Mar 6, 2010 | White Sands, NM
Mar 6, 2010

There is no better way to start off a morning and think about life than to visit a cemetery and think about death. And there is no better way to think about death than to visit the White Sands Missile Range, where they secretly tested the first Atomic bomb in 1945, a few weeks before Fat Man annihilated Nagasaki.

The White Sands Missile Park is on the western edge of the range, standing like a colorful county fair for the government to show off its terrible toys. Dozens of brightly painted missiles rise like giant phalluses out of the desert, with metal plaques saying what's what. Some of the missiles fly up to space, others bust through armor, and many carry nuclear warheads. They had a gun cabin from an aircraft carrier that you could step inside and pull a lever that in other circumstances would have killed 1,000 people. All of this was meant to make you feel proud to be American, and to have such terrible toys.

But standing in the gun cabin, looking out across the missile field, I couldn't help but think that the people who make and use these weapons are just as bad as the serial killer I learned about yesterday, except that society condemns men who kill with knives and celebrates men who kill with science. The men who kill with science are much more deadly, but they have better table manners and doctoral degrees, so while other cultures might have hanged their heads with knotted rope, instead we hang their heads in halls of fame.

I felt sick standing there in the missile park, and we badly needed some humor, so we were happy to find the "Aerospace 'Flying Saucer'", a tinny disc-shaped thing standing off to the side. According to the plaque, this was what people had actually seen at Roswell. "These bright, shiny aeroshells projected an illusion of flying saucers," it said. "Aeroshells were designed for slowing down a missile for a landing on Mars. This display is believed to be the only one 'in captivity.'" Yeah, right.

All of the other missiles were built to impeccable perfection, using industrial paints, weird alloys, and seamless screws. This flying saucer was like a shanty town tin house, with bulky hardware store screws and thin sheets of metal you could flick up and down with your finger. The thought of this thing landing on Mars was a joke, and we were pretty sure it was a sloppy act of governmental disinformation to counteract all the talk of Roswell.

The White Sands Missile range is 3,200 square miles, and can be seen from space. Right in the middle is the White Sands National Monument, where the rangers warn you not to pick up pieces of metal you might find lying around, because they probably fell from the sky, and might do bad things to you.

It was weird to find solitude and sprawling alkaline dunes so close to the instruments of death, and I wondered what would be better — trying to survive a week without water in White Sands, or trying to survive an attack by the Air Force.