Note: This is the first part of a 5-part commentary that will run each morning this week.
"Remember the Maine": Our Love Affair with Conspiracy
I recently ran across a website, apparently under the control of a Seattle firefighter, Erik Lawyer, which asks firefighters to wake up and smell the 9/11 Thermite. Thermite is what 9/11 conspiracists insist was used to destroy the Twin Towers and Building 7. The website is a collection of recycled propaganda delivered in the outraged tone of committed conspiracists who stand ready and able to educate the ignorant and gullible masses about the secret and evil hands guiding our country. It calls for "an investigation" which presumes that no effective investigation has occurred. Lawyer asks, "What are they hiding?" and "Don’t we deserve the truth?" His questions infer either that there is something to hide or the presence of an evil force lying to US citizens.
I usually ignore such trash but it was sent by a non-firefighter with the note "this is legit." Lawyer says that "our communities trust us" and cites that as a reason for firefighters to sign a petition and to become involved in trafficking in absurdities and ridiculous assertions. Such folly can have grave implications. I sincerely hope we know better but I wouldn’t necessarily bet on that.
On February 15, 1898, the US Battleship Maine, moored in Havana Harbor in Cuba, exploded and sank taking with her a majority of the crew. There are at least three potential causes: undetected fire in a forward coal bunker leading to the detonation of black powder stored nearby, the striking of a mine or the intentional sinking of the ship. The second reason, a mine strike, was the one chosen as the pretext to go to war with Spain. Some have favored the more insidious rationale that we deliberately sank our own ship for the same purpose. To this day, despite over a hundred years of investigations, doubts remain. In fact, subsequent investigations, always employing "new" technology have allowed new "facts" and information to surface that fail to substantiate such a conspiracy.
The evidence supports the conclusion that a fire in the coal bunker did indeed ignite black powder and cause a devastating explosion. The continued notion of a deliberate conspiracy over the destruction of the Maine and her crew is evidence of our historical preoccupation with conspiracies as a way of explaining unpleasant events. Those who say we sank our own ship use a sad event to concoct a bogus story for their own gratification. Sound familiar?
Americans have an on-going fascination with the island of Cuba and we are always looking for ways to appropriate it. Ironically, in 1854, 44 years before the Maine, then President Franklin Pierce engaged in a conspiracy with a US diplomatic emissary to wrest Cuba from Spain in what has come to be known as the "Ostend Manifesto." But, more on Presidents and conspiracies tomorrow.
Saying the destruction of the Maine was a deliberate act of the US government or its agents is an earlier example of conspiracists at work. They saw in the catastrophe an omniscient force, one that had the power to shape world history by manipulating events in order to achieve a specific outcome. It is a reoccurring theme of conspiracists who see in great events such as wars, assassinations and even the Great Depression, the invisible hands of nefarious leaders plotting to control the world.
Conspiracists exploit perceived anomalies: any detail that appears to be in any way inconsistent is proof positive that the entire given explanation for an event is a contrived lie. But the method does not explain the madness of conspiracists. Just what is the attraction for those intent on seeing dark and evil shadows all around us?
Part Two: US Conspiracies: We Can Do That is posted HERE.
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