FDR Wanted to Send the Jews to Mars (or Our Situation’s Not So Weird?)

“Tower of Babel” by Oliver Wasow for Visionaire, 1999

Though it’s kind of hard to believe, there have been presidents almost as weird as Donald Trump — not as ill motivated perhaps, but definitely just as deluded. Trump’s level of hostile xenophobia may be unprecedented, but FDR wanted to send the homeless WWII refugees into space. Specifically, he wanted to send the displaced post-WWII ‘surplus populations’ to another galaxy, with Mars as a sort of rest stop or way station.

The idea of sending the un-homed refugees of WWII (which basically meant a majority of Northern Europe’s Jews and a few gypsies and Catholics) to new homes in space entailed using these traumatized survivors to colonize the Alpha Centauri system, with a way station on Venus or Mars. It was a top-secret study funded through Congress, various aspects of which ran for 15 years, with Truman inheriting it and keeping it going long after the establishment of Israel in Palestine. Every time it came up for review the scientific crew funded under the study returned their findings that the state-of-the-art of science and space travel technology of the day was in no way equal to finding a solution for ‘extra or unwanted people’ of this scope, and every review sent them back to the drawing board to work on it some more.

It was called ‘The M Project for FDR: Studies on Migration and Settlement,’ and the most bizarre part of the study came in the chapter of the report entitled ‘Interstellar Migration.’ As documented in the UPI archives from 1983: “In a summary of the report, project director Henry Field quoted Roosevelt as emphasizing the resettlement of millions of refugees would not only be desirable from a humanitarian standpoint, but essential from a military point of view, ‘for the disconcerted can and will cause trouble, serious trouble.’ Clandestinely financed by $180,000 in ‘unvouchered funds’ from the White House, more than 50 people cleared by the FBI and sworn to secrecy worked on the project for years, Field said. ‘Because we would be dealing with political dynamite,’ the president cautioned Field, ‘the utmost secrecy … must be observed.’”

A presidential representative had approached Field about the project in the spring of 1940, while he was curator of physical anthropology at the Field Museum of Natural History. It was not until after the report was declassified in 1960 that he wrote a 421-page summary of the project at the prompting of historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and others. In his report, Field said Roosevelt had ordered the massive research project so his administration would be prepared to deal with the “millions of people left homeless as well as ‘surplus’ population in the postwar world.” The 66-volume study of population problems, migration and settlement ultimately dismissed the idea of space colonies.

“Alpha Centauri, the nearest star … would require 129,000 years to reach,’ the report said, so ‘the idea of sending by rocket the Earth’s surplus population looks at the moment highly impracticable.’” Given the status of space studies of the time, long before anyone had even got as far as the moon, the idea of sending people into space amounted to a fairly grim death sentence, in the cold and lonely reaches of space, for millions of displaced persons.

In short, conceptually it amounted to plotting a genocide of truly spectacular proportions. FDR wouldn’t have seen it this way, however. He was a visionary of fairly mystical bent, who adhered to positive thinking and creative visualization principles long before they were New Age fodder for ‘The Secret’ and other silliness, when the practices were still more akin to the Dale Carnegie School of Success cant. He was simply looking ahead by at least a half a century, and was apparently unaware of his own incipient anti-Semitic leanings. (Would he have planned to send his own relatives out there?)

Another of his pet plans for refugees was to get them to farm the rapidly expanding deserts of Saharan Africa. “FDR’s personal vision, explained to Field after dinner one night at Shangri-La, the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains now known as Camp David, was a large reclamation effort in the deserts of North Africa. ‘I want to make North Africa the granary of Europe, just as it was in the Roman days .. and build air-conditioned cities in the desert,’ the president fantasized.” Truman actually authorized increased funding for the project after Roosevelt died in 1945, but “the report quietly slipped into the ‘twilight zone of file and forget,’ Field said.”

The study was declassified in the early 60s, and twenty years after that small articles announcing the fact and describing the declassified information were published in the back pages of major city newspapers across America, as per the Freedom of Information Act requirements, buried among the public notices of name changes, etc. It appeared in the hind-sections of the San Francisco Chronicle in or around 1982, which is when and where I found it. With a profound sense of full-blown wonder and amazement at what the events described said about our society. I carried the clipping around in my wallet for years, because I knew no one would believe me.

The story was picked up and developed by Mother Jones on Jan. 14, 1983, and can be viewed here: https://www.upi.com/Archives/1983/01/14/FDR-considered-sending-homeless-to-space/1029411368400/

I'm a writer/researcher/arts educator on Vancouver Island and all round global citizen who loves humans even though we're such a phenomenal pain-in-the-ass.