The Last Word

This is, I promise, the last time I write about conspiracy theories and the people who love them.

real-enemiesI originally just wanted to wrap up the topic for good by mentioning  Real Enemies by Kathryn S. Olmsted. I hadn’t heard of it until it was featured in the latest History Book Club catalog (yes, as I have proven many times here at C?WC?, I am a nerd). But, as usual, one thing led to another…

In her book, Olmsted analyzes the American bent to believe in conspiracies, taking off, I guess, from Hofstadter and his work on the paranoid style. She argues that the fervency of the theorists has really picked up since WWI, as the federal government has grown (and – my comment – technology has given the Feds the tools to do many more things in surreptitious ways). She goes through the biggies of conspiracy theories, including Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, and of course 9/11. The HBC reviewer says she debunks most of them, “but finds important elements in many of them that add to our understanding of history and the truth.”

From that review, I went to the publisher’s website, which has a blurb and excerpts from reviews. One point caught my eye, and I think explains why the theories thrive: “Real conspiracies by government officials – such as the infamous Northwoods plan – have fueled our paranoia about the government.”

Kennedy's Saddam

Kennedy's Saddam

The Northwoods Plan. I know I’ve heard of it. But what is it again? A quick Google led to this ABC News report. A summary: The Northwoods Plan was the military’s blueprint for creating a justification for invading Cuba and taking out Casto, concocted post-Bay of Pigs. The government would orchestrate an event – say blow up a U.S. Navy ship in Guantánamo Bay – blame Fidel, then send in the Marines. In the world of spooks and the theorists who track them, such a manipulation is called a false-flag incident. Northwoods was the child of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but Kennedy and his advisers aborted it. Congress never even got a whiff of the plan, and it remained locked away for almost 40 years.

Two things struck me about the ABC report. One was this line: “The plans were motivated by an intense desire among senior military leaders to depose Castro.” Hmm, our government has an intense desire to get rid of a foreign leader, that sounds familiar. Something along those lines happened recently, yes? And the second thing was the date of the article: May 1, 2001. Hmm, something happened a few months later, an attack of some kind, and then we went to war against some foreign leader we intensely wanted to get rid of…

Another kind of acid test, a.k.a. MKULTRA

Another kind of acid test, a.k.a. MKULTRA

No, I am not making the 9/11 conspiracy theorists’ big-gun argument (already discussed once here). But you get my – and Olmsted’s point: It’s not totally farfetched for some people to believe the government pulled a false-flag in September 2001, when just four months before we learned about Northwoods. And some of us knew about the lying that surrounded the Gulf of Tonkin incident, confirmed in 2005. Throw in the CIA experiments with LSD, the secret radiation testing, a few others I’m probably forgetting about, and the paranoid style doesn’t always seem so loopy.

I don’t know if I’ll read Olmsted’s book. And really, no more conspiracy talk here. But when you look at what is true, what we know the government has done that was morally bankrupt, and then lied about it, you gotta wonder, What don’t we know? And maybe some of it, would we really want to know it?

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~ by mburgan on December 29, 2008.

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