In this article, originally published in the London Progressive Journal, Tomasz Pierscionek looks back at a number of conspiracy theories in history and discusses how such extraordinary hypotheses are often used to distract from the actual role of certain individuals and the reality of events within the wider picture of class society and capitalism.
The 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination gave the debate surrounding his death a new lease of life. Various theories interweaving the usual suspects: the Mafia, the CIA, anti-Castro Cuban exiles and the disillusioned, perhaps mentally unstable, ex-marine Lee Harvey Oswald, have resurfaced.
Though extensive measures are taken to safeguard the President of the United States from enemies domestic and foreign, the job remains perilous. Of the 44 current and former serving US presidents, four were slain (Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F Kennedy) and a further two (Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt) were injured in assassination attempts. In addition, more than a dozen others presidents were targeted during their time in office. Few professions, perhaps with the exception of the military, carry an almost 1/7 risk of death or injury.
The circumstances of Kennedy’s death, much like the 9/11 tragedy, leave loose ends begging further questions. In both cases conspiracy theories surrounding the events are unlikely to be laid to rest any time soon. However, sometimes a relentless search to leave no stone unturned eternalises events in the narrative of history as isolated incidents ignoring their historical background and repercussions.
For example, the search for the absolute truth behind JFK’s assassination immortalises him as a great statesman slain before his time and obscures darker aspects of his term in office. A sudden death before scandal had a chance to come to light have immortalised JFK as the youthful saviour of the liberal cause. The tale has overshadowed the role the mafia played in his JFK’s ascent to the presidency, his own role in slapping economic sanctions on the newly liberated island of Cuba, and the cold war game of ‘brinkmanship’ that almost led to World War III before Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev proposed a deal to send Soviet nuclear missiles stationed on Cuba back to the USSR in exchange for a guarantee that the US never invade Cuba and remove its own missiles from bases in Turkey.
Discussion about whether the 9/11 tragedy was the work of terrorists or an inside job similarly takes the focus away from years of less than savoury conduct in the Middle East on the part of the West.
Noam Chomsky, referring to the 9/11 catastrophe, stated "what does it matter even if it was true, it wouldn't be significant?"
Although such a statement may at first astonish, with reflection its reasoning is revealed.
Assuming for a moment that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by a shadowy branch of the US government, what would be the consequences of such an outrageous disclosure? The airwaves would overflow packed with angry rhetoric of the public intermixed with analysis and opinion of self proclaimed experts. There would surely be protests, perhaps even sporadic rioting, followed by a few rough days of rough trading on the global markets. Conceivably there would be calls to prosecute an ex-US president alongside several of his former neo-conservative advisors. Perhaps even a few of the ex-president’s former top men would be made scapegoats and sent to their retirement in order to placate the masses and stabilise the markets, enabling the elites to continue to rule in the same way as before the scandal emerged. A cynical politician might then even claim that the war on terror is now as necessary as ever, along with security subjugating liberty, as unlike a decade ago there are now several unstable countries where terrorism is nourished by sections of a resentful and traumatised populace.
Whatever might then transpire, nothing would undo the destruction wrought following the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq or the bombing of Libya.
Likewise, nothing would bring back the thousands of civilians murdered in 9/11, the tens of thousands of soldiers sent to die and be maimed on false pretexts, or the millions of Afghans, Iraqis and Libyans now dead or dying after being on the receiving end of ‘humanitarian intervention’ waged by Western liberal democracy.
The 11th century Persian philosopher, Omar Khayyam, expounded the point in the following quatrain:
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
Back to modern times: Take the ‘dodgy dossier’ brandished by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to garner parliamentary support for the invasion of Iraq. At the time many suspected the intelligence was false and a short while later the public’s suspicions were confirmed. Despite the revelation, Blair served out the remainder of his second term in office and was even elected a third time. He does not languish in jail and politicians of all stripes talk about the ‘error’ of going to war in Iraq (a decision that led to the death and displacement of millions and allowed Wahhabi radicalism to flourish) as if it were little more than an aberration of international diplomacy. There was a lack of mass outrage or calls for those involved to be caught and tried for crimes against humanity according to the pronouncements at the Nuremburg Trials in 1947:
“To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
The Authorization for Use of Military Force Act, passed through Congress just three days after 11th September 2001, empowered the US government to chase Al-Qaeda, former associate turned adversary, around the globe and leave a trail of destruction along the way. Whether a group of Al-Qaeda terrorists, mostly of Saudi origin, perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, or whether the US government knew about the attacks ahead of time yet allowed them to occur, or whether the US leadership were somehow directly involved, the outcome was the same: the military-corporate complex, long champing at the bit for an excuse to increase arms production and gain control over resources in the Middle East, had a field day.
Likewise, there was precious little dissent following the revelations of whistleblowers Assange, Manning and Snowden who took immense risks to give people a glimpse of how their world is actually run. These very individuals have themselves come under sustained attack, not only from those whose criminal activities they exposed, but from the so called liberal media who have at times chosen to present the heroes as awkward loners and misfits. If ample evidence of war crimes, blanket surveillance and corruption at the highest levels of domestic and international politics is not enough to spur people into action, one begs to know what will.
In order to preserve their privileged position, the leaders of the ‘civilised world’ have shown they have no qualms about sacrificing not thousands but millions of their own people to quench their personal greed and attempt resuscitation of the decaying system.
Next year will mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. Even century ago millions died to shore up the prestige of their respective royal houses in what was essentially a scramble for resources by two European empires fighting it out to see which branch of the same aristocratic family would rule Europe. British, Germany and Russian royalty, all related, did not hesitate to sacrifice millions of their citizens. A point overlooked is the role soldiers on both sides played in ending the war after recognising who their real enemies were. They realised they had more in common with their fellow members of the working class, dubbed ‘the enemy’ than with their own generals and nobles.
Russia erupted in revolution in 1917 after millions had died fighting for the Tsar. Tens of thousands of French soldiers mutinied in 1917 and for a while the situation looked like it might mimic Russia. In 1917, the Italian army was affected by widespread desertion. Germany’s war weary soldiers defied their officers in Dresden in 1917 and in 1918 the Kaiser’s sailors rose up in Kiel and Wilhelmshaven and refused to fight.
The ruling class were naturally restless about the spread of class consciousness. A realisation by the rank and file that they were pointing their guns at the wrong people risked the façade of nationalism and imperialism being pulled apart and leading to the emergence of a new system of government where the people called the shots.
The past century has heralded many wars and recessions: nasty side effects of the protracted decline of the capitalist era, where the quest for profit has been put before human progress. Presently, the poor are being made to bear the brunt of a financial crisis brought on by banks acting recklessly amidst a lack of financial regulation. Though the banks were bailed out, millions across Europe and North America face an ever increasing fight to survive whilst vital public services face the axe of austerity.
As global capitalism continues to decline, those who wish to preserve their place at the top of the pyramid will resort to ever more exceptional (and authoritarian) methods to allow them to continue ruling in the way to which they have been accustomed. Why bother with conspiracy theories when reality is more daunting? This presents an ever greater danger, and opportunity for the working class. If capitalism is a global force, then resistance to it must also go global.