Richard Foley: Let's not confuse 'conspiracy theories' with crimes against democracy
Becca Balint's recent commentary (Nov. 29) on "the real danger to our democracy that conspiracy theories pose" arrived in the midst of the impeachment investigation into Trump's clumsy, grifter's attempt to betray the national interest in exchange for personal political gain and days before the 78th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday, Dec. 7. But Ms. Balint may have inadvertently "thrown out the baby with the bath water."
"Conspiracy theory" is a loaded phrase. Our country was founded through a conspiracy. And we have since touted the Founding Fathers' theories as enshrined in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence as the foundation of our democracy. Since the late 1770s, numerous factions both within and outside the government have attempted to work in secrecy to subvert the national interest. Indeed, the current impeachment proceedings represent an attempt "to out" a Trump-led conspiracy.
But as numerous scholars have pointed out, the CIA launched the common use of the phrase "conspiracy theory" in 1964 as a strategy to ridicule and dismiss the widespread public criticism of the government's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in fatally shooting President Kennedy. Subsequently, the government and mainstream media have relentlessly used the label to discredit any objective observation and independent analysis targeting a long list of government-sponsored actions.
However, dedicated researchers, investigators and witnesses have continued to question and often refute official government "stories." Scholars have even carved out a discipline, State Crimes Against Democracy (SCAD), to further legitimize interdisciplinary efforts to provide the public with accurate information, starting with the JFK, RFK and MLK assassinations and strategies designed to justify U.S. military aggression. For instance, the Mexican army invading the Texas territories, the Spanish blowing up the Maine, the North Vietnamese navy's attack in the Gulf of Tonkin, Al Qaeda's role in the attacks on 9/11, and Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
Even the myth of the Japanese navy's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor has been revealed as the end product of a "White House conspiracy." Historian Charles Beard introduced this "conspiracy theory" as early as 1947, but it was a World War II Pacific Theater veteran, Robert Stinnett, who conducted an exhaustive, 17-year study of the pre-Pearl Harbor intelligence gathering networks — dozens of interviews with radio operators and reviews of over 200,000 original source materials and recently released FOIA records. In "Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor," published in 2000, Stinnett proves unequivocally that President Roosevelt, with the support of a small group of confidants, including key military personnel, developed an eight-step strategy to provoke Japan into striking first in order to dislodge the American public's well documented reluctance to engage in another war overseas. Despite the myth of Japanese "radio silence," U.S. cryptographers listened to and deciphered hundreds of the enemy's military and diplomatic transmissions. U.S. intelligence tracked the Japanese Task Force across the North Pacific from the time it set sail from Hitokappu Bay on Nov. 26 to its strike position just west of the classical composer-named seamounts on Dec. 5. FDR and his inner circle withheld this information from Admiral Kimmel and General Short, the officers in charge of Pearl Harbor.
The deception worked to perfection. The U.S. forces "got caught with their pants down," dramatic still photographs and filmed images filled the newsprint and theater screens, and the American majority's isolationism flipped to seamless patriotic outrage overnight. On Dec. 8 Congress declared war on Japan (only one dissenting vote) and three days later the U.S. was at war with the original Axis of Evil: Germany, Italy and Japan.
What if we Americans had come to grips with FDR's decision to provoke Japan into an overt act of aggression? How would we have regarded subsequent investigative reporting and so-called conspiracy theories in general? Would the American public have bought the subsequent mythic distortions that fueled the Global War on Terrorism?
As I watch the current impeachment hearings, I reluctantly fantasize about the House Intelligence Committee interviewing George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, high-ranking intelligence, military and FAA officials, as well as members of the Project for a New American Century, about their roles leading up to, during and after the attacks on 9/11 and the subsequent cooking-of-the-books on Iraq's WMDs.
Yes, we can point out cheesy "conspiracy theories" running amuck out in our infant digital media playground, but let's not confuse that whack-a-mole game with the critical task of identifying and deconstructing monumental state crimes against democracy. And holding accountable the seasoned state insiders.
Richard Foley writes from Brattleboro. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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