Some people collect rocks. Others collect stamps. Peter Merlin, a former NASA archivist who’s become a leading expert on military aircraft and Area 51, collects the physical remnants of government secrets. As he explains in the artist Trevor Paglen’s new book, From the Archives of Peter Merlin, Aviation Archaeologist, Merlin’s chief animating impulse is fairly simple: “Something always remains,” meaning that every project, no matter how clandestine, leaves a trace—a scrap of metal, a security badge, a commemorative mug. Merlin has amassed a trove of such traces, which are often the only public evidence of highly classified operations. These crumbs offer rare insight into the shadowy machinations of the state, the violence and surveillance committed in our name. A selection of artifacts from Merlin’s collection, along with explanatory text from Paglen, appears below.
Civil Defense pamphlets from the fifties and sixties offered helpful tips for surviving nuclear bombardment. Such gems included “Take a shower … to remove any radioactive contamination” and “Don’t spread rumors.” Government authors attempted to assure citizens that nuclear war was easily survivable, yet the cover of one booklet features the phrase “Avoid panic” beneath a terrifying image of a city engulfed in flames beneath an atomic mushroom cloud. Read More