Monday, 9 April 2018

"Voodoo Histories" by David Aaronovitch

Although BFTF bought Voodoo Histories by David Aaronovitch back in 2013, have only now got round to actually reading it! The book looks at a number of conspiracy theories and considers why they are so attractive to some people.

Voodoo Histories

Aaronovitch suggests that conspiracy theories share certain characteristics:

Historical Precedent - It is helpful to have previous conspiracy theories to show a trend, for example JFK in the case of assassinations, or Pearl Harbour in the case of "false flag" incidents.

"Skeptics and Sheeple" - conspiracy theories often take the form where a "global elite" wishes some fact or incident to remain hidden, and only the conspiracy theorists can see past the official story to the truth, unlike the masses who are "sheeple", uncritically believing what they are told.

Just asking - a technique employed by those not wishing to actually be labelled as conspiracy theorists is to "just ask questions" which only make sense if there was a conspiracy.

Expert witnesses - conspiracy theorists often call on the endorsement of “experts” to validate their beliefs. Often, however, the qualifications of these people is not mentioned and may not be relevant

Academic credibility - conspiracy theories are often presented in an academic format, with plenty of footnotes. But if one checks the references one may find that they do not say what the conspiracy theorist claims they say.

Uncritical acceptance of early news reports - whilst expressing disbelief at the “official line”, conspiracy theories often place huge importance to early news reports from an incident, using them to “prove” that there is some kind of cover up, and ignoring the fact that early reports often contain inaccurate information (and often ignoring any clarifications made by the news reporters themselves)

“Convenient inconvenient truths” - inevitably, the slightest investigation will reveal gaping holes in conspiracy theories. The theorist may then claim (as Koery Rowe did in regard to his 9/11 film "Loose Change") that “We know there are errors in the documentary, and we’ve actually left them in there so that people discredit us and do the research for themselves”

Under surveillance - conspiracists may claim that they are under surveillance, for example by their emails being intercepted and going missing.

Contrails, or if you a conspiracy theorist, Chemtrails

Aaronovitch spent the majority of the book looking, in some depth, at the histories of a number of conspiracy theories. Some of the most interesting points raised, to BFTF at least, are shown below.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
The alleged backstory for this anti-semitic manifesto for world domination has varied over the years. Aaronovitch describes how the author of the 1919 edition, Captain Ludwig Muller Von Hausen claimed that the Protocols were discussed at secret sessions in an 1897 Zionist Conference and that a messenger lent the Protocols to a German masonic lodge who sent a translated copy on to Russia for study.

In the UK, the Times asked “Are they a forgery?” and asked whether the country had just escaped a “Pax Germanica” only to fall for a “Pax Judaeica”. The Spectator asked for “some body of the nature of a Royal Commission could be appointed to look into the whole subject”.

Unfortunately for supporters of the conspiracy, a German academic Dr J Stanjek, pointed out that something very similar to the Protocols had been written back in 1868, in a work of fiction called Biarritz. In the novel representatives from the twelve tribes of Israel meet in a graveyard and report on their efforts towards domination in areas such as stock exchanges, agriculture, the media etc.

In 1872 the graveyard meeting appeared in a Russian pamphlet.

In 1881 it appeared, presented as fact, and consolidated as a “Rabbi’s address”, in a French magazine. In this instance it was a British Diplomat who was allegedly relaying the contents of the speech.

In 1891 the Rabbis Speech was published in an Odessa newspaper, claiming that the speech had been delivered in 1883.

And so on and so on.

However, the Protocols earliest incarnation, was in a novel written by Frenchman Maurice Joli entitled “Dialogues in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu [a philosopher]” around 1860-1870. The novel is allegorical, with Napoleon III being played by Machiavelli, who explains to Montesquieu the need for power and control of the media and business, and how to set rivals against each other. According to historian Norman Cohn, approximately 40% of the Protocols is lifted directly from the Dialogues. For example, compare the following two passages:

From the Dialogues :
“I shall count on devoted journals in each party. I shall have an aristocratic one in the aristocratic party, a republican one in the republican party, a revolutionary one in the revolutionary party, an anarchist one, if necessary, in the anarchist party. Like the God Vishnu, my press will have a hundred arms, each hand of which will feel the nuances of public opinion”
From the Protocols :
“All our newspapers will be of all possibly complexions - aristocratic, republican, revolutionary, even anarchical...Like the God Vishnu, they will have one hundred hands and in each shall beat the pulse of a different intellectual tendency”

Dialogues in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu

Pearl Harbour
Many of the initial Pearl Harbour conspiracy theories came from within “America First” groups who were isolationist and suspicious that the Roosevelt wanted to take the country into war for the benefit on those who would profit from it.

Aaronovitch also comments on the book by 1981 book by John Toland (which claims that intercepted radio communications had allowed the US to plot the direction of the attacking Japanese forces), pointing out that radio silence had been maintained on the Japanese ships by leaving the radios, and radio operators, back at base.

Also worth reading are comments by Stephen J Ambrose in a 1992 New York Times article :

"About Pearl Harbor one must ask could Roosevelt, by himself, have kept Information about an imminent attack from the commanders in Hawaii? Of course not. Teams of men were involved in breaking the Japanese diplomatic code in 1941; admirals and generals in Washington got the intelligence and took it to the President. They would have had to join him in a conspiracy. Can anyone believe the admirals would have allowed their men and battleships to go down without a protest?” adding that Roosevelt’s policy in 1941 “was to avoid war with Japan until Nazi Germany had been defeated”
Pearl Harbour attack, 1941

Aaronovitch comments that “If one reason for the large number of Diana conspiracy theories was that they earned money for their discoverers or originators, another was media proliferation. SImply, there were ever more news and light current affairs outlets competing with fewer resourced for a market whose size does not increase and which is under pressure from new media”.

To take one example of the levels of plot complexity that these theories could require, Aaronovitch mentions the 2006 book by Nicholas Davies entitled “Diana : The killing of a Princess” which claimed that the rear seat belts on the Mercedes had had their pins filed down so they would easily disengage. All that was then required was for the conspirators to “suborn the driver, know the route, organise and drive a white Fiat, have it side swiped, create a flash, delay the ambulance, switch the blood samples, turn off the CCTV and corrupt the investigators”. As well as tampering with the vehicle itself, of course. And even then, it was only the specific angle the ccar hit the pillar that caused the accident to be so severe and fatal.

Princess Diana, 1987

Hilda Murrell
In 1984, Hilda Murell, an elderly rose grower and anti-nuclear campaigner, was abducted and found murdered five miles from her home in Shropshire. Conspiracy theories began to circulate that her death was the result of a botched intelligence operation looking for her recently completed investigation into nuclear waste safety; or looking for information from Murell’s nephew, who was a commander in the Royal Navy and privy to the naval communications that had taken place around the time of the sinking of the General Belgrano. The suspicion was that the government had sunk the Belgrano with the intention of derailing peace negotiations and ensuring an armed conflict - a conflict which was later seen as a major factor in Conservative success in the next general election.

Tam Dalyell MP was a strong proponent of the Belgrano conspiracy, mentioning it numerous times in Parliament, including an instance where he commented that :

“I am informed that the intruders were not after money or nuclear information but were checking the house to see 463 if there were any Belgrano-related documents of Commander Green in the home of his aunt. Things went disastrously wrong. They had no intention of injuring, let alone killing, a 78-year-old ex-rose grower. Yet, being the lady she was and in her home, Hilda Murrell fought and was severely injured. She was then killed or left to die from hypothermia, and the cover-up had to begin, because I am informed that the searchers were men of the British intelligence”

In reality, and as the Police has long suspected, the crime was committed by a common burglar - in 2002 Andrew George, a career criminal, was arrested and convicted on the basis of DNA evidence of the crime.

Tam Dalyell MP

One example of how conspiracy theory claims simply do not match with the available evidence relates to the claim in the 9/11 Conspiracy films “Loose Change” that it was impossible for the passengers on Flight 93 to have made phone calls to people on the ground.

Aaronovitch points out that many of the calls were using the “Airfone” service, as opposed to directly from mobile phones, but that in any case it was perfectly possible for calls to be made from aircraft, especially if they were at relatively low level - and evidence for calls being made during flights has been documented by electromagnetic radiation expert Bill Strauss from indeed call signature signals have been recorded during flights in 2004 research.

It is also worth noting that, in contrast the the claims made by David Griffin in his, best selling, 9/11 conspiracy book “The New Pearl Harbour”, there were many witnesses that the plane which hit the Pentagon was actually a plane, not a missile; the plane had passengers as DNA evidence of nearly all the passengers was retrieved from the crash site; and it is actually relatively easy to crash a plane into the Pentagon (landing safely on a runway is the tricky bit).
9/11 Memorial

Historian's Fallacy
The Historian's Fallacy relates to the fact that people in the midst of historical events did not - at the time - have knowledge of subsequent events.

For example, in the case of 9/11, Ray Griffin demands to know “why, if NORAD had been told at 9.24 that flight 77 appeared to be heading towards Washington, the Pentagon the Pentagon was not evacuated. In 13 minutes, it seems, virtually everyone could have gotten out”. But these comments ignore that fact that, at 9.24, no-one knew what the target of flight 77 was - it could have been the White House, CIA Headquarters, or a commercial building such as that which had already been hit in New York. Griffin makes no comment about these many other possible targets.

Other actions by the US government have subsequently been largely ignored because there were no further attacks that day. For example, a number of aircraft carriers and warships were sent out to sea, partially to reduce the number of ships in port that could be attacked by planes coming in from the Atlantic.

Image Sources
Contrail, Elders, Pearl Harbour, Diana, Dalyell, 9/11