Conspiracy Theories


From Creation to Nine Eleven and Beyond


            “Surely you’re not stupid enough, “ he said, fixing me with his bossy boozy eyes and pounding on the table – we were drinking beer at a sidewalk café, he was a war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and he knew all the world’s dirty secrets – “you’re not naive enough, you’re not damnfool enough to believe the official story of a lone gunman. A lone, dimwitted gunman who just happened to be posted near a place where the motorcade just happened to a turn into a street which was not on the route originally announced. A gunman toting a gun that had been given to him only a few weeks before and that he didn’t know how to use, but who put a shot into that moving car surrounded by security men and hit the body at the only point where it was bound to be fatal. I tell you, my friend, the great events of this world are not unleashed by lonely loony gunmen taking potshots on city streets. This had to be a highly sophisticated military operation, carried out by professional sharpshooters, at just the time and place where it was bound to have a profound effect on the history of the world. It had to be planned, planned in the minutest detail, by men in the highest positions of power, not only setting up the operation weeks or months in advance, but setting up the coverup that would allow the real killers to fade away, and then mounting a huge propaganda machine which would convince naive softheads like you that the whole thing was the work of a high-school dropout with bad lungs.”

          You will have guessed by now that he was talking about the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand which the history books tell us was committed by a young Serb named Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, the spark that blew up the world in 1914

          I was very young then, this was in 1938, and I found it intolerable to be described as naive. I talked right back to that correspondent, I told him I had studied history in college, and I knew a great deal about that assassination. I knew that it was well known that Gavrilo Princip, in whose name statues would be later erected all over Yugoslavia, was not a lone operator, he was part of a small group of hotblooded hotheaded young Serbs who had gotten together secretly to plan a series of violent patriotic, or as the Austrians would put it, terrorist, blows against the oppressors of their people, of which the most spectacular was to be the killing of the heir to the throne of the evil Empire of Austria-Hungary .

          It was a very poorly planned operation and very sloppily executed except for that one lucky shot into the Archduke’s neck, but still there was a feeling from the start that anything that started a world war could not have been entirely the work of a bunch of harebrained adolescents. They might have secretly planned something, but they had loose adolescent tongues, and in the disordered belligerent and highly talkative world of the Balkans, swarming with secret agents and informers of all stripes, nobody could keep a secret very long, and their project must have come quickly to the attention of powerful organizations which had motives for helping it succeed or at least for doing nothing to hinder it: Perhaps it was the Serbian government in Belgrade whose main goal in life was to dismantle the Austro-Hungarian empire. Perhaps it was the Austro-Hungarian government in Vienna which was dying for the Serbs to do some criminal act that would justify declaring war on them. Perhaps it was the Russian government in St Petersburg, which was dying for Austria to attack Serbia so that chivalrous Russia could attack Austria and liberate its millions of enslaved Slavs,. Perhaps it was the German government in Berlin which was anxious to get a war started in the brief period when the French and the Russians were going through a messy period of modernizing their armies and would be most vulnerable to an attack from the better-equipped German army. Numerous historians have scoured the records to find evidence for any or all of these possibilities without ever turning up a smoking gun.

          My friend would have none of this. “None of the leaders of the European powers in 1914,” he told me emphatically, “had the brains or the will or the resources to mount a secret operation on this scale, and to carry it through so faultlessly. They had to get the archduke to make a formal visit to Sarajevo, where two out of every three people were Serbs, and on St. Vitus Day at that, which was the Serbian national holiday. They had to make sure that there would be a pitiful 120 policemen assigned to guard the whole route of the motorcade. They had to make sure the customs officials were sufficiently bribed to look the other way when the arms were smuggled over the border. They had to make sure the President of France was at sea for a state visit to Russia where he couldn’t make any diplomatic moves to stop the rush to war. They had to make sure that the archduke would be wearing bullet-proof clothes which left one spot free for a fatal bullet, the jugular vein . It’s as plain as the nose on your face.” And, perhaps seeing a skeptical wrinkling of my nose, he added: “And the proof is that they got exactly what they were after, which was to start a long war and kill millions of people and blow up much of Europe with millions of tons of munitions. And who were the only people who had any profit to gain from a war like that? It’s as plain as the nose on your face, they were people who sold all those munitions to the warring nations, like they sold all the tools and material for repairing the damage afterwards. In other words, the international Jewish bankers, the Elders of Zion.”.


          In other words, my companion was a Conspiracy Theorist.


          It is fashionable nowadays to make fun of Conspiracy Theorists, but they will not go away. There will always be a massive audience for books proving that it was President Roosevelt and not Admiral Yamamoto who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, that it was Field Marshal Rommel and General Speidel and not Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery who planned the defeat of the German Army in Normandy in 1944, that the CIA (or the Mafia, or Fidel Castro – and why not Aristotle Onassis, the man who got the most substantial profit from the deed) engineered the assassination of John Kennedy in Dallas in 1963, that it was Israel’s wily Mossad (with or without the cooperation of neo-cons in the White House) and not some stupid Arab who planned the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in September 2001.

          Conspiracy Theory is a natural outgrowth of conspiracy itself (a “secret agreement to do a wrong or unlawful act” says the dictionary), which is a universal human activity spread through all the time and space available to mankind. Uncounted conspiracies are going on all around you as you read these words, conspiracies to kill rulers and subvert states, to mount hostile takeovers of Fortune 500 companies, to rob banks, smuggle drugs, commit fornications and adulteries, shoot deer out of season, ruin the reputation of presidential candidates, fleece investors, fix the Olympics.

          So when something big and important and totally unexpected takes place, upsetting the lives of all of us, and our governments have only lame explanations, or no explanations at all, to explain why they completely unprepared for it, it is only natural to look for something big and evil and secret, for hidden men pulling hidden strings inside and outside, above below the governments.

          All governments after all, since there has been such a thing as a government have found it necessary to make some, if not all, of their plans, away from the eys of the vulgar, to employ what are euphemistically called intelligence agencies sending out spies to foreign lands, or recruiting traitors in those lands, to illegally find out what their governments are up to and what are the weak spots in their defenses.. If they come through with valuable information, they are richly rewarded, as was Rahab the harlot who betrayed her homeland by sheltering the Israelite spies who were collecting the information which led to the destruction of Jericho, and was paid off by receiving a place in the most exalted genealogical tree of all time, the one which would include King David and Joseph the husband of Mary; or Benedict Arnold who won honors and riches in England for his earnest though ultimately unsuccessful efforts to betray the fledgling United States. If they are caught, of course, no punishment or degradation is great enough for such conspirators.


          The first conspiracy on record, if the chronology of the third chapter of the Book of Genesis is correct, was the first spontaneous activity in which human beings acted in concert, the first stirring of what came to be known as society. You know the story: a snake talked Eve who talked Adam into to stealing a valuable piece of property from their landlord – an operation no different in nature from what is going on right now in a thousand city streets.

          It was only one piece of gossip (“folk tale,” to give it a more respectable title) among many that found their way into the Hebrew scriptures. There is no further mention of Adam and Eve in the Old Testament. But placed as it was, at the very beginning of human life on earth, their story could not help but attract the attention of learned rabbis and scholars who were not naive enough to believe that this was just a chance encounter of two naked juveniles and a snake. The speculations and seasonings on the subject went on for centuries and were finally crystallized (for the Christian world at any rate) by Saint Augustine in the fifth century AD, forty centuries after the event: it was a conspiracy inspired by the Devil himself, the first son and worst enemy of God, who took the form of a snake to recruit first Eve and then Adam into a crime which would bring Sin and Death into the world, to be transmitted by sexual intercourse (which does not make its appearance until the fourth chapter of Genesis) to all generations of mankind till Judgment Day.


          How can you tell a real-life conspiracy like the snake’s from a Conspiracy-Theory conspiracy like Saint Augustine’s?

          It is tempting to dismiss any far-fetched scenario as a Conspiracy Theory, but things are not that simple.

          Some Conspiracy Theories may indeed be palpably silly, and only provoke cynical laughter, as when Abraham Lincoln is reported to have been involved into a gigantic Jesuit plot to take over the United States beginning with his own assassination in Ford’s Theater; or, as a Harvard professor has recently suggested, Julius Caesar micro-manages his own stabbing by 32 senators on the floor of the Roman Senate and the civil war that followed because, feeling old and sick and having achieved absolute power on earth, he wants to go one step further and be declared a god by the surviving Senators and have godship, along with rule of the earth, pass on to his descendants indefinitely.

          Conversely, genuine documented real-life conspiracies can be palpably silly too, as when G. Gordon Liddy organized a plot to embarrass and discredit the Democratic Party hy hiring some Cuban derelicts to dress and smoke like Florida hippies and then invade a press conference of the (Republican) attorney-general Mr. Mitchell in his hotel suite in Miami and piss all over the carpet and the furniture.

          But assuming that any conspiracy you are interested in has plausible if not wholly rational aims, is skillfully organized, and leaves behind a mountain of documentary corroboration, how can you tell if it is a real-life conspiracy or a Conspiracy-Theory conspiracy? It is not always easy, but there are ways of recognizing the thumb-prints of the Theorist.

          Consider the following fairly simple example::

          In June of the year 1688, it was trumpeted to the world that Mary of Modena, the second wife of James II, the King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c, had given birth to a baby boy in London. Naive people might take that as one more natural event among many, queens after all were put on earth uniquely to produce baby boys who could insure an orderly succession; but good Protestants knew better, they knew that this was an event of immense and frightening political significance, and such events do not occur at random. The Protestants had grudgingly accepted James as their king though he was an idolatrous Papist because his second wife Mary of Modena had proved barren, and there was no male heir to the throne, which on James’s death would pass to his daughter by a previous wife, and she was a good Protestant married to the good Protestant prince William of Orange, and the true faith would be safely back in power. But now the so-called barren woman had brought forth a son, and he would surely be raised a Papist and perhaps ensure a Papist line of kings into an indefinite future, leading inevitably to the total corruption and utter downfall of England.

          It was therefore obvious to anyone who could see beyond the surface of things that Mary of Modena had never been pregnant at all, and the so-called birth was a masquerade. Yes, but there were difficulties in getting general acceptance of this view. Skeptics might say that it is easy to feign a queens’s pregnancy by stuffing a pillow under her skirt, but how do you feign a royal birth? Well, reliable witnesses had observed, at the time of the alleged lying-in, a servant who did not look like a regular palace servant, carrying a large warming-pan into the royal bed-chamber. It was easy, given this fact which might have escaped the attention of anyone but a trained Theorist, to reconstruct what had happened. A baby boy, abandoned in a ditch or in front of a church door, or perhaps produced at the right moment by a devout Catholic girl, had been plucked off the streets of London, put in that pan, brought behind the curtains of the Queen’s bed and then held up squalling to the whole court as the heir to the kingdom.

          But how about all the eyewitnesses? A royal birth in those days was a public event, with scores of noblemen and noblewomen, high officials and high ecclesiastics, doctors and servants milling through the royal apartments. And a number of distinguished names had been signed to an official document attesting to the presence of many of these people every stage of the proceedings. A Conspiracy Theorist is never troubled by such documents, which only attest to the lengths the hidden powers will go to in their manipulation of evidence. All the people alleged to be present at the “birth” were Roman Catholics, or in the pay of Roman Catholics or had something to gain from Roman Catholics. It followed that they had been assigned to their task as a religious duty by the Society of Jesus, the fearsome Jesuits of whom the historian Macaulay would later write that the “most atrocious plots recorded in history” could be ascribed to their ceaseless secret conniving.

          Secret conniving is one thing, and has been practiced successfully since, and presumably well before, the beginning of recorded history. Total secrecy is something else, and in the real world it is rarely encountered. In real-life conspiracies, almost always, sooner or later, some conspirator turns up who is treacherous or frightened or imprudent or greedy enough to spill at least some of the beans.

          If the conspiracy is unsuccessful, as it was for the harem ladies who plotted to kill Pharaoh Rameses III around 1100 BC, or as it was for the German officers who plotted to kill Hitler in 1944 AD, or as it was for Messrs. Nixon Mitchell Magruder Liddy et al. when they plotted a burglary in the Watergate in 1972, the truth comes out under the pressure of police interrogation, the torture chamber, hostile investigative journalists, or squealers and turncoats in their own ranks.

          When on the other hand the conspiracy is successful, or appears to be successful, the conspirators cannot help boasting about it. Brutus and other Senators had hardly time to wipe Caesar’s blood off their daggers before flocking to the Forum to proclaim to the Roman people what they had so successfully conspired to do. When Solomon successfully conspired with his mother Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet and Zadok the priest to depose and then kill his older brother Adonijah and become King of Israel, he had a full account of the proceedings entered into Holy Writ. When Kim Philby and his university bedmates successfully conspired with Soviet spymasters to infiltrate and sabotage the British intelligence services, when Kermit Roosevelt successfully conspired with Iranian generals to overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadegh, they wrote books gleefully providing all the details. When Osama bin Laden successfully conspired to destroy the World Trade Center in 2001, he was only too glad to provide the world press with a detailed account of the planning process shortly afterwards.

          Man was created a talkative animal, and talk he will, especially when he has a particularly juicy secret to reveal, one which may win him a rich financial reward or at least assure him a satisfied audience in the bar-room. If he has no juicy secret to hand, he may be tempted to make one up. The failure to appreciate that human weakness leads to the fatal weakness of so many Conspiracy Theories.

          Can anyone seriously believe for example, that the inhabitants of London at the turn of the 17th century, a city of about the size of today’s Sheboygan Wisconsin -- a city where everybody knew who everybody else was, where everybody went to the same theaters and taverns, a city moreover swarming with professional conspirators and spies in the service of Queen Elizabeth’s secret police or the Jesuits or the Spaniards or the French, all of them on the lookout for hot bits of gossip – were unaware, every one of them, that Francis Bacon, Lord High Chancellor of England as well as the founder of modern scientific method, made a habit for twenty-odd years of dashing off plays in his rare leisure hours and arrange to have them smuggled by relays of co-conspirators into the boarding house of a second-rate actor named William Shakespeare who then conned all his friends and colleagues, all the poets and playwrights and Mistress Quicklies of London, all the first-nighters at the Globe theater, not to speak of the scholars who for hundreds of years have been combing through every scrap of paper surviving from those times, into believing that he had written them himself? And that no one for almost three hundred years afterward would even guess that there was a secret, till in 1888 a Theorist named Ignatius Donnelly, the “Sage of Nininger City,” Minnesota announced that he had broken the code concealed by Bacon in the 1619 folio edition of “Shakespeare”’s plays and could reveal the fraud?

          Would any one in the twentieth century have believed that three centuries hence some one will be writing best-sellers to prove that Winston Churchill had taken time off from politics and managing a war to write the plays of “Noel Coward” or that Henry Kissinger was the real author of Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire? But many otherwise astute people, Mark Twain for one, have fallen hook line and sinker for the Theory about Bacon, sometimes replaced by rival Theorists with other noble lords like the Earl of Oxford.

          More sophisticated Theorists than Ignatius Donnelly have gotten around the suspicious silence of all Bacon’s and Shakespeare’s contemporaries by having their Conspiracies created by vast evil impersonal organizations which know how to exact total obedience and total silence from their thousand of members for hundreds of years. Organizations like the Templars, the Jesuits, the Rosicrucians, the Elders of Zion, the Mafia, the Comintern, the Trilateral Commission, al-Qaeda, the CIA, the cave-dwelling Masters of the Lost Continent of Mu.

          Some of these outfits of course have actually existed, or still exist, and some of them have had deep and long-lasting effects on the history of nations, though how deep and how long-lasting will always provide fertile ground for controversy among historians. But when they turn up in a Conspiracy Theory, there is no room for controversy. They are always lawlessly organized, they always operate underground, totally unperceived, moving and shaking the earth in an utter silence only broken when the Theorist comes along. And – this is their true distinguishing sign -- they never make mistakes. Every action they take proceeds exactly according to plan.

          But history, and common sense, tell us that this is not how things proceed in the real world.

          Consider for example this notable conspiracy, as dazzlingly successful a conspiracy as you will find in the historical record:

          In the same year 1688 that saw the launching of the Mary of Modena Warming-Pan Conspiracy Theory, which rapidly sputtered out and had no effect on the history of England, seven of the most powerful men in England, including two Dukes and the Bishop of London, got together to form a conspiracy to boot King James and his wife and their Papist baby out of the country, and save the Protestant soul of England. They smuggled a letter across the Channel asking James’s son-in-law William of Orange to invade the country and put him along with his wife Princess Mary on the throne in London..

          The Prince was more than willing, raised an army of twenty thousand Dutchmen, boarded them on a great fleet of ships and set sail. They landed unopposed in Devonshire and started to march toward London. They met only token resistance and presently the English army commanded by John Churchill (he had got his post through the influence of his sister Arabella who shared her bed with King James) went over to William’s side. James slunk away to France with his Queen and his Papist baby, and William and Mary duly mounted the throne, and it was all over with hardly a shot being fired, so quickly and so smoothly that no one these days ever thinks of it as a conspiracy. It is known the in the history books as the Glorious Revolution, and properly regarded as one of the main foundations of the liberties which so much of the world takes for granted today.

          Yes, it was all very skillfully done, but human skill has its limits. Things may indeed have gone astonishingly well, but they did not go exactly as the conspirators had planned. Chance played a major, perhaps a decisive, role in the operation.

          The original plan did not call for a landing on the Devonshire coast but considerably short of that, closer to the main goal which was London. But no sooner had the Dutch invasion fleet got out of the mouth of the Rhine and into the English Channel than an unexpected out-of-season powerful east wind struck up and everything went awry. The conspirators must have raged to see themselves s being swept helplessly westward past their intended landing beaches. It took them many anxious days to realize that the same east wind which was blowing them off course was keeping the English navy boxed up in the Thames, the navy which was the especial favorite of King James and which was ready to pounce down on the Dutch troop transports (the Dutch were the traditional enemy, they had been fighting the English for years) and sink them. So when the wind died down, the Dutch invaders could come ashore unscathed and give thanks to what was henceforth known as the Protestant Wind which had saved England.

Conspiracy Theory has no room for Protestant Winds.

           Everything has been provided for in advance, the bullet that will pierce the Archduke’s neck, the warming pan that will carry the bogus prince inside his mother’s bed, the warning to the three thousand Israelis not to show up for work that day in the World Trade Center, the horseback ride that General Marshall will be taking at the precise time the Japanese fleet will obey President Roosevelt’s order and launch on schedule the planes that will bomb Pearl Harbor, the ticket that will get Lee Harvey Oswald to Dallas on time, the last-minute delay in getting him to the exit of the Dallas jail at the precise moment when Jack Ruby is coming in.

          The Conspiracy Theorist in short is omniscient, he has intimate knowledge of the assigned roles of all the Conspirators and he has a precise timetable of the whole kit and caboodle of what they did. This is not as hard as it may sound when you are dealing with events that have already taken place and you have had time to read all the newspaper accounts, seen all the Zapruder photographs and the newsreels, consulted all the police reports, the testimony before Congressional committees, the public statements and the diaries of the victors and the vanquished and the bystanders, and you can pick and choose the dots which when properly put together will from the harmonious pattern you desire.

          Where the Theorist goes astray is when he assumes -- as it is all too easy to do in the airy hypothetical world he inhabits -- that the Conspirators he writes about were just as omniscient as he is, that they not only made perfect plans, they carried them out perfectly.

          You or I or any other real-life conspirator could tell him that this is all hogwash. A real-life conspiracy takes place in a world full of darkness where the unexpected lurks behind every corner, mistakes are always being made, emergency adjustments are always necessary.           The Theorist will pay you no mind. He has taken to heart William Blake’s cry: “Historian! Tell me the what, and I will tell you the how and the why.” Oliver Stone simplified the formula in his seminal work JFK when he has his hero tell the dullards around him to breeze through the What and How, what they must concentrate on is the Why.


          How do you find the Why? Don’t ask. It is a given. The Theorist knows because it is as plain as the nose on your face.

You have only to look at it to know it is there.

          Look, for example, at Pearl Harbor, the subject of a best-selling book by Admiral Theobald. Every one knows that the Japanese bombing raid of December 7, 1941, was one of the crucial events of the 20th century because it galvanized the previously divided American people, united them to fight a long and bloody war under the leadership of Franklin Roosevelt which ended in, among other things, the destruction of the Japanese empire and the death of millions of Japanese, and the emergence of the United States as the world’s greatest superpower. Stated in these terms, you can clearly see that the Why of Pearl Harbor was that Roosevelt, who was itching to get into the war for reasons of personal and political aggrandizement, needed to trick the Japanese into striking a first dramatic blow, When, somewhere in the mountains of intelligence reports piling up in Washington, there turned up hints that the Japanese might be preparing a surprise naval attack without a formal declaration of war, as they had done successfully against the Russians in 1904, he deliberately neglected or suppressed them, and left half of the U. S. Navy sitting, unwarned and unprotected, like a sitting duck in Pearl Harbor.


          An alternative Theory might have been that mountains of intelligence reports in Washington in the summer and fall of 1941 which needed to be sifted, and the sifters, as they so often do, might have failed ro recognize the most valuable little nuggets that may lie hidden in the dirt  

          It is odd that Admiral Theobald paid no attention to this alternative, since he was in a unique position to appreciate the high possibility of slipups in the acquisition of intelligence in wartime. A year and a half after Pearl Harbor he was in command of a mighty invasion fleet comprising 95 ships, including two battleships. 24,426 troops and 126 planes, on a mission to free the island of Kiska in the Aleutians, a tiny island of no strategic value but psychologically important because it was the sole bit of North American soil in enemy hands. Well armed with intelligence reports, the invasion force began pounding Kiska day and night and day and night beginng oneginning on July 22, and on August 15 the troops stormed ashore and for seven days scoured the island, rounding up some dogs and a fox before discovering that the whole Japanese garrison had quietly slipped out in the foggy morning of July 26.

          A Conspiracy Theorist might deduced from these facts that President Roosevelt had deliberately kept relevant intelligent material (remember that we had secretly broken the secret codes of the Japanese armed forces) out of the Admiral’s eyes in order to make a fool of him and discredit his later discovery of the damning facts about Pearl Harbor.

          But Admiral Theobald would have surely remained unshaken in his Theory and would have treated any contradiction with scorn: Go whistle in your Protestant Wind. Roosevelt got his war, didn’t he? And he won it, didn’t he? He must have planned it that way, mustn’t he? Isn’t it all perfectly simple? What more do you want?


          Well, yes, Simplification is all very well, but there is a sizeable complication here. The war that Roosevelt got on December 7 was not precisely the war he was planning for.

          The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor did indeed rouse the sleeping Americna giant into a state of unforgiving fury against Hirohito’s Japan. But the centerpiece of Roosevelt’s Conspiracy, the main enemy who musr be destroyed was Hitler’s Germany. And if Hitler, on hearing the news of Pearl Harbor, had decided to disregard his pledge to stand by Japan the way Japan had disregarded its pledge to stand by Hitler when he invaded Russia, Roosevelt would nave had a terribly hard time facing a popular demand for an all-out war in the Pacific and leaving Europe to solve its own problems. But Hitler saved the day for Roosevelt and the war planners by declaring war on the United States three days after Pearl Harbor, dragging Italy Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria with him, and unleashing a fleet of submarines which would soak all the beaches of America’s east coast with oil from sunken American ships. It was the stupidest single action of his life.

           Historians have sought for an explanation of this appalling error in judgment in Hitler’s mental state at the time -- he had every reason to be drunk with success, he had conquered half of Europe almost overnight, the Soviet Union was collapsing before his eyes and the road to India was open. Or perhaps he wanted to prove to the Japanese that unlike them, he was a man of his word, a Teutonic Knight.

          A skilled Conspiracy Theorist would look deeper, and I scent here the possibility of some future best seller proving that Hitler’s error was not fortuitous, that he like Admiral Yamamoto had been taken in by the devious deviltries of Roosevelt, who had sent agents in deep cover like Charles Lindbergh and Joseph Kennedy to whisper to the Fuehrer that America was soft and deeply divided and could be knocked out with one single shattering blow, just like the Soviet Union. Didn’t Lindbergh’s wife write a book proving that while democracy might have been all very well in its time, it was the totalitarian society of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin which was The Wave of the Future?

          But Roosevelt didn’t stop with the Lindberghs. Once Admiral Yamamoto (who had of course been in contact with secret American intelligence agents since his two-year stint as a graduate studen at Harvard) tipped him off to the details of the forthcoming attack, timed to take place while General Marshall was taking his regular Sunday ride on his stallion, he himself arranged to tip off a correspondent for the rabidly isolationist anti-Roosevelt Chicago Tibune that the US War Deparment, on specific instructions from the President, had drawn up a war plan calling for the training of an army of several million men which would be ready to invade Europe in 1943. This was a sensational piece of news which might have ruined the political career of Franklin D (who had won re-election the previous year on his pledge that he would never send American boys to fight in a foreign war). But he knew that an event was occurring in a couple of days that would have all America, including the Chicago Tribune, screaming for armed action.

          He also knew (for Conspriacy Theory conspirators know everything) that the revelation of the secret attack plan would be taken as a personal affront by Hitler, who in a moment of rage would forget his own cautious and sensible plan not to be provoked by any Americn action untile he had disposed of England and Russia, and declare the war that would seal his doom.

          How did Roosevelt know that it would seal his doom? Hitler after had been riding from triumph to triumph without a singe defeat for more than two years, his army was fighting in the suburbs of Moscow, and there was nothing to stop him from wiping out the Soviet Union, and England too if the English persisted in being stubborn, in the year and half during which America would not be able to do anything serious in the way of an attack of Germany. But Roosevelt and his fellow-Conspirators knew something that Hitler did not know He knew that his agent Admiral Yamamoto hed tipped off the Russians through a German spy stationed in Tokyo, that Japan was not going to attack Russia in 1941, but wage an all-out war in the Pacific. And this vital piece of information had allowed Stalin to withdraw a well-trained warmly clad army from Siberia which pounced on the German troops, exhausted by six steady months of fighting and shivering in their summer uniforms as the most ferocious winter of the century descended on Russia and hand Hitler his first, and eventually decisive, defeat.


          The Theorist cannot see that if what he says is true, the world we live in would be a very different place. There is a disconnect between the immense, the godsized power attributed to the Jesuits and their like, and the actual results of their conspiratorial activities, imposing as some of these may be.

          To take a grotesque example:

          A runaway bestseller of the 1990's was Holy Blood, Holy Grail, a work by three British researchers which brought to light a more-than-a-thousand-year-old conspiracy to restore to power the Merovingian dynasty which ruled most of what is now France and western Germany from the fifth to ninth centuries AD. This does not at first glance seem explosively controversial, even if all the reputable historians have take in for granted that the Merovingian bloodline was wiped out when King Chilperic III was deposed and scalped and locked up in a monastery in A.D. 751. Not so, says the book, the blood of the Merovingians still runs through the veins of several prominent European families like the Hapsburgs and the descendants of the Stuart kings of England. And that the line goes back to the son born to Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene (they were married at Cana, where the wine ran out in the wedding ceremony), who was smuggled across the sea to somewhere near Marseilles a few years after the Crucifixion. And that among the people who have been involved in the attempt to restore the Merovingians to their old royal glory may be found Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton, Cardinal Richelieu, Victor Hugo, Claude Debussy, Jean Cocteau, Pope John XXIII and scores of famous generals, statesmen, aristocrats, churchmen, alchemists and Rosicrucians.

          But what does this immense mass of power and talent have to show for itself? After all those centuries of Conspiring, the Merovingians who have come closest to power in the contemporary world have been, if the researchers’ research was accurate: Alain Poher, a self-effacing president of the French Senate for a number of years in which the French Senate did nothing out of the ordinary; Henri de Montpézat now better known as Prince Henrik, consort of the Queen of Denmark; and Diana Princess of Wales, one of whose ancestors was a Stuart. There would seem to be a very serious gap between the richness of the resources devoted to this Conspiracy and the meagerness of the results achieved. Do you know any one alive today whose sleep is troubled by the big bad Merovingians?


           For almost 300 years beginning in the late 1400's, Europe was in the grip of a gigantic Conspiracy Theory. The best minds in church and state were busy ferreting out evidence against men and women accused of making pacts with the Devil, holding diabolic councils and diabolic orgies, using charms and spells and wax figures to kill kings, shipwreck fleets and subvert the whole order of Christendom. There are no exact figures because so many records have been lost, but certainly tens of thousands of people confessed, usually after prolonged torture, to acts of witchcraft and were hanged or drowned or burned alive. In the heyday of the Spanish Inquisition, up to 100 convicted witches might be burned in a day in public places, amid general rejoicing, in an early form of what today is known as street theater.

          But what had all these witches actually done? They had admitted to meeting in covens of 13, to emitting abominable blasphemies, to riding great distances on broomsticks, to copulating with the Devil (identified by his gargantuan black penis) and so on and so on. But what actions had they taken which had any perceptible effect on the course of history, the fate of nations? So far as I know, the nearest they came to any such thing was when the Marquise de Montespan, the mistress of King Louis XIV, finding his attentions flagging, fed him some pills or powders which if they had killed him might have changed the map of Europe but in fact only gave him a bad headache.

          By the end of the 17th century, belief in the existence of a Conspiracy of witches was fading among educated people, and with it went a fading in belief in the existence of witches. The whole persecution mania that had swept the world for so many lifetimes came to be regarded as a colossal delusion, a mass dementia. By the 20th century, anyone who felt he was being unjustly accused of anything could gain sympathy by saying he was the object of a witch-hunt.

          Then in the 20th century, enter the scholar Margaret Murray whose 1921 book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe reopened the whole witch question. She studied the records of hundreds of trials all over the continent to find out what specific things the witches were charged with, and found that, though there was a bewildering variety in different places, the pattern was almost always the same, and though of course this might be the natural tendency of tortured people to tell their torturers what they want to hear, it was intriguing that the rites and rituals of the covens bore a striking resemblance to what little we know of the rites and rituals of the old pagan religions which held sway in Europe for thousands of years before the official establishment of Christianity. It was possible then to speculate that when the temples of the old gods were torn down, the priests and true believers who could not accept the new official religion in their hearts went underground, formed little cells in the countryside, and in spite of preachers and policemen and inquisitors of all sorts passed on from generation to generation the old prehistoric techniques of producing and controlling both natural and supernatural events.. 

          This was an intriguing theory, but as Murray developed it, it took on a life of its own and became a Conspiracy Theory. These ancient practices, she decided were not restricted to old women in isolated country hideouts who for a price could deliver a charm to blast a bad neighbor’s crops or terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The old pagan cults were thriving vigorously in secret, and master cultists were holding the hidden strings of power in the nations of Europe. They were able to perpetuate rites that had once been holy, such as the ritual slaying of the King after a reign of seven years in order to ensure the fertility of the land.

          Murray was aware of course that in the standard histories of Europe comparatively few kings have met violent deaths, and that a considerable majority of the them have ruled for more than seven years. But ancient ritual had an answer to that. If the King so desired, and he almost always did, to go past the seven-year mark, he could appoint a surrogate to take his place, then go through a mock death ceremony and hide out in a cave or a cellar for a specified number of days, then come bouncing back to life, put the surrogate to death and cheerfully resume reigning. Among the surrogates ferreted out by Murray were Joan of Arc in France and, in England, Saint Thomas à Becket and two of Henry VIII’s wives, including Ann Boleyn the mother of Elizabeth. Of course all the details of these operations were suppressed or disguised by the authorities so that no trace of them would appear in the official records.

          Once again, there seems to be a fatal flaw in the Theory. If the pagan holdovers could have acquired a foolproof way of disposing of kings with faultless ease as recently as the 17th century, why have they been so quiet ever since?

          A similar question might be asked of the mass of Theorists who hold that the gun-happy rambos of the CIA killed John Kennedy in Dallas. If they could murder a President of the United States in broad daylight in front of thousands of spectators and have the blame put on a lone patsy, why couldn’t they have done the same with what would seem like much easier targets like Ho Chih-Minh and Fidel Castro and Oliver Stone?

          The trouble seems to be that Conspiracy Theorists tend to get carried away by the splendor of their own creations. They uncover plots so expertly brought to fruitions and so deeply hidden from all but the Theorist’s eyes that they end up with people equipped with an intelligence that only be called superhuman. But at the same time these people fail miserably to take advantage of their successes, they display a stupidity which is equally superhuman.

          Look at the Soviet Union, a genuinely impressive conspiracy on its own, but blown up by Conspiracy Theorists to the point where it controlled every action of the American government and (according to Elizabeth Dilling’s The Red Network, which you will still find on the bookshelves of veterans of the John Birch Society) creating Einstein’s relativity theory as a weapon to be used in undermining the cultural values of the western world. Yet that mighty Union fell apart without so much as a shot being fired in 1991. As Whittaker Chambers told the editors of the National Review when they told him that the Sputnik which was upsetting everyone by beeping its way around the world over their heads was a fraud, because the wicked Russians who had infiltrated every level of the American government and were dictating American policy were too stupid and inefficient to be able to produce a space vehicle: you can’t have it both ways, they can’t be supernaturally intelligent and supernaturally dumb at the same moment.

          Perhaps there is a way out of this quandary. Perhaps, on Newton’s principal that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, for every Conspiracy uncovered by the patient researches of a Theorist, there is always an equally powerful and equally unscrupulous Counterconspiracy working in the opposite direction. Sometimes the two bodies strike up a truce, sometimes they erupt into violent confect, but neither is strong enough to overcome the other and therefore must watch its opportunities slip away, and the world goes without you and me being aware that at any given moment two adepts of two hostile creeds may be standing in tunnels with matches in the hands ready to light the fuse that will blow all of us to pieces.

          On this assumption let us look at the present state of America, It is a principle of Conspiracy Theory that you must start with a series of actions which have been accepted as unrelated facts by the uninitiated public but which when put together by the Theorist reveal the underground frightening reality.

          A natural field for study by Conspiracy Theorists, the field of the Kennedy assassination has been deeply plowed, but there are broader fields around it.

          I once saw the Theorist Gore Vidal on TV explaining to a fawning interviewer from the BBC why it was plain as the nose on his face that much more than a single death in Dallas was involved in the Conspiracy which achieved its most dramatic goal there. Dallas was only the first in a series of notable shootings -- those of Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King (and he might have added John Lennon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan to the list, but some reason chose not to) -- all of which had one notable feature in common: they were, each and every one of them, officially ascribed to a lone deranged dimwitted gunman or, in Ford’s case, gunwoman. Bizarre and improbable by itself, the case is further tainted, says this Theorist, by the authorities’ production of diaries allegedly kept by several of the accused, when everyone knows that nobody keeps diaries any more.

          “Everyone knows...” Most people rather resent know-it-alls, but the interviewer only gaped in admiration. It seemed to me he missed an admirable opportunity to ask why Mr. Vidal had not shared this useful knowledge with Senator Packwood of Oregon, who was very much in the news at the time of the interview because his private diaries had seen the light of day and had put an abrupt end to his political career.


          Let us try to broaden Mr Vidal’s constricted field of vision and see if we cannot find a broader and more horrific Conspiracy than the petty CIA intrigue which was the best he could come up with.

          If you belong to the decreasing band of those who have been required to study American history at school, you will remember that in the last century and a half there have been a number of presidential assassinations, or attempted assassinations, none of them seemingly related to the others, few of them rating more than a couple of lines in the history books. Leaving aside the special case of Lincoln (who as noted above has been outed by Theorists as a closet Jesuit). we have had six ruling presidents and one ex-but-still-politically-active president who have been shot at and killed or wounded or merely frightened, at fairly regular intervals: (Garfield in 1881, McKinley in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt in 1910. Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, Kennedy in 1943, Ford in 1973, Reagan in 1981.


          Now, does it not stand to reason that when a ruler is murdered, the first and most obvious suspect must be, not the first ragamuffin the police decide to drag in, but the ruler’s successor? When King Duncan of Scotland was murdered and Macbeth mounted the throne, Macbeth might put the blame on the royal servants, but he could hardly keep suspicion from circling back on himself. When Czar Paul I was strangled in his bed in the Mihailovsky Palace in Saint Petersburg in 1801, no one doubted that it was for the benefit of his son Alexander, however much Alexander insisted that he was asleep at the time and had no idea what was going on.

          So let us look with a keen suspicious eye at the list of Vice Presidents in all these dramas, the men who under our Constitution inherit the post left vacant by a deceased President. Is it a coincidence that the American public has long been conditioned into considering the post an insignificant and powerless one, generally occupied by political hacks of severely limited intelligence, like Alexander Throttlebottom in the classic Broadway musical Of Thee I Sing? But look more closely, and you cannot help but be struck by a troubling pattern: Three of these men – Chester A. Arthur in 1881, Theodore Roosevelt in 1901, Nelson Rockefeller in 1973 – were from New York, the headquarters of the international banks and multinational corporations which dominate our culture and rule so much of our lives. The other three – John N. Garner in 1933, Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963, George H. W. Bush in 1981 – were from Texas, home of the oil interests which provide the mainspring of our economy. It would take a very naive person to believe that all this is coincidental.

          It must be obvious that these assassinations were not isolated acts by bizarre individuals. They must rather be seen as outbreakings of giant tectonic movements that have been going on under our feet for a century without most of us having the slightest awareness of their existence. Two vast primal forces are locked in an unending struggle for the mastery of America today and tomorrow the world, and are so evenly matched that they have to accept an uneasy compromise, broken only be bullets fired at Presidents as warning signals that one side or the other is pushing too hard and had better fall back. Some of them, like the bullets fired by the CIA sharpshooters in Dallas, are serious signals, just short of declarations of war, others, like the shots fired at Gerald Ford by Squeakie Fromme, are mere tokens. In either case, they are all carefully choreographed. (Who but a Conspiracy Theory conspirator would come up with a name like Squeakie to put investigators off the scent?)

          This may not answer all of your questions about what is going on in the world today, but it should help to put your minds at least partially to rest. Who would not rather be a foot soldier in an army commanded by Americans, even if they are rich evil CEO-type Americans, than be a mere pawn moved over a chessboard without recognizable squares by the distant devilish Masters of the Lost Continent of Mu?


©2004 Robert Wernick

parts of this text appeared in Smithsonian Magazine, March 1994