Above: The most dangerous man in America?
In a move that – while shocking – should not have been entirely unexpected, Donald Trump recently made a veiled call for the assassination of Hilary Clinton, should she be elected. In a campaign characterised by wild statements and manifestly un-presidential public behaviour, this is quite something.
Reactions have varied from the (rightly) appalled to the supportive (warning, that last link is to tinfoil hat central, Breibart). Most observers would conclude that even cryptically calling for the elected leader of the nation to be assassinated over the issue of Supreme Court selections is a step way, way too far. I make no bones about it: I believe Trump is a dangerous, ill-informed individual who – if elected – could do untold harm at home and abroad (although on the last point, I would direct you to this informative piece by the University of Reading’s Mara Oliva).
I was, however, curious if this was something that had happened before. Thanks to the wonders of our networked age, I was able to call upon the fantastic expertise of a bunch of great historians.
A conspiracy of circumstances (how appropriate) lead me to the topic for this post. This week, I’ll be teaching undergraduates about the Second Red Scare in the United States. I’ve also been reading about the recent Disneyland Measles Outbreak in the United States. How are the two connected? Please, bear with me on this.
As part of my prep for classes, I’ve been re-reading Kathy Olmsted’s marvellous 2009 book Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War 1 to 9/11. Olmsted persuasively traces the rise of conspiracy theory and mistrust in the US government. The twentieth century, Olmsted argues, saw a turn from a belief that alien enemies were out to destroy the Republic to a belief that the government itself was the main conspirator.
Has it really been that long since the last post? It appears it has. Regardless, new year, new regime. Things are no less busy, but hopefully I’ll find time to post more over the coming year.
Once again I’ll be giving a paper at the Historians of the Twentieth Century United States Conference. This time it takes place at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle. Last year, my paper was focussed on a very tight time period. This year, I’ve chosen to go a little bit broader and also address some of the wider themes of my doctoral thesis. Full paper outline after the jump.
Admittedly, a somewhat over-dramatised title for a post that is about a couple of paragraphs in a single government document, but there you go.
While ploughing through the many thousands of documents that I collected during my recent research trip to the U.S., I came across a rather odd report to the President. Each day, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski would send a ‘Daily Report’ to President Jimmy Carter. This report would outline in brief salient matters of national security interest. In this case, the report for March 31, 1979, gave comment on the visit of Soviet statesman Alexei Kosygin to India, the situation in the Yemen and Iran, developments if Soviet Afghanistan policy, and…remote viewing and psychokinesis.
These research trips do not half reduce the time available for pithy, insightful commentary of a blogular nature. Hopefully once I get back to the UK next week, things should get back to the usual weekly schedule.
By way of saying something, rather than nothing, I was forwarded a rather bizarre link by my friend John Anderson (paramedic and international relations bod – now there’s a combination for you.) The link in question is to a forum/website that puts forward one of the nuttiest conspiracy theories I’ve yet come across (something that I’ve discussed before.) Given that most of said theories are pretty nutty, you have to be really reaching to raise more than a quizzical eyebrow. This one, however, really raises the bar: nuclear weapons are a con. A fake. A big lie. Huh?
I’m in two minds whether or not this is actually a genuine belief held by at least some of the people posting on the forum or it is all part of a knowing jab at conspiracy theory in general. Like all such things, you have to wonder. I think invoking a variation of Poe’s law would be appropriate here: “Without a winking smiley or some other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of a conspiracy theory that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.” Out there on the internet, it’s often hard to tell who’s kidding and who isn’t.
Edit: the person who runs the above linked site may also be a holocaust denier. I’m surmising this based on some of the other pages he/she runs. I must admit to, at the moment, being unwilling to delve too deeply into those sites for fear I may find myself in a filthy sewer. They may also be completely batshit, if you’ll pardon the langauge. I suspect that Poe’s Law may not, in fact, need deployment in this instance.
I never imagined when I started this Ph.D that would have to confront conspiracy theory as part of the project. Just goes to show how much I know. Not that my topic area involves any of the big conspiracy theories: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Kennedy assassination, or allegedly faked moon landings to name but three of the most widespread and popular.
The condensed version of the theory that impinges on my research goes like this: Western governments (mainly the U.S. and to a lesser extent the UK) willfully looked the other way when it came to the Pakistani nuclear programme and in some cases actively encouraged nuclear proliferation amongst states that would become (or were) enemies of those self same Western nations.
Nuclear history is chock full of the strange, the never-quite-adequately explained, and the conspiratorial.(1) A fascinating example of this is the September 1979 ‘Vela Incident.’ This is kind of vaguely related to my thesis work, as it impinges on nuclear proliferation (kind of.)
The Velas were a series of U.S. satellites designed to detect clandestine nuclear testing. They used what are known as ‘bhangmeters’ (plus a bunch of other uber-scientific doohickeys) to pick up the unique ‘double flash’ given off by a nuclear explosion. The satellite in question, Vela 6911, was over ten years old in September 1979. On the 22nd, it picked up a double flash in the South Atlantic, far, far away from any land (apart from the remote, French-owned Kerguelen Islands.) Heads were scratched on a global scale, committees were convened, much sweat poured forth.(2)