[16 April 2012]
Readers are told that this book will answer questions “like” the following: What happened at Roswell? What does the government know about UFOs? and Why don’t presidents get access to UFO info? And we certainly do get answers “like” those. Actually, most of what we “get” is author Dr. John B. Alexander (He reminds us that, when looking for his website we need to remember the “B” because there are other John Alexanders! Thanks, bro!) writing an awful lot about himself. Not that that’s verboten. But there’s a difference between doing something “like” that skillfully and something “like” that clumsily. Guess where Alexander lies? No, go ahead. Guess.
Alexander reports, early on in the book, that he has family members who’ve had experience with UFOs. He swears by this, asking the eternal question, “If you can’t trust your family, who can you trust?” You can’t trust lots of people, it turns out. Remember, our parents have lied to us about everything from the Easter Bunny to where babies come from to their drug histories. And your siblings? Fuhgeddaboutit. There are many instances in which I would not trust my family––my grandmother, for instance, was convinced that the first moon landing was filmed on a Hollywood sound stage––and would accept the words of a total and complete, let’s not forget––stranger. But hey, that’s just me—and my Grandma. Right?
But this work doesn’t really tell us anything a reasonably intelligent person could not themselves speculate upon––UFO just means an unidentified flying object; UFOs could be, for instance, planes mistaken for stars. Whatever. What else? Alexander knows a lot of people. A lot of people. And he doesn’t mind reminding us. The trouble is, most of the time, it’s his relationship with the person and not the actual data that takes center stage.
What follows is a series of paragraphs from early on in the book. And, no, it doesn’t get better. Here’s Alexander discussing retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Phillip Corso, author of the bestseller The Day After Roswell:
“For the record I must state that Phil Corso was a personal friend. Even though we disagreed about many of his statements I tried unsuccessfully to help him get a movie deal. In addition, I was with Phil at his home in Florida between his two heart attacks that occurred less than a month apart. A few UFO enthusiasts who have heard my comments have accused me of speaking ill of the dead, as Corso cannot defend himself. While many of my observations may seem devastating, there is nothing included [in this work] that I didn’t say to him directly…. There is one fact that is generally agreed upon regarding Phil Corso: almost everybody that knew him, including me, thought he was a consummate gentleman and basically a great guy.
Wait! Why is he discussing Phil Corso? Corso’s book was a first-person account of an UFO retrieval at Roswell, New Mexico by the U.S. government. Corso claimed that material found at the site had been instrumental in medical advancements on this planet and that there was/is “an ongoing war between Earthlings and the alien invaders.”
OK. Let’s pretend for a moment that we believe this. We might expect what follows to be an in-depth discussion of the evidence, a stripping away of the details, might involve some critical thinking. Something. Instead, we get more convoluted writing that is absent a coherent point. (Is that redundant? Maybe. When in Rome.) We do know this much about Phil Corso, consummate gentleman:
[W]hen it comes to Corso’s past, little is easy to follow. The basic reported path seemed accurate, with a fair amount of fluff involved. For example, at the end of World War II, as a captain he had been assigned to Rome. As he stated, he did have contacts at the Vatican. He appears to have been involved in obtaining passage for 10,000 Jews to Palestine. But then his memoirs state that he “was handed the responsibility for intelligence and security of Rome.” He then goes on to claim that he personally restored “law and order” to a city he said was in chaos. However, when reading the awards he received for his service in Italy, they are commensurate with what would be expected of an Army captain doing an excellent job, but nothing as truly extraordinary as he claims. Obviously, as would be expected, there were more senior officers that held the responsibilities described in his writings.
But, in such as shadowy world where you can trust no one and documents are kept secret, how can we say that Corso didn’t do what he said he did and that his awards are just a cover for a man who may have been The Most Important Man Ever? (Or second.)
Finally (well, not really, there’s more muck to wade through but this writer will be more merciful than the author), there’s this:
When The Day After Roswell was published I sent Corso a seven-page letter addressing the errors that I found in the book… My observations ran from simple mistakes, such as it is Adelphi, not Adelphia, Maryland, to glaring errors including the assertion that the Cold War was a cover for fighting ET; that the United States and Soviet Union were always cooperating in that war; and that we had an established relationship with ET. In my view, these statements are preposterous.
Why? Oh, right. Because Alexander says so. If we’re going to throw the word preposterous around, why not throw this whole thing out the old window? It’s like quibbling about whether witches actually use broomsticks when they fly or whether they actually have miraculous flying sticks forged in the fires of Hell. Right?
Then, this, about Corso’s original manuscript: “From a quick read, it was obvious that he desperately needed a coauthor, as much of the material rambled on, sometimes almost incoherently.”
I pause here and allow you to appreciate the majesty of this statement to its fullest.
“Also, Phil was not computer-literate. There were pages and pages of handwritten material, some of which had been later typed, and even a few drawings. Importantly, there are significant differences between the original, and the published version of the book.”
He’ll get to that, more than a page later, in no great detail, after rattling this off: “The discrepancies start at the beginning of the book. Phil’s original manuscript never included the whole first chapter called ‘The Roswell Desert.’”
I smell a conspiracy. Ever hear of revision? More: “That chapter includes first-person descriptions of the event that, if authentic, could only have been written by a person present in Roswell, New Mexico, at the time of the incident. Later, this rough manuscript was posted on the Internet.”
I need a donut.
It really reads this way and one wonders what Alexander might have done as a co-writer of Corso’s book.
Where were we?
Somewhere in these pages Alexander might get around to mentioning an actual report, but he doesn’t bother to take any of these things on in the body of the text with any gusto. He doesn’t so much analyze as tell readers we should trust him because he says we should trust him. He knows the right people. He’s read a lot about UFOs but his evidence is, ultimately, about as convincing as a half-eaten sandwich cheese sandwich in the role of Hamlet.
He rattles on like your uncle Phil once he has a few Old Styles in him, or like some Faulknerian narrator but without a point or the vocabulary. One chapter––right around the first time this writer threw the book across the room––actually begins, “Please don’t skip this chapter.” Why would anyone think of doing so? Why would the author feel insecure enough to write that? I resisted temptation to defy the author but, in the end, it hardly mattered. You could read this book upside down and have the same outcome––maybe even a better one.
There are those of us who are interested in unexplained phenomena, who want to discuss the significance of it, who want to know the why and the what of it and not just another prattle on about what it is. Too bad this book and its author can’t illuminate the topic for us very well. The cultural history of UFOs is perhaps, more than anything, about how we tell stories and how we need to perpetuate those stories even after we know the truth. Now, that’s interesting. (If I do write so myself.)
John B. Alexander seems “like” a nice guy, and surely his intentions are good, but this is book for those who like to be told what to think, not those who like to think for themselves. Then again, maybe it’s not for them, either.