Richard Dolan is listed as one of Fate magazine’s “Top 100” Ufologists of 2005, which makes sense, as one can hardly attend a UFO-related conference these days without seeing Dolan’s name on the speakers list. He has, in just a couple of years, appeared in a number of documentaries (including two of mine), been interviewed on radio and television, and written a number of articles for various publications about the UFO phenomenon. It is hard to argue with his inclusion on the Fate list, especially as said list includes Dr. Steven Greer, which is the equivalent of putting Benedict Arnold on a list of famous American military leaders, or, in keeping with this week’s Star Wars theme, including Darth Vader on a list of famous Jedi Knights.
To what does Dolan owe this relatively newfound status within the UFO research field? His credentials as a historian of the UFO phenomenon, and, in particular, his 2000 book, UFOs and the National Security State: Chronology of a Cover-Up 1941 – 1973 (Charlottesville, Virginia: Hampton Roads Publishing, Inc., 2002), which was revised in 2002 (the edition to which I am referring).
His training as a historian is solid – he has an undergraduate degree in history from Alfred University, a small liberal arts college in New York, and a Masters degree in history from the University of Rochester, where he also lives and works. However, historians are ultimately judged not by their academic credentials (although these are, as I have argued elsewhere, an important first step), but by what they do with their training (ie. the research and writing they undertake).
So – how does Dolan rate as a historian, as judged by UFOs and the National Security State?
Not very highly, alas.
Every historian, at some point or another, will speculate about something. History is never so tidy as to offer easy answers to all of one’s questions. For example, in the area in which I specialised while taking Legal History at law school (the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials), the question of how much Albert Speer actually knew about the Holocaust remains open to debate, sixty years later, despite the fact that Speer wrote extensively on the War and his role in the Nazi regime, and despite the fact that there a number of excellent biographies about Speer (my answer was that he knew exactly what was going on, and should have been hanged in 1946, instead of being sentenced to 20 years at Spandau).
The key, however, is to make sure your speculation is grounded in evidence – that you can offer something to back it up beyond just saying “well, it could have happened.” A historian might not be able to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt, but he should be able to show that it was more likely than not that a certain thing happened.
With this in mind, an objective read of UFOs and the National Security State, on which Dolan’s reputation in the UFO field as a serious researcher is largely based, shows it to be nothing more than conspiracy theory masquerading as a serious historical study.
Take, for example, Dolan’s conclusions about the death of Captain Edward Ruppelt, which can be found at pp. 236 – 237. Dolan writes:
“We are to believe that his ‘exposure’ to the Contactees prompted him publicly to insult Keyhoe, a man whom Ruppelt knew despised the Contactees… The key lies in Ruppelt’s ‘continuing association’ with Blue Book and air force personnel. No doubt, that was a crucial factor… In the context of Ruppelt’s recent stance toward the air force on UFOs, his rapid and total conversion, and his death at such a young age, matters ought to look suspicious, particularly in light of the capabilities that existed within the American national security apparatus by this time. Whether he was actually killed, or whether he died from the stress brought on by what he had gone through (the belief of [Frank] Edwards and Keyhoe), there seems little reason to doubt that Ruppelt was coerced.” [emphasis in original]
Little reason to doubt?
The fact is that Ruppelt died of his second heart attack, showing that he already had significant health problems. Heart disease is not confined to senior citizens; it can, and in this case clearly did, strike men and women still in the prime of life (a subject I know something about, having been put on cholesterol and blood pressure medication in my mid 30s). Also, Dolan rejects, with no foundation, the testimony of the person who perhaps knew Ruppelt best – his wife, who told researchers that his change of mind had nothing to do with pressure from the government.
Most important, Dolan's speculation indicates that he is unaware of Brad Sparks' extensive research into Ruppelt. I asked Brad (who is also on the Fate Top 100 list, and deservedly so) to comment on Ruppelt. Here is his reply (edited slightly for brevity):
"Dolan claims Ruppelt’s pro-UFO phase was from 1954 to 1957 and then he went “sour.” The first thing I was shocked at when I got hold of Ruppelt’s private papers in 1979, including his extensive 1955 notes and draft manuscript for his 1956 book, was how virulently ANTI-UFO Ruppelt was in his private thoughts written in his own hand in this purportedly pro-UFO period of 1954-7, and remarks meant to be seen by no one except his ghostwriter / co-author, Long Beach newspaper reporter Jim Phelan. Ruppelt sounded just like Donald Menzel, whom he intensely disliked. On one paper Ruppelt in handwriting wrote “kook” in the margin to describe Keyhoe. As I understand it, it was Phelan who edited Ruppelt’s book into appearing to be pro-UFO by deleting his more negative comments and putting a spin on other comments, thus turning it into a popular bestseller. If you read very, very carefully in his book where Ruppelt quotes himself arguing with other AF officers, you will see his anti-UFO hostility or skepticism come through. That was his real viewpoint without the spin. His private papers go on and on about various incidents where IFO’s supposedly fooled him and others and how this just proves there is nothing to UFO’s – and this is entirely separate from his acid commentary on contactees, whom he reveled in when he could easily have just ignored them all. No one was holding a gun to Ruppelt’s head to go attend the Giant Rock contactee conference in the desert. This propensity to indulge in contactee hoakum is very much like Edward Condon, who wasted a lot of time entertaining himself with contactees and kooks. The contactees didn’t “sour” Ruppelt - he sought them out. When Ruppelt was Chief of BB, when strong unexplained UFO cases occurred, he would be forced to take a more neutral position, less anti-UFO and very occasionally but only TEMPORARILY slightly pro-UFO. Just as soon as the case was behind him and the pressure was off, Ruppelt reflexively returned to his hardened anti-UFO posture. Same thing with the 1957 UFO flap. Ruppelt was grudgingly forced into a slightly more favorable public and private position under the weight of the unexplained UFO incidents and even tried to posture himself as offering to return to the AF to head up BB again – his personal ambition was always of greater importance to him than the actual outcome of the UFO investigation. For example, he was most upset when the Eisenhower military budget cuts ruined his plan to quadruple the size of BB, a plan the CIA Robertson Panel approved of, after it was too late to do anything about it in any case. He was also upset when his personal authority at BB was undercut and obstructed by his coverup boss, Col Donald Bower. That’s the unvarnished truth, whether the UFO enthusiast amateur likes to hear it or not."
It gets worse, however. Not satisfied with speculating about Ruppelt’s untimely demise, Dolan turns his attention, at the end of the book, to the sad death of Dr. James McDonald. McDonald, one of the most important figures in the history of ufology, shot himself in June, 1971. As Dolan notes, most UFO researchers agree that he committed suicide, a conclusion that makes eminent sense when one considers that this was McDonald’s second attempt at killing himself - the first came a couple of months earlier, when McDonald succeeded only in blinding himself, which happens more often than one might suspect when a person tries to shoot themselves in the head (for example, immediately after the July, 1944, coup attempt against Hitler, General Ludwig Beck, one of the coup leaders, and a man of undoubted courage who knew how to handle a gun, tried to shoot himself in the head, but only wounded himself – a sergeant had to deliver the coup de grace).
This explanation, however, is not enough for Dolan, who writes, at pp. 381 - 382:
“Let us look at the other possibility. We know that many intelligence agencies were skilled in ‘creating suicides.’ But, one might ask, wasn’t McDonald’s mental condition already deteriorating? Jerome Clark stated that McDonald was ready to ‘crack’ in the aftermath of the SST [PK note - House Committee on Appropriations hearings regarding the supersonic transport, where McDonald, an eminent scientist, was ridiculed for his work and views on the UFO phenomenon]. But what caused this? Embarrassment at the SST hearings? His marriage [PK note – which was in trouble]. Perhaps, one supposes, but both of these explanations feel flimsy. Without exception, those who knew McDonald described him as possessing great integrity and courage. Was he really the type of person to commit suicide?”
To Dolan, the answer seems to be “no,” despite all the evidence that indicates “yes.” He goes on to speculate how the U.S. government could have done this, by using electromagnetic technology to alter his mood, without, again, offering any evidence whatsoever that this was done. Then, he reaches his conclusion:
“Thus, we ask, could McDonald have been the victim of a program using technology such as described above? The answer is yes. Whether or not he was may never be answered… No one is in a position to state whether McDonald’s suicide was real or not. Both scenarios are possible.”
Let me be blunt – with reasoning like that, Dolan would have flunked any history course I ever attended. The fact that something is “possible” does not make it worthy of consideration. Virtually anything is “possible.” The question that the historian must ask is whether, based on the evidence, it is probable.
In the case of Dolan’s speculation about both Ruppelt and McDonald (two of the most egregious examples in his book, but not the only ones by a long shot), he betrays his training as a historian in favour of Jim Marr-esque conspiracy theory. He even acknowledges the difference, sort of, as he begins the speculation about McDonald:
“The reader who has made it this far, and through several unproven conspiracy theories will, it is hoped, endure one more?”
This is a line that has no place in a serious historical study.
That Dolan is considered one of the Top 100 ufologists is not surprising, given where modern ufology seems to be headed (and that’s a shame, especially when researchers like Manitoba’s Chris Rutkowski didn’t make the list). But don’t confuse him with an objective historian, at least where the UFO phenomenon is concerned. He isn’t.
P.S. For those not familiar with Lord Bullock (1914 - 2004), to whom I refer in the title of this post, he was one of the 20th century's great historians, and the author of the landmark history of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, Hitler: A Study In Tyranny. See Bullock's obituary at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,1137623,00.html