I never thought I’d witness it in my lifetime. The paranoid left, aided and abetted by universal access to the internet along with an educational system that has stopped teaching young people the mechanics of thinking rationally, has apparently broken through and gone mainstream.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the federal government had warnings about 9/11 but decided to ignore them, a national survey found.
And that’s not the only conspiracy theory with a huge number of true believers in the United States.
The poll found that more than one out of three Americans believe Washington is concealing the truth about UFOs and the Kennedy assassination – and most everyone is sure the rise in gas prices is one vast oil-industry conspiracy.
Sixty-two percent of those polled thought it was “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that federal officials turned a blind eye to specific warnings of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Only 30 percent said the 9/11 theory was “not likely,” according to the Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll.
While there is certainly enough paranoia on the right about 9/11 and “The New World Order,” black helicopter conspiracies, the driving force behind 9/11 truthers, Kennedy conspiracists, and Area 51 nutcases has been the far left of American politics.
And with the advent of the internet, where their most outrageous conspiracy theories are given the patina of respectability, they have been able to capture the dim witted, the ignorant, and especially the young who have grown up without the benefit of learning how to think critically and rationally about the world around them.
To believe that people in the United States government – specifically Bush and Cheney but anyone for that matter – had advance knowledge of 9/11 and did nothing to prevent it is to believe that there is a monstrous evil abroad in the land – that the President of the United States is as bad as Adolf Hitler, standing by while so many were killed. Variations of that theory have Bush pulling a “Roosevelt” (another, older conspiracy theory) who wanted to get into World War II so he did nothing despite prior knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack. In the expanded theory, Bush wanted to go to war in the Middle East for the oil.
For those with the critical thinking skills of a marmoset, such a formulation makes perfect sense. The only problem is that those who actually think about that idea for more than a few seconds realize the enormous problems for someone actually planning and carrying out such a conspiracy so that it has a chance of success.
Leave aside for a moment the fact that such a conspiracy would involve so many hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people in and out of government that the idea it could be kept secret is idiotic. The number of unknowns in executing such a plan are staggering. To believe in such a conspiracy, one needs to also believe in psychics and soothsayers. That’s because for such a conspiracy to achieve fruition, a series of events – many of which would have been impossible to predict – would have had to occur.
The problem for the truthers is that they are examining 9/11 after it happened so that what appears to be a logical progression of events and actions leading to a specific result is actually a mirage. There are forces and occurrences that no one could have foreseen at work as each step of the con piracy would have taken place thus making such a plan a crapshoot at best.
History does not unfold in nice, neat little vignettes where logic rules and the orderly progression of events can be measured and predicted like a mathematical equation. History is chaos. It is unpredictable because of the human element involved in its revelations. To believe in conspiracy is to suspend belief in reality itself and ignore the impact of randomness on events that is so obviously a huge part of history.
Oswald and Kennedy in Dealy Plaza, Dallas Texas, 44 years ago is so unlikely a happenstance of history that in order to get the two together on that day, in that location, conspiracists have had to extrapolate theories with no facts at hand to buttress them. They guess, they infer, they even just make stuff up. They create an entirely different past for Oswald – one not found in any historical record anywhere. He was CIA, or KGB, or an agent of Cuban intelligence. He was working for the mob, or the FBI, or the Secret Service. He was a patsy or he wasn’t even there.
The point is, they can’t all be right. What is missing is the brutal and boring reality that Oswald was in Dealy Plaza that day because of a random series of coincidences having nothing to do with any conspiracy but having everything to do with the arc of events related to Oswald’s miserable life. Add the random factor of a trip to Texas at exactly that time and that place by Kennedy and you have history in all its confusing, chaotic, glorious best.
An historical anomaly? Not hardly. Consider what happened during a real assassination conspiracy; the murder of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, the proximate cause for World War I.
The killing of Ferdinand is so impossible, so unlikely as to be beyond belief. And while there really was a conspiracy involving the Serbian separatist group, The Black Hand, the actual circumstances that led to Ferdinand’s death would have been rejected by a Hollywood studio for being just too fantastical.
The conspiracy had several assassins spread out along a motorcade route where Ferdinand and his wife would be taken to the town hall for a formal welcome. The first two assassins lost heart completely and failed to make an attempt. They were armed with bombs and pistols. Further along the route, another assassin made the first attempt on the Archduke’s life, tossing a bomb that bounced off Ferdinand’s car and landed behind it, exploding when a follow-up car passed over it. The bomb injured 20 people and shook up Ferdinand’s party considerably. The would be assassin swallowed a cyanide pill and jumped in the river – neither of which killed him. He was promptly arrested.
Also failing to act despite being armed with bombs and pistols were several other assassins standing nearby including young Gavrilo Princip. The 20 year old would get another chance shortly.
After a tense greeting by the mayor of Sarajevo, Ferdinand announced his desire to go to the hospital and visit those injured in the failed attack. Additional security for the Archduke was discussed but in the end, it was left up to the Serbian police to protect Ferdinand.
Meanwhile, young Princip, probably disappointed at his failure to carry out the plan, made his way to a deli to grab a sandwich. And here is where coincidence and the rule of randomness unite to make history.
Ferdinand’s driver, unaware of the change in destination and unfamiliar with the winding, confusing streets of the city, made a wrong turn down a street near where the bomb blast occurred. By chance, at the end of the street was the very same deli from which Gavrilo Princip was just now emerging with his sandwich. Realizing his mistake, the driver stopped and began to back up. But before he could get very far, Princip jumped on the running board and pumped two shots into the car, hitting Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. Both died within the hour.
Let us examine this from the perspective of a conspiracy theorist. Obviously, the driver is in on the conspiracy. Are we really supposed to believe that he innocently made a wrong turn down the very street that the assassin was waiting? And surely, the Mayor is part of the plot. If his welcoming speech as been 2 minutes shorter or longer, Princip would have not been near the deli and missed his chance.
How about the security personnel for the Archduke? Guilty! They could have added security along the route and failed to do so – a sure sign they were complicit in the assassination. And let’s not forget the Archduke’s own suicidal participation in this plot. After all, would he been killed if he hadn’t insisted on going to the hospital?
Most historians dismiss conspiracy theories out of hand because of these kind of random occurrences that simply cannot be predicted and would in many cases, scuttle the bud of a conspiracy before it had a chance to flower.
This has not stopped the paranoid left from positing the notion of history as conspiracy especially as it relates to 9/11. Part of this is certainly the way the left sees history in a deterministic fashion:
The conspiracy theory is the bastion of shadows and little or no evidence. It explains a famous or known event by appealing to the leftist dictum of â€œfollow the moneyâ€ or â€œlook who benefitsâ€ as if actual evidence is irrelevant and personal ethics are just a farcical way for the rich and powerful to pull the wool over the eyes of everyone else. Whether it is the Kennedy assassination or the 9/11 attacks, conspiracy theories which pop up to counter the â€œofficialâ€ tale of events share common characteristics.
As a historian, I come across conspiracy theories all the time. Progressive historians like Charles and Mary Beard made the conspiracy theory view of history a popular vogue for a while. They contended that the founders plotted the constitution as a way of aggrandizing their power and property at the expense of common folk, the evidence being that nearly all of the men at the convention were wealthy property owners and remained so afterwards, or became richer under the new system. Of course, this case is circumstantial at best and ignores the actual debates which occurred at the convention and afterwards on real political and philosophical issues.
Beardâ€™s assertions inspired other historians to go into other historical episodes and see greedy conspiracies. The War of 1812 is a topic I study quite a bit and a topic with a historiography full of conspiracy theories, whether to steal Canada, Indian land, or whatever else, as opposed to the real issues of free trade and sailorâ€™s rights which actually sparked the conflict. The conspiracy theory today is usually a way to cast the darkest aspersions upon the government in general and certain officers of the government in particular.
The mindset that can take an historical event and glean the truth from “who benefits” is absurd on its face. One need only look at the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11, and the examine the make-up of Congress and Bush’s approval ratings today in order to totally debunk the idea. Democrats in control of government (and likely to increase their majorities and win the White House next year) while George Bush is seen as a failure.
If we are to believe that Bush & Company either allowed 9/11 to happen or actually planned and executed that tragedy, then one must look at the political situation today in order to validate those theories. Are we to believe it was part of the plan that George Bush would sink to historic lows of approval by the American people? Are we to believe that the fall of the Republican party was foreseen by the plotters?
Do these facts mean that the conspiracy is now no longer in operation, that it has been closed down? At what point did the plotters see the end of their machinations? After Saddam’s statue fell? After Bush’s re-election? When the first gush of Iraqi oil was stolen by the government (or their proxies, the oil companies)?
These aren’t idle questions. They are questions that must be answered by the conspiracists in order for them to prove their theories. They can’t, of course. For instance, to believe that the conspiracy was over with the 2004 election raises its own set of problems. For if the President knew there were no WMD’s in Iraq prior to the invasion, you would have to carry that idea to its logical conclusion that Bush wanted to lose the war. Otherwise, our victorious troops would find no WMD and expose the plot or at the very least, risk defeat by the Democrats in 2004 who would make the failure to find WMD an issue in the campaign. Or our defeated troops would never get the chance to search for WMD and the plot would remain intact. Of course, there would be such an outcry over our loss of the war that Bush would be defeated for re-election.
Remember, we are not seeing these events after they happen but rather we are planning to invade Iraq for the oil. How can we be sure Bush won’t get slaughtered in the election for not finding any WMD? As it is, the Democrats came within 100,00 votes in Ohio of winning, which would have destroyed the plot right there.
All it takes to dismiss most conspiracy theories is a little skepticism, a little critical thinking. But the skills necessary to examine conspiracies by applying logic and extrapolating outcomes based on reason and common sense rather than deterministic fantasies has been largely lost thanks public schools ignoring the necessity of teaching comprehension and cognition.
This was due to a widespread belief among educators that students are vessels to be filled with information rather than human beings who must be taught how to value and assess that information. There was also a belief that teachers shouldn’t bully students by imposing a specific worldview.
I sympathize with the argument but reject it from experience. The best teachers I had growing up did not tell me what to think. They taught me how to think. Bad teachers can’t tell the difference. But all it takes is one or two teachers who impart more than knowledge but rather habits of thought you carry with you for a lifetime and give a student the basics of approaching information with a rational and reasoned mind. I fear that the de-emphasis on teaching critical thinking skills prevents most younger people from attacking intellectual problems like conspiracy theories armed with the proper intellectual weapons to cull the truth from the nonsense. Couple that incredulity with the viral nature of the internet and you have a potent combination to spread the disease of ignorance with regard to conspiracies.
From believing in creationism to advancing theories about Area 51 and aliens, it is sometimes beyond belief how dumb people can be. Michelle Malkin has it about right; “The fringe is now mainstream.” And it is frightening to consider the idea that if this is so, what other kind of conspiracy theories can gain traction and eventually cause some real mischief.
The left has done a good job the last 30 years smearing our history, denigrating our accomplishments as a nation, ascribing all sorts of evil to our motivations, and generally highlighting America’s numerous shortcomings. Howard Zinn is an extreme example of this school of leftist thought. This is a one dimensional view of America that fails spectacularly in describing the people and events that have shaped America into the imperfect but basically decent vessel that it is today. But at the bottom of most of the left’s critique of America is the belief that powerful, evil, unseen forces are at work to oppress and rule the American people.
The fact that a majority now subscribe basically to that view should not surprise us. But it should nevertheless chill us to our bone marrow. For out of such paranoia arise dictators and tyrants. And with so many enthralled with conspiracies of one kind or another, it wouldn’t take much to see such a man as a savior on a white horse rather than the harbinger of disaster.