Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. Mike Campbell, 2012, Sunbury Press, Camp Hill, PA

 Like most books about the 1937 disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, Mike Campbell's is rather adventurously titled, or rather subtitled.  The book certainly presents "the Truth" about the Earhart disappearance as Mike Campbell perceives it   Indeed, it is a near-encyclopedic exposition of the truth in which Campbell and some others believe -- that Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese and executed on Saipan, and that the United States and Japan have covered up these alleged facts through the last 75 years.  Campbell here presents, in a fairly organized way, virtually every piece of evidence for the Saipan Execution/Coverup (SE/C) Hypothesis, together with a great deal that is not exactly evidence -- notably statements of opinion by people whose opinions might or might not be particularly well informed.  What he does not present is a balanced analysis of this and other evidence, particularly any evidence supporting contrary hypotheses.

Campbell is a true believer, and his book reflects it.  In fairness to him, he is not an entirely rigid or inflexible true believer; he does puzzle over some of the contradictions in the data, and he has revised and refined some of his opinions since publication of his previous book on the subject, With Our Own Eyes (Campbell with Devine 2002).  But he firmly believes that he knows what happened to Earhart and Noonan, and he has no use whatever for anyone who wants to consider alternative possibilities.  Such people -- the Smithsonian's Tom Crouch and TIGHAR's Ric Gillespie, for example -- are to Campbell mere tools of the "establishment" that has covered up Japanese perfidy and Earhart's fate since 1944, if not since 1937.  Or, as he characterizes Gillespie, they are mere hucksters trying to capitalize on Earhart's name.

I could find nothing in the way of new evidence in Campbell's new book, but he has organized a great deal of information presented heretofore in scattered form -- books, articles, letters, internet offerings -- and that is certainly a contribution.  The problem is that he is for the most part entirely uncritical of any evidence that comports with his beliefs, and utterly scornful of anyone and anything that contradicts it.  And his evidence remains overwhelmingly anecdotal in nature, comprising things that people said, or said other people said, or said other people said other people said (or wrote in documents allegedly held secret by the "establishment").  Often, the people quoted were interviewed many decades after the alleged dates of the incidents they described, usually by people with distinct interests in "proving" some variant on the SE/C hypothesis, with none of the controls that are routinely used by courts and law enforcement personnel to guard against leading the witness and planting false memories (For a discussion of this problem see King, Roberts and Cerniglia 2012).  To Campbell all the resulting ambiguous data adds up to "the Truth," and he is in no way shy about pronouncing it so.

Campbell is also prone to extremely selective reportage.  One example may suffice to illustrate.  On pages 349-53 he makes much of a May 13, 1938 transcribed telephone conversation between Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau and Malvina Scheider, Eleanor Roosevelt’s secretary, in which Morgenthau expresses reluctance to share records of the Navy's search for Earhart with Earhart’s colleague and advisor Paul Mantz.  Morgenthau says that to release the documents would "smear the whole reputation of Amelia Earhart."  Since the radio logs of the USCGC Itasca, which were later released to Mantz, contained nothing that reflected on Earhart's reputation, Campbell asks with great puzzlement, why could Morgenthau possibly have been unwilling to share the requested documents -- unless they contained evidence of something the US government wanted to keep secret?  What Campbell fails to mention in the context of the Morgenthau-Scheider conversation is the 106-page report prepared by Itasca’s captain, Commander W.K. Thompson, which was highly critical of Earhart, essentially blaming her for her own disappearance and exonerating the Navy and Coast Guard of any responsibility for failing to find her.  Campbell cites Thompson's report in his bibliography, discusses it briefly on pages 29-30, and reports on page 350 that Thompson met with Morgenthau upon Itasca’s return to Honolulu, but he never alerts the reader to the possibility that it might be this document -- not the innocuous logs of the Itasca’s radio room or some secret revelation of Japanese machinations -- that Morgenthau was reluctant to share with Mantz and hence potentially with the world.  

Thompson's report is summarized, quoted, and discussed dispassionately by Ric Gillespie in Finding Amelia (Gillespie 2006:227-31), but if Campbell has read Gillespie's book he doesn't cite it in his bibliography – perhaps because in Campbell's eyes Gillespie is only a shameless self-promoter and darling of the "establishment" that has so long covered up "the Truth."  Campbell’s book is rife with such selective approaches to the “truth” as reflected in the documentary record. 

It may be true that Earhart and Noonan were captured and executed by the Japanese, and it may even be that these events have been kept secret by every U.S. president from Roosevelt on, and by every Japanese government.  But as Tom Roberts, Joe Cerniglia and I wrote after reviewing much of the same data Campbell has (albeit less comprehensively, but we hope more objectively), the evidence "gives us no serious reason to think that it is true.  Some of the (SC/E) story’s variants … are contradicted by objective independent data, while others are grounded only in anecdotal evidence.  And this evidence is tainted by the methods (or lack of method) involved in its collection, making it difficult if not impossible to judge its veracity" (King, Roberts & Cerniglia 2012). 

I can't speak for my co-authors, but Campbell's new book gives me no reason to change my opinion of his evidence.  This will doubtless come as no surprise to Campbell; in a recent email he has advised me that I, too, am part of the "establishment."


Campbell, Mike (with Thomas Devine)
            2002     With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart.  Lancaster, OH, Lucky Press

Campbell, Mike
            2012     Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. Camp Hill, PA, Sunbury Press

Gillespie, Richard
            2006     Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Disappearance.  Annapolis, MD, Naval Institute Press.

King, Thomas F., Thomas A. Roberts, and Joseph Cerniglia
            2012     Amelia Earhart in the Marianas: a Consideration of the Evidence.  Paper submitted to the Northern Mariana Islands Council for the Humanities’ Marianas History Conference, Saipan, June 14-16, 2012.