whether that belief is in the existence of detained aliens at Area 51, or in a Bronze Age shepherd listening to a bush that talked to him. But such belief still ironically depends on the fires of faith to keep it burning – and on the existence of Dreamland.

[1] For those with the free Google Earth program, the coordinates are: 37°14′06″N 115°48′40″W. Just paste these coordinates into the search box and you'll be flown there!

[2] These include ‘reverse technology’ study of captured UFO’s (that is: studying such craft in an attempt to duplicate their alien technology for military purposes), attempts to communicate with surviving aliens, etc.

[3] The controversial testimony provided by Bob Lazar is probably the best-known example of this.

[4] Exodus 3:1-5. Please also see my post The Burning Bush. Yes, I am aware that Moses is traditionally considered to be the author of the first five books of the Old Testament, but this is attributed tradition, and has no basis in scholarship. Neither is there any historically independent verification that Moses actually existed. He might have been an amalgamation of various such characters from that time. There are enough textual and stylistic inconsistencies apparent in these texts (even within the first few verses of Genesis) to postulate various unknown authors for these writings.

[5] It occurs to me that a curious parallel exists between Homer and Moses: they both were presumed to have lived some 3,000 years ago, and they both were the presumed authors of texts which tradition associates with their name. Scholastically, however, neither author can be proven to have existed, and the texts ascribed to them could well be an amalgamation of the works of various unknown writers from that time. 

The second image is adapted from a photo by X51. The smaller sign reads:
Restricted Area
It is unlawful to enter this area without permission of the Installation Commander.
Sec. 21, Internal Security Act of 1950; 50 U.S.C.797
While on this Installation all personnel and the property under their control are subject to search.
Use of deadly force authorized.

The third image is from The fourth image shows the view north towards Groom Lake, with various hangars and buildings as seen on Google Earth, photo by Digital Globe, image by Landsat.

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