Sunday, 25 June 2006

My favourite conspiracy theory

I've been asked to share my favourite conspiracy theory. Alright, I invited it: I suggested in a post below that everyone has their own favourite conspiracy theory; everyone likes to speculate about events in history for which conventional explanations seem insufficient -- including me. I'll tell you below what my own favourite conspiracy theory is, but first, some conjecture.

Not all conspiracy theories are the province of moonbats and tin-foil hat wearers. But there are too many to count that are. Bizarre theories about the moon landings; who shot JFK; who killed Diana; what the CIA are doing to our heads/water/radio waves; that Noam Chomsky is a captured asset of the New World Order; and about what the Bush family are after/have done/will do/are doing. And as Jack Wheeler observes, many of you conservatives are equally prone to moonbatism:
For some weird reason which has to do with psychology rather than reality, a small but loud subset of conservatives easily falls prey to conspiracy theories about cabals of powerful people meeting in secret to take over the world: the Bilderbergers, the Trilaterialists, the Council on Foreign Relations, or some such.

The world headquarters of this subset of conservatives is on a grassy knoll in downtown Dallas.
So there are nutters about. As All Embracing but Underwhelming says, "Fact: conspiracies have occurred, are occurring and will occur again in the future. The question is whether it is rational to believe in them." That is, some conspiracy theories are more rational than others: ie., rather than being cherry-picked, off-the-wall and at odd with everything else that we know these theories are evidence-based, reasonable, and integrated with the entire context of all existing knowledge. It's just that there are some facts we'll probably never know, and about which we have to make inferences.

Real conspiracies do exist, but not as often as conspiracy theorists think. The danger perhaps is thinking that conspiracies are the only thing that moves the world, and thinking that in unearthing a genuine conspiracy -- in finding out who did it -- we are also explaining why they did it, which in the study of history is infinitely more important, but frequently less clear without sober philosophical analysis and proper historical inquiry.

Conspiracy theories too frequently ignore the why of history, and the importance of looking at the whole context. Exploring conspiracies is very different to exploring theories about how ideas have moved the world: theories about abstract ideas and their effect on history which can be discussed, argued and considered with evidence that is easily available, but with some abstract thinking that is required to put things together. By contrast, conspiracy theories eschew abstract thinking and are generally relentlessly concrete -- one reason perhaps for their appeal to so many concrete-bound minds -- and rely for their coherence on evidence that is either unavailable, likely never to be available, or simply dreamed up, arbitrary and uncheckable, and will all too often remain unresolvable -- surely part of the charm for the conspiracy theorist.

So what's my favourite conspiracy theory then?

So, now that I've blathered for so long, let me reveal my own favourite conspiracy theory about which I occasionally like to speculate, and which I like to think is entirely rational. And for that you have to go all the way back to 1938, when US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in a hole and desperate to get out.

Elected two years before in a landslide after 'fixing' the depression with four years of motivating, meddling, and pouring historically unprecedented amounts of money -- huge gobs of cash! -- into make-work programmes, bizarre schemes and outright vote-buying, FDR found in 1938 that his party was almost completely set against him, and the depression was even worse than it was when his meddling and taxing and spending and crop-burning began.

His budget was blowing out, his schemes and nostrums were being struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, and unemployment, 11,586,000 in 1932 when he took power, was now back up at 11,369,000 with a further 19,648,000 on relief -- a figure 3 million more than what Franklin found when he took power. Worse, he was totally out of answers, and becoming petulant about it. It was everybody else's fault for the hole he was in. All the quack remedies had been tried, and all had failed him and had served only to make the depression worse. In an unguarded moment he threw a tantrum at his Cabinet, shouting: "I am sick and tired of being told by Henry [Morgenthau, the Secrtary of the Treasury] and everybody else what's the matter with the country while no one suggests what to do!" The great conjurer had no tricks left up his sleeve, and he was looking at a richly deserved place in history as a flake and an abject bloody failure.

He resolved right then and there to get himself out of the hole the way that statists throughout history have got themselves out of such holes at such a time: he resolved to take advantage of the storm clouds brewing internationally and go to war -- at one stroke to unite the country and its propaganda services behind him, and to flood the country with government-printed money to spend his way out of the hole he had spent his way into.

His problem was this: 1) Americans didn't want to go to war; and 2) he had promised voters over and over again "on several stacks of bibles" that "he would not send American boys to die in foreign wars." If Franklin was to get American into the war it would have to be dragged in -- and so it was. And here's where agreed facts are left behind and conjecture and inference really begin: it was dragged in with the full and enthusiastic planning and support of US President Franklin Roosevelt, who had done his very best to get America entangled in the war, even as he told voters the exact opposite.

For at least two-and-a-half years FDR tried to provoke either Germany or Japan into "firing the first shot" and declaring war on the US, and for at least two-and-a-half years he failed. As Secretary of War Henry Stimson confided to his diary on November 25 1941,
The question was how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.
Finally, on 7 December 1941, after years of provocation including US blockades, US oil and steel embargoes (on a country with neither), the total freeze of Japanese assets in the US, 'small boats' placed in harm's way in the hope they'd start an incident, and the placing of the US Pacific Fleet like a sitting target at Pearl Harbor, after all of this and more he succeeded in provoking Japan into a surprise attack that was less a surprise to some in FDR's Administration for its timing than for its ferocity. After the attack, Stimson confessed that "my first feeling was of relief . . . that a crisis had come in a way which would unite all our people."

That's the conspiracy theory, in which there is a reasonable degree of inference, yet in my view it is inference well justified by the facts. In my view, FDR wasn't directly complicit in planning the attack (how could he be? -- that was done by the Japanese) but he and his aides did have a pretty fair idea it was coming, and he and his Administration did conceal important information from the commander of the Pacific Fleet Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and the Hawaiian army commander Lt Gen Walter Short, who were to become the scapegoats for the unpreparedness of the defence.

What genuinely suprised Roosevelt and others I think, was not the attack itself but its ferocity and the destructiveness. Patrician America had seriously underestimated the 'yellow race' they had been baiting for so long, and the results of their frank underestimation, the sea of death and destruction did shock them. You can hear that shock in FDR's famous 'Day of Infamy' speech to Congress, responding on the day of the attack, but his Cabinet colleagues report he was nowhere near as shocked privately as he was in public.

So there it is. That's my own favourite conspiracy theory. The very infamy he condemned so eloquently is something which Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself deserved to share.

The good thing about such theories for the theorist is that there's always more to know: there's always more to find out and and another book to buy in order to track down the ever-elusive facts. In fact, I'm just going through another bout of reading the various histories of the time and the man, including a new book, Conrad Black's incomprehensibly titled Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom that I figured I needed to read to challenge myself. It hasn't so far.

To that I'm comparing again the accounts given in some of my favourite and frequently re-read titles such as John Flynn's The Roosevelt Myth (highly recommended), Gerald Johnson's Roosevelt, William Leuchtenburg's Franklin Roosevelt and the the New Deal, Robert Higgs's Crisis and Leviathan, Murray Rothbard's America's Great Depression, Mark Skousen's 'Saving the Depression: A New Look at World War II,' Gene Smiley's Rethinking the Great Depression, Thomas Fleming's The New Dealers' War, Gordon Prager's At Dawn We Slept, Robert Stinnett's Day of Deceit, Robert Nesbit's Roosevelt and Stalin: The Failed Courtship, Nikoloai Tolstoy's Victims of Yalta, John Denson's The Costs of War, and Paul Johnson's Modern Times to help put it all in context. That's a big stack to have beside the bed, but great fun to plough through, consider and mull over.

So there you go. Shoot me down.

TAGS: History, History-Twentieth_Century, Nonsense, Politics-US

1 comment:

  1. My favourite conspiracy theorist - Lyndon LaRouche at Executive Intelligence Review.


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.