Stateside: The People vs. the Executive Office
The People vs. the Executive Office
The problem with being a natural-born quilter is that you can take scraps of information - for the most part totally unrelated - and patch them together into an enormously elegant and satisfying theory without realizing that the only thing holding it together is some even-more-unrelated material. I do it all the time, relying on the good sense of anybody reading what I write to act as an antidote to my fantastical imaginings. But what if I took those ideas seriously and began to embark on actual bona fide research to prove or disprove the theory?
I have just spent the best part of two days in the company of people who are doing just that kind of research into an unsolved mystery that took place 65 years ago, and many of them have been carrying on that research for most of those 65 years. At least, some people think it's a mystery. Others, like former Lockheed employee and aviation historian Carol O. Osborne, think that oats is oats and anyone who says it's barley is ignoring historical fact: that on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart's plane ran out of fuel and she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, drowned at sea near Howland Island in the Pacific.
Heaven knows, I didn't go to the Amelia Earhart Symposium at the Western Aerospace Museum on May 17-18, 2002, in order to become intrigued about that pioneering pilot's disappearance. She flew. She fell out of the sky. Joni Mitchell wrote a song about it. End of story. I went to the seminar because I'd seen the list of presenters and it was, I thought, a goldmine of people who would be able to help me with my research into the Pacific Theatre during the Second World War - radio operators, retired Navy captains, combat fighter pilots.
But such is the seductive power of the intrigue surrounding Earhart's disappearance, that by lunchtime on Saturday, I was as hooked as investigative journalist Joe Klaas was in 1965 in Las Vegas when he met with retired US Air Force Major Joe Jervis, and ended up writing a book called `Amelia Earhart Lives!' about Jervis's insistence that a woman in New York - Irene Bolam - was AE. After watching some video and looking at the self-published xerox book by another researcher, Tod Swindell, who employed the methods and expertise of forensic anthropologists to compare IB and AE physically, I think Joe Jervis was right.
Swindell's book is called "The People vs. the Executive Office" and it is his use of that title that really got my interest. For two days, many knowledgeable people had been explaining their theories and supporting them with the fruits of their research to the point where I felt like I was trying to separate black sheep from white in a computer game that kept randomly changing the colour of the sheep. Just when I thought all the facts had been marshalled in support of one theory, those same facts would be marshalled in support of another, completely opposite one.
The consistent theme - unless you accept the events at face value as Osborne does - seemed to be the deliberate obfuscation by the executive branch of government at the time and ever since. "The facts were regarded differently by the presidential cabinet than the view given to the general public," said Swindell at the seminar, after quoting a comment supposedly made at the time by the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Gibbon: "We have evidence the thing is all over. Sure. Terrible. It would be awful to make it public." His boss was asking Gibbon's opinion during the course of a telephone conversation with Eleanor Roosevelt's secretary when the First Lady was trying to get the search for Earhart renewed.
What is the truth?
When you're in a room with someone who states categorically that at 11.40 am on August 6, 1944 he (Bob Ross) and two other US Marines were looking for snipers on the island of Saipan and found Earhart's plane under some palm trees, do you doubt him? No, not until someone comes along and says that by that time of the war Saipan was flattened and there were no palm trees left standing. That naysayer, Dana Timmer, is convinced the plane is still underwater about 60 miles northwest of Howland Island and he has gone to great expense to try to recover it.
Was Earhart's body disinterred, as our Bob Ross tells us, by PFC Hansen and PFC Burke in Saipan, or was she taken prisoner by the Japanese, imprisoned in Shanghai, then liberated at the end of the war and given a new identity and an MI6 husband so she wouldn't reveal she was on a spying mission in the Japanese-mandated Marshall Islands in 1937? Heck, Bob Ross wasn't even in the list of seminar presenters but popped up in a gap when the projector wasn't working! But does that make him any more or less credible than USN Captain (Ret.) Ed Melvin who knew Art Kennedy - Earhart's aviation engineer - who told him that she once said to him: "Can you imagine me being a spy?"
What is the truth and how do you establish it? Or to phrase the question in the way a presidential cabinet might understand it - what is the truth and to whom do you owe it?
Sunday, May 19, 2002