Conspiracy Theory Theory, Revisited by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

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by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
crossposted on
June 4, 2009

BuzzFlash is currently featuring the book Dead Silence: Fear and Terror on the Anthrax Trail by Bob Coen and Eric Nadler. The header notes: “If you think Al-Qaeda Had Anything to do with the Anthrax Attacks, Don’t Read This Book. This Was Domestic Terrorism, And Most Likely at the Highest Levels.” Of course there are and have been conspiracy theories galore in American history, from the one that the Confederate Secret Service was behind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, through what really sunk the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor, to what had Churchill (in WW I the British First Lord of the Admiralty) arranged to have squirreled away in the forepeak of the Lusitania (the sinking of which was a major factor drawing the United States into that war), on to both Kennedy and the King assassinations, and so on and so forth.

It happens that conspiracies in the Western world are more often linked to right-wing forces than they are to left-wing forces. (Actually, considering just the United States, since there have not been any militant left-wing forces other than the short-lived and ill-fated Weathermen for almost a century, that is hardly surprising.) So whenever a conspiracy theory is put forward, the Right jumps on it in full throat: “Conspiracy theory, conspiracy theory,” as if just saying that would be the end of it. Well, that isn’t the end of it. To illustrate the point let’s just take an historical meander through just some of the more prominent conspiracies that the U.S. Right and on occasion the U.S. Center (as in a Democratic President), in power, have hatched and both successfully and on rare occasions unsuccessfully brought to a conclusion over the last half-century or so. Just so we know what we are talking about, let’s use a definition of the term, which the Right never does when hurling the charge. Wikipedia defines “conspiracy theories” as “attempts to explain the cause of an event as a secret, and often deceptive, plot by a covert alliance.” One can also note that from its Latin root the word “conspiracy” means literally (and simply) “with a secret.” In English usage, it refers to a secret plan, developed and implemented by a secret group. Further, if and when the desired outcome is achieved, the secret plan always includes a basis for claiming that outcome is not the result of any conspiracy. Public deniability is an absolutely essential element of such efforts. In this light, let us consider some foreign policy actions undertaken by U.S. administrations (mainly but not exclusively Republican) since the 1950s.

In 1953, the government of the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, was overthrown in a coup secretly organized by Theodore Roosevelt’s son Kermit, working for the CIA. The coup was claimed to be indigenous at the time. The formerly pro-Nazi Shah was re-installed on his throne and an essentially fascist regime was established. The secret U.S. involvement couldn’t possibly be termed a conspiracy, could it?

In 1954, the French Indo-Chinese War was brought to a peaceful end by the Geneva Agreement, guaranteed by Great Britain and the Soviet Union. The U.S. was not a party to it. Under the agreement, the nation was temporarily divided into two parts, North and South (President Reagan to the contrary notwithstanding, this was an entirely artificial creation that had no roots anywhere in Indo-Chinese history). A national election was to be held by 1956. It was widely assumed by all parties that the Vietnamese Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, would be elected president. Secretly, the Eisenhower Administration, with the Dulles brothers, Allen at the CIA and John Foster at State, encouraged the supposedly temporary government in the South to cause the election plan to be aborted (the Republican Right likes that kind of abortion). That they were never held, lead directly to the U.S.-Vietnam War. The U.S. always officially denied that any such interference in Vietnamese domestic affairs ever took place. The U.S. role in all of this could not possibly be termed a conspiracy, could it?

In 1954, the democratically elected government of Guatemala’s President Jacopo Arbenz was overthrown by a military coup secretly organized by the CIA (another Allen Dulles “triumph”), although it was claimed to be indigenous at the time. The secret U.S. involvement couldn’t possibly be termed a conspiracy, could it?

In 1961, there was the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Secretly planned under Eisenhower, it was approved by John Kennedy. If it had not failed, we might never have known of the conspiracy. In the summer of 1962 there was the unannounced assemblage of an invasion fleet along the Southeast coast of the United States in the summer of 1962, presumably aimed at Cuba (although one cannot be sure; Grenada, perhaps?). The invasion plan (if there was one) subsequently aborted by the U.S.-Soviet agreement that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis, which included the hardly-ever-referred-to pledge by the U.S. to abandon all plans to invade Cuba. In this case, because the plan failed, its existence is hardly known of at all (but has been testified to by more than one member of the armed forces at the time). Conspiracies? Nah.

In 1962, the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic was overthrown, and replaced by democratically elected President Juan Bosch, a moderate left-winger. A military coup unseated Bosch in 1963. It was in turn over-turned in 1965. But a second military coup, in that year, was secretly supported by Lyndon Johnson and was successful. In 1964, Johnson secretly supported a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected Brazilian President Joao Goulart. It stayed in place for about 20 years. Conspiracies? Nah.

In 1973, the democratically elected government of President Salvadore Allende of Chile was overthrown in a military coup secretly organized by the U.S., under the leadership of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and CIA Director Richard Helms. At the time, any and all U.S. participation was denied, even though Kissinger had started a secret anti-Allende campaign even before he took office in 1970. The secret U.S. involvement couldn’t possibly be termed a conspiracy, could it?

In 1984, the Reagan Administration secretly began organizing an armed opposition aimed at overthrowing the left-wing government of Nicaragua that had taken power following the overthrow of the widely detested dictator, Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Since any such support was prohibited by U.S. law, as is now well-known but by most conveniently forgotten, Reagan’s boy Ollie North secretly arranged to sell arms to Iran (at the time on the State Department’s own “any-contacts-prohibition” list). This was done in order to raise money “off-the-books” to support the so-called “Contras.” The “Iran-Contra” deal and its spawn couldn’t possibly be termed a conspiracy, could it?

The Georgite invasion of Iraq cannot be properly called a conspiracy for it was based upon a not-so-secret plan for Middle East dominance and petroleum-supply security drawn up by Project for the New American Century in the mid-1990s. However, that plan was nevertheless not acknowledged as having anything to do with the Iraq invasion, and certainly the highly sophisticated plans that were developed to mislead the American people as to the true reasons for the U.S. do indeed constitute a conspiracy, by definition.

Finally, there is the possibly grandest of them all, the posited 9-11 conspiracy. We may never get to the bottom of this one, but the work of my colleague Allen Rolland, who has the credibility to publish on Salon, is a good place to start.

Welcome to the U.S. foreign policy conspiracy archive, folks. It is very well-stocked.

This column is based in part on a column of mine that appeared on May 18, 2006 at The Political, which in turn was based on BF Commentary of mine that ran on May 9, 2006.

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a Columnist for Buzz Flash, Dr. Jonas is also a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Special Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online; a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century (POAC); and a Contributor to The Planetary Movement.


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4 thoughts on “Conspiracy Theory Theory, Revisited by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

  1. Pingback: Reflections on 9/11 and What is Patriotism by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH « Dandelion Salad

  2. Pingback: Cheney, Netanyahu, Permanent War, and Why By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH « Dandelion Salad

  3. With this sort of history, it’s surprising there hasn’t been more blow-back.

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