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 Ron Unz Blog View
Reconstruction of TWA Flight 800.  Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Reconstruction of TWA Flight 800. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Some years ago as I became increasingly aware of the severe dishonesty of our mainstream media on all sorts of controversial topics, I began telling a joke to a few of my friends.

Suppose, I would say, that I happened to be out walking one pleasant afternoon in Palo Alto, and suddenly heard a gigantic explosion in the general direction of Mountain View, soon followed by a huge pillar of smoke rising towards the sky. Being busy with my own work, I might have no time to bother investigating, and merely wondered what surprising story the front pages of my morning newspapers would reveal as the cause behind those dramatic events. But when I eagerly opened those papers the following day, mention of the explosion was nowhere to be found, either on Page One or anywhere else, even in my own local San Jose Mercury News. So unless I somehow persuaded myself that I had simply imagined the whole thing, I would henceforth stop believing anything I read—or failed to read—in my once-trusted news outlets.

I thought my allegorical fable rather amusing, and repeated it on a number of occasions. But quite recently I came across a rough counterpart in real life, a remarkable tale that had almost completely escaped my attention for over twenty years.

When I used to recall the leading events of 1996, what came to mind was Bill Clinton’s triumphant reelection campaign in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing and political overreach by Newt Gingrich’s Congressional Republicans. Perhaps there had also been some sort of plane crash on the East Coast, though none of the details were sharp or memorable in my mind. But in fact, the sudden mid-air explosion of TWA Flight 800 on a New York to Paris route was actually voted the top national news story of that year, ranking above the presidential campaign, while the 230 fatalities made it by far New York’s worst disaster of the twentieth century, and the second worst airline tragedy in American history to that date. Indeed, some journalists at the time suggested that the resulting media coverage had eclipsed that of any other transportation calamity since the sinking of the Titanic almost a century earlier.

I had almost forgotten the story of that doomed airliner when I opened my morning edition of the New York Times in mid-July 2013 and read a short review in the Arts Section, favorably discussing a new television documentary presenting the “conspiracy theory” that the plane had been destroyed by a missile rather than by an accidental fuel tank explosion as the government investigation had firmly concluded at the time, a verdict strongly affirmed by both the news and editorial pages of the Times. I had recently published “Our American Pravda” and an eminent mainstream academic who appreciated my piece soon dropped me a note pointing to a website discussion of the details of the plane crash, about which I knew nothing. Being preoccupied with other matters, I could only glance at the material, which shocked me, but now that I’ve gone back and spent some time on the topic, the story turns out to be a truly remarkable one.

The outline of facts is hardly complicated. Soon after taking off from New York’s JFK Airport on July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 suddenly exploded in the air just off Long Island. So enormous a loss of life naturally produced an immediate scrambling of numerous federal agencies to investigate the cause, and with widespread fears of terrorism, the FBI launched the largest, most complex investigation in its entire history, deploying some 500 field agents to the area. The investigators soon gathered a copious quantity of seemingly consistent evidence.

Large numbers of local witnesses were immediately interviewed by the swarm of federal agents, with 278 of them reporting that they saw a streak of light, much like a missile, shoot up into the sky in the direction of the aircraft just before the huge explosion. Employees at the local FAA radar installation immediately reported to the government that they had seen what appeared to be a missile closing with the airliner just before it exploded, and other installations produced similar radar records. When tests were eventually performed on the plane wreckage, traces of explosive chemicals were found, exactly the sort used in the warhead of a missile, as well as some reddish-orange chemical residue that a laboratory later identified as likely missile exhaust propellant. An enormous effort was made to locate every possible piece of the wreckage, and for many of these, the contours of the damage indicated an initial explosion external to the plane. Almost immediately after the disaster, a bidding-war allegedly broke out between the national television networks for an amateur home-video showing a missile striking and destroying TWA 800, with the tape eventually being sold for more than $50,000 and briefly broadcast on the MSNBC cable news channel before reportedly being seized as evidence by FBI agents. In addition, a local resident provided a still photo taken at the time showing what seemed to be a missile rising toward the aircraft.

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Based on all this initial evidence, many of the early news stories reported that the plane had probably been destroyed by a missile, with widespread speculation about whether the calamity was due to terrorist action or instead accidental “friendly fire” from one of the U.S. naval warships operating in the vicinity. Given the extreme sensitivity of the topic, government officials urged the media to keep an open mind until the full investigation was completed. However, the public debate sometimes turned rancorous, with some individuals soon alleging that a government cover-up was in the works. Eventually, the CIA was brought into the investigation, given its tremendous expertise in certain matters.

After more than a year of detailed research, the government investigation finally concluded that no missile could possibly have been involved, with all the eyewitnesses having been misled by what amounted to an optical illusion caused by the explosion of the aircraft. That explosion itself had been entirely spontaneous, probably caused by a random spark igniting one of the gas tanks. Given the controversy in the case, the CIA helpfully produced a computer animation showing the official reconstruction of the events, which was endlessly broadcast by our news media to explain the disaster to the public. The simulation showed the jetliner spontaneously exploding in mid-air, with no external cause, and just to further clarify matters, the CIA animators also inserted an explanatory message in large text: “There Was No Missile.” The New York Times, and nearly all our other mainstream media repeatedly echoed this same simple conclusion in all their stories and headlines.

The vast majority of our sheep-like population absorbed the simple media message “No Missile” and went back to watching their football games and celebrity music videos, being greatly relieved to know that well-maintained 747 jumbo jets flown by leading national airlines can occasionally explode in mid-air without any external cause.

CashillTWA However, various disgruntled “conspiracy theorists” refused to accept these conclusions, and returned to their “crazy missile conspiracy theories,” thereby earning the hearty ridicule of the entire mainstream media, led by the New York Times. These conspiratorial suspicions even extended to the U.S. navy, which had apparently been staging military exercises in the near vicinity of the calamity, exercises that some claimed including the test-firing of anti-aircraft missiles. Indeed, a local resident later provided a home video clearly showing a missile being fired in that exact same area a few days earlier during previous naval exercises.

The entire remarkable history of this incident is persuasively set forth in a excellent twentieth-anniversary book published earlier this year by investigative journalist Jack Cashill, who has been following the case since the late 1990s, having co-authored a previous book in 2003 and also produced an earlier 2001 television documentary Silenced, now available in its entirely on YouTube.

In addition, the 2013 television documentary by a former CBS producer, whose favorable review by the New York Times marked my first introduction to the topic, was discussed at length and substantially excerpted by NPR‘s Amy Goodman at Democracy Now!

Cashill is strongly affiliated with conservative publications, while someone like Goodman clearly leans toward the left, but the question of whether an American jetliner was destroyed by a missile, and the facts then covered up by the government is a non-ideological matter, so their perspectives seem almost identical.

 

For anyone having less than absolute faith in the official pronouncements of our government and our media, the likely reality of what happened is hardly difficult to guess, and for those who currently maintain such naivete, I suspect it will quickly dissipate if they choose to watch the documentaries or read the books. But the loss of TWA Flight 800 is surely of no great importance to our country. Accidents do happen. A large and energetic military, eager to test its latest missile weapons, perhaps carelessly and fatally crossed paths with hundreds of unlucky travelers on their way to Paris. Some 30,000 Americans die each year in fatal car crashes, and risks are inevitable in our modern industrial society.

However, from a broader perspective, I believe that the truly horrifying aspect of the incident is the tremendous ease with which our government and its lapdog media managed to so utterly suppress the reality of what had happened—an American jumbo jet shot down by a missile—and did so although this occurred not in some obscure, faraway foreign land, but within the very sight of Steven Spielberg’s home in the exclusive Hamptons, on a flight that had just departed New York City, and despite such overwhelming physical evidence and hundreds of direct eye-witnesses. The successful cover-up is the important story, and constitutes a central subtext in all of the books and documentaries on the disaster

Given the eyewitness testimony and other factors, it is hardly surprising that many of the initial media stories either directly referred to a missile strike or at least mentioned it as one of the main possibilities, and indeed there is some evidence that top government leaders initially assumed a terrorist attack. But President Bill Clinton was locked in the middle of his reelection campaign, and while the slaughter of Americans by terrorists might unify a nation, disasters brought about by careless military action would surely have had the opposite political impact. So it seems likely that once terrorism was ruled out and the American military believed responsible, a direct order quickly came down from the highest levels to make the missile and all evidence supporting it disappear, with all our supposedly independent federal agencies, especially the FBI, bowing to that primary directive.

As part of the standard investigation, all the debris were gathered and stored at a hangar for examination, but FBI agents were discovered spiriting away some of the most tell-tale pieces, or even caught in the wee hours of the morning hammering them into a shape that would suggest an internal rather than an external explosion. The amateur video showing the missile strike was only briefly broadcast by a cable news channel before being seized by government agents. When an investigative journalist acquired debris containing apparent missile residue and passed it along to a producer at CBS News, the evidence was quickly confiscated, with the journalist and his wife even being arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for violating an obscure law enacted to prohibit bystanders from removing souvenirs from the scene of a disaster; the veteran CBS producer who accepted the material was vilified as a “conspiracy theorist” and soon forced out of her job, her career destroyed. The written FBI reports of 278 eyewitness statements describing the missile attack were completely ignored, and in a number of cases, later statements were actually fabricated, falsely suggesting that crucial witnesses had revised or recanted their earlier testimony.

These particular examples only scratch the surface of the massive amount of coordinated government fraud and deception that was marshalled to make a missile strike seen by hundreds of witnesses officially disappear from the historical record, and transform the destruction of TWA Flight 800 into a rather mysterious and spontaneous mid-air explosion. The New York Times in particular became the primary mouthpiece of the official “See No Missile” party-line, repeatedly denigrating and ridiculing all those who resisted this total rewriting of the facts and history.

This gatekeeper role of the Times in the cover-up became particularly crucial once the high-profile figure of Pierre Salinger entered the controversy. Salinger ranked as a full-fledged member of the political-media establishment elite, having served as President Kennedy’s press secretary and one of the most visible public figures in Camelot, then briefly as an appointed U.S. Senator from California before becoming a prize-winning journalist and the Paris Bureau Chief for ABC News. Himself half-French by birth, he had many connections to the leadership of that country, which was galvanized by the large number of French victims on the flight. French intelligence became involved, quickly acquiring some of the same voluminous missile-related evidence suppressed by its US counterpart, and passed him the information. Cashill notes that Salinger was a loyal Democrat, and perhaps as a consequence he sat on the story until after Clinton was safely reelected in November, then attempted to break it, publishing a long expose in Paris Match, one of France’s highest-circulation popular magazines.

If Salinger had hoped his prestigious standing and long journalistic record would insulate him from attacks, he was sorely mistaken, and instead the threat his stature and credibility posed to the cover-up unleashed an unprecedented barrage of insult, ridicule, and invective, with the New York Times running 18 consecutive articles attacking him, and America’s leading news magazines, Time and Newsweek adding their own denunciations. Such remarkable vilification may have partly been aimed at dissuading any other prominent figures from similarly breaking ranks and following Salinger’s lead in exposing the true facts, and if so, the effort succeeded and the cover-up held.

Prior to Salinger’s regime disloyalty, he had regularly appeared on leading American television news broadcasts and his opinions were treated with the great deference accorded to a highly-respected elder statesman; afterward he was purged and blacklisted, shunned by our elite media as a “conspiracy nut.” Indeed, upon his death a few years later, the disloyalty he had shown to his establishment colleagues seriously tainted his NYT obituary, which closed by describing the “strange turn” he had taken in advocating theories based upon “discredited” evidence.

I don’t doubt that numerous other prominent figures quietly took the lesson of Salinger’s defenestration to heart, much as high-ranking Soviet leaders noted the dire implications of questioning Stalin’s pronouncements. Indeed, I personally know of at least a couple of individuals prominently situated in our current elite establishment whose private views on various controversial topics would surely rank as “utterly conspiratorial” but who remain extremely reluctant to have those views become generally known.

Or take another example, even closer to me. My old friend Bill Odom, the three-star general who had run the NSA for Ronald Reagan, clearly ranked in the upper reaches of the DC national security establishment in the early 2000s, serving as Director of National Security Policies at the Hudson Institute and an adjunct professor at Yale. Yet his strongly discordant views on the Bush response to 9/11 and the preparations for the Iraq War caused him to be totally blacklisted from major media access, reduced to publishing his dissenting opinions on an obscure website or in the pages of small, socialistic quarterlies.

When naive individuals suggest that maintaining a large government conspiracy in America is simply impossible because “somebody would have talked” perhaps they should consider the implications of this incident, which occurred so close to the media capital of the world. And if they ever decide to trust Wikipedia on any remotely controversial topic, they should consult the 10,000 word Wikipedia article on TWA Flight 800, comparing that exhaustive presentation with the simple facts provided in this article, or the wealth of additional information in the numerous books and documentaries upon which my treatment was based.

The old Soviet Union was notoriously reluctant to ever acknowledge serious government errors, but its propaganda machinery was of mediocre quality, routinely ridiculed both in the West and among its own citizens. Surely, their Politburo members and Pravda editors would have been green with envy at how easily our own American Regime and its media minions suppressed the true story of TWA Flight 800, shot down by a missile just twelve minutes after it departed JFK Airport in New York City.

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• Category: History • Tags: American Media, American Pravda, TWA 800
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Over the last few decades, I doubt that any American political organization has received greater negative attention in our national news and entertainment media than the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK. For example, although white activist David Duke left that group over 35 years ago, the media still often identifies him as one of its former leaders, and partly as a consequence Duke’s support for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has regularly been treated as headline news.

Such massive coverage may be objectively demonstrated. Googling “KKK” yields over 72 million results, considerably more than the joint total for “Communist” and “Communists,” and well over twice what you get for “Communism.” Such prominence seems rather excessive, given that throughout most of the 20th century, Communism controlled some one-third of the world’s population, and the resulting political conflict periodically threatened to unleash global thermonuclear war. Even today, a self-described Communist Party governs China, a nation 1.4 billion strong, which by some measures has now passed the U.S. to become the world’s largest economy. Meanwhile, the last time the KKK held any significant political power was almost 100 years ago, during its Midwestern heyday of the 1920s.

And if we focus on the sanguinary consequences of the two movements, the imbalance is even greater. The famous Black Book of Communism, published in 1991, claimed that across the 20th century, Communist regimes had racked up a peacetime total of roughly 100 million human fatalities, and although that latter figure has been widely disputed as a considerable exaggeration, the true number is surely in the many tens of millions, with merely the famine deaths induced by Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward of 1959-1961 usually pegged at 35 million or more.

Meanwhile, the victims of the notorious KKK seem rather fewer in number. The Wikipedia entry for the KKK is over twice as long as that for Communism, and hardly seeks to airbrush the misdeeds of that violent organization, but only manages to provide some 15 murder victims, all listed by name, drawn from the combined decades of the 1950s and 1960s, which represented the height of the Klan’s modern power. This apparent gap between 15 deaths and perhaps 70,000,000 or so seems rather wide.

Not only does the KKK total pale in comparison with Stalin and his considerable body-count, but during its two decades of greatest infamy all those hundreds or thousands of armed Klansmen accounted for fewer victims than the number sometimes sent to the Chicago city morgue over a long holiday weekend these days, let alone what various half-forgotten teenage spree-killers produced during their individual short rampages. For example, a decade ago disgruntled Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed 33 people within a couple of hours, and he hardly remains a household name these days. Meanwhile, the last of those infamous 15 KKK racial killings took place a full half-century ago.

A considerable disproportionality between media attention and actual activity seems undeniable.

However, there are obviously some mitigating factors in this critique. Communism never came to America in serious form, while the ideological foundations of our culture these days tend to regard racial killings by organized groups as particularly heinous offenses, especially when these are aimed at inflicting terror. By contrast, lunatics attacking their classmates or drug-dealers disputing their business transactions are committing much more mundane offenses. So under this particular victimological standard, the 15 victims of the KKK over the two decades from 1950 more reasonably justify the massive attention they have received.

Furthermore, America has always been fascinated with killings that take place over an extended period of months or years, especially if they involve some sort of unusual pattern, with the monikers of strange serial killers often resonating for decades. There was Richard Ramirez, the Los Angeles Night Stalker, an avowed Satanist who slaughtered at least fourteen victims, mostly in the Los Angeles area during 1985. And who can forget Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal, who killed and devoured some 17 young men in a career spanning a dozen years? So the unusual circumstances or motivation of such murders can easily compensate for the relative lack of raw numbers, and surely this helps to explain the enormous attention paid to the KKK’s rather meager list of actual victims.

As an extreme example of the importance of murder quality over murder quantity, there was the famed Zodiac Killer who prowled Northern California during the late 1960s and early 1970s, but was never caught. Although he may have accounted for as few as five actual victims, the sensational nature of the case inspired several movies and many dozens of books, while the fictionalized plotline of a serial killer who sends taunting letters to the newspapers has probably been repeated in scores of television crime episodes and films. As a child growing up in Southern California, the phrase “Zodiac Killer” was certainly familiar to me.

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But oddly enough, another long series of killings centered in that same time and place has received far less attention. When I first encountered mention of the “Zebra killings” some years ago, the term was completely unfamiliar to me, and due to the similarities in name and location, I initially wondered whether it might be an alternate designation for the Zodiac attacks. But despite the chronological and geographical overlap, the Zebra case was actually quite different, and given its explosive details the almost total absence of any subsequent media attention is really quite curious.

Indeed, one advantage of exploring the Zebra killings is there exists only one detailed, somewhat contemporaneous account, and a couple of years ago with my curiosity getting the better of me, I finally ordered the book from Amazon. Zebra was published in 1979 by Clark Howard, an award-winning crime writer, who drew extensively on newspaper archives, court testimony, and personal interviews, with his text running over 400 pages.

ZebraHoward The story of the Zebra killers almost sounds like something out of a movie, although no movie was ever made. For decades, the Nation of Islam—the so-called “Black Muslims”—had been preaching that whites were “devils,” the product of a mad scientist’s controlled-breeding experiment, and that killing such “devils” was a virtuous religious act. Then, some time in 1972, certain elements of the sect decided to transform religious dogma into actual practice, and began an organized campaign to randomly kill as many white men, women, and children as they could, with the attacks occurring throughout California but especially centered in the Bay Area and the city of San Francisco. One of the alleged motives was to terrorize the local whites into eventually fleeing that city, thereby allowing the establishment of a black-dominated metropolis.

The black attackers typically went out alone or in pairs to commit the killings, usually selecting any seemingly vulnerable victims on the streets at dusk or in the dark, with their weapons of choice being guns, hatchets, or machetes. Sometimes, victims were kidnapped and brought back to safe-houses to be tortured and killed by the entire group, with their bodies afterward dismembered and discarded.

According to the later court testimony, black participants each needed to kill a total of nine white men to be awarded the coveted title of “Death Angel,” earning them the right to have their photos displayed in the Black Muslim meeting halls, while roughly double points were awarded for slaughtering white women or children, on the grounds that such killings were more psychologically difficult. Based on the number of such distinctive homicides—well-dressed black men randomly attacking whites on the street—police officials estimated that there were over 70 such killings throughout California, though based on his extensive research Howard himself believed that the true statewide total may have been close to 270 dead victims.

The period of the killings lasted for almost half a year, and once the newspapers and public grew aware of the situation, the city of San Francisco became gripped by a sense of terror, with public officials desperate to crack the case. Sometimes even politically-connected individuals fell victim, with future mayor Art Agnos barely surviving a random gunshot attack. In desperation, Mayor Joseph Alioto, a staunch liberal, initiated stop-and-search patrols that targeted a majority of the local population of adult black males as possible killers. Eventually, eight of the suspects were arrested with the aid of an informant, with four of these being convicted and sentenced to life, at which point the attacks ceased. But it appears that the majority of the participants were never caught, let alone punished.

Zebra may be purchased for as little as $4 on Amazon, shipping included, and also found online both as a PDF and in various other formats at Archive.org. But for those too busy to read it, a much shorter summary of the story may be found in an article entitled “Remembering the Zebra Killing” published in 2001 by conservative writer James Lubinskas, with his presentation closely matching the book’s facts, while the San Francisco Chronicle also ran a short retrospective around the time of the 2002 DC Sniper Attacks. There are also a handful of other small websites here and there, discussing the case and republishing some newspaper articles, including coverage of the Zebra killings in other cities.

Meanwhile, the events themselves have almost totally disappeared from public memory. When noted author David Talbot published his widely-praised 2012 book Season of the Witch covering that general era of San Francisco history, he included a discussion of the Zebra killings, and some knowledgeable San Francisco natives mentioned that it was the first time they had ever heard of the story. Indeed, the complete absence of any subsequent media coverage or investigation forced Talbot, a mainstream liberal, to cite an obscure white racialist blogsite devoted to the Zebra case as one of his only sources of documentary information on the wave of murders.

Not only did the Zebra killings represent the greatest instance of racially-motivated killings in modern American history, but the number of victims was quite possibly greater than the combined total for all other such examples over nearly the last 100 years of our history. Based on that reality, the near-absolute media blackout has been quite remarkably Orwellian and deeply disturbing. Prior to the development of the Internet, neither I nor almost anyone else would have ever encountered this important history, and I suspect that if anyone had presented us with the true facts back then, his claims might easily have been dismissed as the ravings of a lunatic.

 

We naively tend to assume that our media accurately reflects the events of our world and its history, but instead what we all too often see are only the tremendously distorted images of a circus fun-house mirror, with small items sometimes transformed into large ones, and large ones into small. The contours of historical reality may be warped into almost unrecognizable shapes, with some important elements completely disappearing from the record and others appearing out of nowhere. I’ve often suggested that the media creates our reality, but given such glaring omissions and distortions, the reality produced is often largely fictional. Our standard histories have always criticized the ludicrous Soviet propaganda during the height of Stalin’s purges or the Ukrainian famine, but in its own way, our own media organs sometimes seem just as dishonest and absurd in their own reporting. And until the availability of the Internet, it was difficult for most of us to ever recognize the enormity of this problem.

Just a couple of weeks ago it was discovered that an attractive white teenage girl had been kidnapped by a group of black men in Florida, held captive and gang-raped for days, then finally killed and discarded, with her body fed to alligators. I found no mention of this grotesque tale in any of my major national newspapers, even as The New York Times reported that Hollywood was in the planning stages of three different major movies about the infamous Emmett Till murder case from 60 years ago. By hiding certain events and heavily emphasizing others, our media apparatus can create any desired picture of the world, and until recently almost none of us would have been the wiser.

The Black Lives Matter movement has increasingly dominated our political discourse for the last couple of years, and its protests have led to major shifts in policing policy, with some critics claiming that these changes have been responsible for a large, unexpected spike in urban homicides in some heavily black cities. But as near as I can tell, many of the major incidents sparking that movement were more or less complete media hoaxes, and quickly revealed as such to anyone who even casually consulted the unfiltered information available on the Internet, thereby avoiding the dishonest MSM gatekeepers.

For example, Trayvon Martin seems to have been a violent young thug and his antagonist, George Zimmerman, a half-Hispanic Dudley-Do-Right, whose main offense was attempting to defend himself while at risk of being beaten to death after he was attacked late at night without provocation in his own community. Similarly, Michael Brown of Ferguson fame was a gigantic, thuggish criminal, who casually committed the strong-arm robbery of a convenience store at night, then suddenly attacked the local police officer who attempted to stop and question him soon afterward.

These and many of the other BLM incidents would hardly seem likely to inspire mass public outrage, whether among blacks or anyone else, except that our dishonest media successfully transformed them into things they were not, thereby agitating the ignorant and the gullible, with prominent media pundits sometimes themselves stunned at the total avoidance of the true facts. I have little doubt that during the 1930s Soviet Pravda managed to instill boiling outrage among ordinary Russians when it fabricated all the monstrous crimes and horrific treacheries purportedly committed by the Trotskyite wreckers and other political deviationists.

In fact, the evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of all racially-motivated violent attacks in America each year are committed by blacks, usually against whites, though sometimes against Asians or Hispanics. But these attacks are almost always ignored by the media, while the newscasters and politicians seem almost desperate to shine a spotlight on any that occur in the opposite direction, even if they are almost nowhere to be found. Indeed, a few years ago I pointed out that for decades the statistical correlation across all our urban centers between the prevalence of blacks and the prevalence of serious crime has been among the highest found anywhere in the social sciences, strongly suggesting that marginal urban crime is essentially a black phenomenon. But individuals who form their view of the world primarily from our mainstream media would probably remain unaware of these important facts. Before the Internet, only gossip and rumor might have challenged media-endorsed falsehoods.

A pattern of blatant dishonesty that is too large and continues for too long produces obvious consequences. On a whole range of issues, certainly including racial ones, the American media may be fast approaching the point of possessing negative credibility, with increasing numbers of people tending to assume that the facts may be exactly opposite to what the media claims.

This is hardly unprecedented. During the 1970s I read Edgar Snow’s fascinating books on Maoist China, wherein a shrewd peasant once told the author how easy it was to disentangle reality from official news reports: if the media launched a huge propaganda campaign emphasizing the tremendous safety of Chinese railways, then surely some horrific train wreck must have recently occurred. It’s sad to consider that many Americans may be beginning to follow similar rules.

Consider a biological metaphor. When soft flesh suffers a serious wound, scar tissue protectively forms, and the eventual result is a new skin integument usually tougher and more resistant than the original. Thus, long after the damage has been repaired, left behind is a permanent, telltale marker of defensive overcompensation. Media narratives aimed at hiding unpleasant facts sometimes seem to follow that same pattern of overcompensation, producing an inverted reality that may provide a useful clue to the suppressed truth.

For example, last year I published an article examining the considerable evidence that John McCain’s true wartime record in Vietnam may have been one of a notorious enemy collaborator, but that the dishonest effort to obscure or excuse the reality of his treachery took on a life of its own, and growing enormously over time, eventually established him in the mind of the public as one of America’s most patriotic war-heroes.

Or consider the fascinating historical case of Emmett Till, mentioned earlier, whose murder in 1955 became the archetypal case of an innocent black youngster lynched by murderous Southern whites, perhaps even lending some inspiration to Harper Lee’s public school classic To Kill a Mockingbird. There was enormous national media coverage of the Till murder, which uniformly reported that the black fourteen-year-old child had merely made rude and provocative remarks to the young wife of a white shopkeeper—a “Wolf whistle”—leading to his abduction and brutal killing. Yet oddly enough, only long afterward did it emerge out that his father, a violent criminal, had been executed for multiple rapes and murder, and that Till himself, weighing 150 pounds and quite large and muscular for his age, also had a violent history. Indeed, these facts had remained totally unknown to me until quite recently.

When we discover that the media has shamelessly concealed certain potentially significant details, we may naturally wonder what else might have remained permanently hidden in those pre-Internet days. I’ve sometimes wondered whether Till’s actions may have been far more substantial than merely a harmless “wolf whistle,” perhaps even amounting to some sort of sexual assault, with his killing therefore being the sort of rough justice not uncommon in backward rural communities. Under such a hypothetical scenario, the husband of his victim would surely have made every effort to conceal from public knowledge the terrible indignity of the actual attack his wife had suffered. Perhaps such disturbing speculation is mistaken, but given the revealed pattern of deception, I do not think it is entirely unwarranted. In pre-Internet days, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown might have easily joined Till in the roster of tragically martyred youngsters.

A long history of overwhelming media dishonesty may produce broader consequences that many may find distressing. The public remarks of Donald Trump often seem quite ignorant or even ridiculous, and surely no presidential candidate in the last one hundred years has been subjected to such strong and uniformly hostile media coverage. Yet the insular members of the Fourth Estate have been stunned that their endless attacks and denunciations have had so little impact upon public opinion, with Trump having recently regained the national lead in several presidential polls. Surely journalists must realize that decades of deceit have stretched their credibility past the breaking point on a whole range of sensitive issues, with huge numbers of voters simply disregarding anything said about Trump in what they consider “the lying press.”

Once Americans conclude that our supposedly objective media functions merely as a corrupt propaganda machine, why should the statements of prominent establishment pundits or reporters count for anything more than the sarcastic Tweets of some angry, anonymous blogger? Those who have allowed the currency of journalistic integrity to become totally debased have only themselves to blame when they discover it is no longer accepted by the general public.

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When I’m driving, my car radio is invariably tuned to KOIT, the leading “easy listening” station in the San Francisco Bay area. My tastes are humdrum and unsophisticated, so the songs merely provide some pleasant background music, occasionally punctuated by commercial ads, mostly annoying but occasionally amusing.

One of the better ones began running only recently, an AT&T spot touting its new family plan with unlimited data on multiple lines. The spot opens with a brother and sister discussing all the wonderful things they’re able to do with so much monthly data, including talking, texting, using social media, and playing games. Except for the smartphone technology being discussed and the traces of “Valley Speak” style and intonation, the two teenagers almost sound like they might have been plucked straight from a Leave It to Beaver episode set in the idealized suburbia of the hallowed 1950s.

But about half-way through, unexpected references began catching my attention. The boy mentions that the unlimited data plan also allows his mom to share comments on her favorite novelas and his dad to share pictures of his favorite soccer players. Hmm, I suddenly thought. And then a bit later, the boy teases his sister and she responds “Mama! Carlos me esta molestando“—”Mom! Carlos is bothering me”—causing the irritated mother to reply with a bit of scolding Spanish. I suddenly realized that the blond or freckled Southern California teenagers I’d been imagining in my mind’s eye were probably somewhat duskier in hue.

Every year AT&T ranks as one of America’s top advertisers, with an annual media budget in the billions, and the focus group research that goes into its marketing campaigns must surely render even the best-funded presidential effort amateurish and unscripted by comparison. So if AT&T believes that an appropriate phone-plan pitch to California’s millions of Latino families should involve teenagers speaking perfect accent-free English then switching to flawless Spanish, while their parents prefer the latter, that’s very likely correct.

Although the commercial did catch me a bit by surprise, it merely reinforced something I’ve occasionally noticed among the numerous Latino workers I regularly encounter in my daily life in the Palo Alto area. Certainly a large majority of the older ones have the weak or heavily-accented English that marks them as immigrants, perhaps even relatively recent arrivals. However, among young adults, say those in their twenties or so, it’s not uncommon to encounter speech patterns that would be absolutely indistinguishable from those of Mayflower descendants raised in lily-white suburbs—but which then seamlessly switch to perfect Spanish as soon as the need might arise.

I’m not sure exact numbers exist, but it wouldn’t surprise me if California today contains one of the largest concentrations of totally bilingual members of the younger generation found anywhere in the world. And ironically enough, an important factor behind that widespread rise of California bilingualism was probably our successful Prop. 227 campaign over eighteen years ago, which replaced so-called “bilingual education” in California’s public schools with intensive sheltered English immersion.

The reason for this apparent paradox is that “bilingual education” is largely a misnomer, and in practice the system invariably amounted to Spanish-almost-only instruction.

Most Latino immigrant children grow up with Spanish being the language of their home. Their families usually watch Spanish TV, listen to Spanish radio, and most of the people in their neighborhood speak Spanish in their daily lives. So if these young children, knowing Spanish as their sole language, eagerly enter kindergarten or the first grade only to encounter classrooms in which nearly all the instruction is once again in Spanish, is it really so surprising that they might remain monolingual Spanish-speakers for a considerable number of years?

Our larger society is overwhelmingly English-oriented, and with the most popular movies and television shows being in English, all of those children did eventually learn our predominant national language, even if the pre-Prop. 227 schools hadn’t gradually introduced considerable English by the fifth or sixth grade. But for many students, losing those earliest five or six years of English-language instruction saddled them with a greatly reduced English vocabulary and a strong, permanent accent. They certainly learned English, but sometimes spent the rest of their lives having trouble reading, writing, or even speaking it properly.

Latino immigrant families in California tend to be working-class or working-poor, and if their children leave the local public schools being less than proficient in English, they are obviously doubly-disadvantaged, and would have a very difficult time getting a good job or pursuing higher education. But achieving the total fluency and literacy produced by immediate English immersion opened many doors, and in 2014—nearly two decades after Prop. 209 outlawed Affirmative Action in California higher education—newspaper headlines announced that the number of Latinos had surpassed the number of whites admitted to the prestigious University of California system.

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The whole notion that schools should teach English to children who already know Spanish hardly constitutes a revolutionary pedagogical notion. After all, schools usually concentrate on teaching children what they don’t already know rather what they do, but with regard to language, this only became the case after the June 1998 passage of Prop. 227 and its full implementation in September of that year. A million or more immigrant schoolchildren were suddenly exposed to six or seven hours a day of English in their classrooms, quickly absorbing that new language “like little sponges,” while still often spending the remainder of their childhood in an almost entirely Spanish-speaking neighborhood environment. Given such a truly “bilingual” upbringing, it’s hardly surprising that over the last decade or two so many of them have become fully bilingual young adults.

Almost twenty years ago, during the early stages of the Prop. 227 campaign I published a long op-ed in The Los Angeles Times similarly entitled “Bilingualism vs. Bilingual Education” and I think the facts have completely born out my analysis and predictions at that time:

Bilingualism vs. Bilingual Education
Ron Unz, The Los Angeles Times, October 19, 1997

 

Offhand, the current situation might seem a reasonably satisfactory state of affairs, especially since Prop. 227 never actually outlawed bilingual education. Immigrant parents desiring a non-English education for their children could still obtain that option by signing an annual written waiver, but since the vast majority preferred English, those other programs largely vanished.

The only group never reconciled to the disappearance of bilingual education was the small, but zealous clique of bilingual ed activists, many of them the same individuals who had opposed our initiative back in 1998, still just as rigidly committed to their doctrinaire beliefs but now 18 years older. The entire topic has been dead and forgotten by nearly everyone else for so many years that these activists recently took advantages of that public vacuum—and the total political amnesia produced by term-limits turnover—to successfully lobby the empty-headed California Legislature on the wonders of this innovative new educational technique called “bilingual education,” now hindered by the old-fashioned restrictions of Prop. 227. As a result, this November’s ballot contains Prop. 58, which largely repeals the provisions of Prop. 227 and reestablishes the old basis for Spanish-almost-only “bilingual” programs.

Amusingly enough, Sen. Ricardo Lara, sponsor of Prop. 58, let slip some telling remarks at the press conference announcing his plan to repeal “English for the Children.” He explained that one of the biggest problems with the current system is that immigrant parents are usually quite reluctant to sign the written waivers placing their children in bilingual programs, especially when they are informed that they can choose English classes instead. Hence the need to remove the waiver requirement, allowing those children to receive the supposed benefits of Spanish-almost-only “bilingual” programs, whether their parents really want it or not. An official in the California State Department of Education provided the same explanation to an educational journalist.

Indeed, I suspect these statements hint at one of the main groups quietly pushing for the change. Over the years, Spanish-almost-only “dual immersion” programs have become increasingly popular among California’s affluent, well-educated Anglo families, but the structure of those programs also requires participation of large numbers of Spanish-speaking children, and perhaps the supply of voluntary ones has gradually been exhausted. Therefore, eliminating the waiver requirement will allow school districts to ensure that those very politically-engaged upper-middle-class Anglo families are provided a sufficient number of working-class Latino immigrant children to act as unpaid Spanish-language classroom tutors for their own. Even during the original Prop. 227 campaign I regularly encountered vehement protests by numerous dual-immersion Anglo parents, but I’m not sure that I ever came across a single Latino immigrant family opposed to our “English” campaign.

This November’s ballot is an especially full one, overflowing with seventeen initiatives, many of them being the sort of tax and regulatory measures that attract enormous advertising budgets. Estimates are that a total of some $450 million will be spent on the various competing Yes and No campaigns, with the radio and television stations already saturated with their ads. Given that bilingual education no longer exists and many Californians have almost forgotten that it ever did, it’s not clear how much attention our particular issue will attract.

Furthermore, the bilingual ed activists rather deceptively entitled their measure the “English Language Education” initiative, even though it actually repeals the requirement for English language education. Given the enormous popularity of teaching English in the schools, such attractive packaging may sway a considerable number of voters, easily befuddled by such a long and complex ballot. So it’s difficult to predict the outcome.

But regardless of any possible changes in the law, English has now become so deeply rooted in California’s public schools that I find it very difficult to believe that any widespread change would occur. For most of a full generation, Latino children have gone to school and easily learned English in just a few months, and if the schools stop following that sensible policy, parents will surely become quite disgruntled and quickly make their feelings known to the chagrined politicians who created such an unnecessary problem.

Let us consider an example, not entirely dissimilar. Many Italians live in New Jersey, and I doubt that most of them pay close attention to all the nonsense proposed by the foolish politicians in Trenton. But if one school year they discovered that their local public schools no longer taught in English, but that the language of instruction had switched to Italian, I doubt they would be happy about this or that such a silly policy would long continue.

Meanwhile, my overall views are reasonably summarized in the op-ed below, which ran last month in The San Diego Union-Tribune

Bilingual Education Programs Fail Our Students
Ron Unz, The San Diego Union-Tribune, August 5, 2016

Twenty years ago, California public schools were forcing thousands of Latino children into Spanish-almost-only classes against the wishes of their parents.

In 1996, The Los Angeles Times told the story of a group of Latino immigrant parents who began a public protest against their local elementary school for refusing to teach their children English, boycotting classes and marching outside with picket signs.

That protest inspired our “English for the Children” initiative campaign, which began the following year. Our Proposition 227 required California public schools to teach children English from their first day of classes, placing children who didn’t know English into an intensive sheltered English immersion program to teach them the language as quickly as possible, then moving them into the regular classes with all the other children.

Our honorary chairman was the late Jaime Escalante of “Stand and Deliver” fame, one of America’s most famous teachers, and we attracted enormous public support. Even though almost all the politicians, Democrat and Republican alike, refused to support our initiative, we still won a landslide victory, getting over 61 percent of the vote.

The educational results were tremendous. Most California newspapers had opposed our ballot measure, but once it passed they immediately began reporting how well the new system worked and how quickly and easily hundreds of thousands of Latino children were learning English.

Within four years, the academic test scores of over 1 million immigrant schoolchildren had increased by 30 percent, 50 percent or even 100 percent. Proposition 227 was so successful that its educational results were reported on the front page of The New York Times, with major coverage by CBS News and many other national media outlets.

The founding president of the California Association of Bilingual Educators publicly admitted that he’d been mistaken for 30 years and that intensive English immersion was the best educational policy for immigrant children. He became a leading national advocate of English in the schools.

Because nearly all the Latino children in California schools are now immediately taught English, they’re doing much better academically and gaining admission to top colleges. Despite the end of affirmative action in California, there’s been a huge increase in the number of Latinos attending the prestigious University of California system.

So-called “Dual-Language Programs” — in which up to 90 percent of the instruction is in Spanish — were never completely outlawed by Proposition 227. However, parents who wanted to place their children in such non-English classes had to sign an annual waiver, and since the overwhelming majority of Latino parents wanted their children taught English, that’s exactly what has happened.

Because all these educational changes were so successful, almost everyone in California began supporting them, and the entire issue has been dead and forgotten for the last dozen years.

However, a small group of die-hard bilingual education activists never gave up. They recently hoodwinked some of the politicians in Sacramento into placing Proposition 58 on the ballot, hoping to repeal Proposition 227 and allow the re-establishment of Spanish-almost-only classes throughout California.

The supporters of Proposition 58 have publicly admitted that one of their biggest objections to the current system is that it has been difficult to persuade immigrant parents to sign waivers placing their children in non-English classes. Therefore, Proposition 58 eliminates that requirement and allows children to be placed in non-English classes without the written consent of their parents, just as had been the case 20 years ago.

The overwhelming majority of California voters, immigrant and native-born alike, believe children should be taught English in school. Therefore, the supporters of Proposition 58 are being dishonest and trying to trick the voters. They sought to give their ballot measure the very deceptive official title “English Language Education” even though it actually repeals the requirement that children be taught English in California public schools. Their proposed title of their proposition is the exact opposite of what it actually does.

And the worst part of Proposition 58 is hidden away in Section 8, which repeals all restrictions on the California Legislature to make future changes. This would allow the Legislature to reestablish mandatory Spanish-almost-only instruction in all our public schools by a simple majority vote, once again forcing all Latino children into those classes against their parents’ wishes.

Proposition 227 — “English for the Children” — has worked very well in California and has greatly improved the education of millions of immigrant schoolchildren since 1998. The voters should keep this successful system and not be tricked into re-establishing the failed education programs of the past.

Unz, a Silicon Valley software developer, was chairman of the 1998 “English for the Children” campaign to pass Proposition 227.

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A year or two ago, I saw the much-touted science fiction film Interstellar, and although the plot wasn’t any good, one early scene was quite amusing. For various reasons, the American government of the future claimed that our Moon Landings of the late 1960s had been faked, a trick aimed at winning the Cold War by bankrupting Russia into fruitless space efforts of its own. This inversion of historical reality was accepted as true by nearly everyone, and those few people who claimed that Neil Armstrong had indeed set foot on the Moon were universally ridiculed as “crazy conspiracy theorists.” This seems a realistic portrayal of human nature to me.

Obviously, a large fraction of everything described by our government leaders or presented in the pages of our most respectable newspapers—from the 9/11 attacks to the most insignificant local case of petty urban corruption—could objectively be categorized as a “conspiracy theory” but such words are never applied. Instead, use of that highly loaded phrase is reserved for those theories, whether plausible or fanciful, that do not possess the endorsement stamp of establishmentarian approval.

Put another way, there are good “conspiracy theories” and bad “conspiracy theories,” with the former being the ones promoted by pundits on mainstream television shows and hence never described as such. I’ve sometimes joked with people that if ownership and control of our television stations and other major media outlets suddenly changed, the new information regime would require only a few weeks of concerted effort to totally invert all of our most famous “conspiracy theories” in the minds of the gullible American public. The notion that nineteen Arabs armed with box-cutters hijacked several jetliners, easily evaded our NORAD air defenses, and reduced several landmark buildings to rubble would soon be universally ridiculed as the most preposterous “conspiracy theory” ever to have gone straight from the comic books into the minds of the mentally ill, easily surpassing the absurd “lone gunman” theory of the JFK assassination.

Even without such changes in media control, huge shifts in American public beliefs have frequently occurred in the recent past, merely on the basis of implied association. In the initial weeks and months following the 2001 attacks, every American media organ was enlisted to denounce and vilify Osama Bin Laden, the purported Islamicist master-mind, as our greatest national enemy, with his bearded visage endlessly appearing on television and in print, soon becoming one of the most recognizable faces in the world. But as the Bush Administration and its key media allies prepared a war against Iraq, the images of the Burning Towers were instead regularly juxtaposed with mustachioed photos of dictator Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden’s arch-enemy. As a consequence, by the time we attacked Iraq in 2003, polls revealed that some 70% of the American public believed that Saddam was personally involved in the destruction of our World Trade Center. By that date I don’t doubt that many millions of patriotic but low-information Americans would have angrily denounced and vilified as a “crazy conspiracy theorist” anyone with the temerity to suggest that Saddam had not been behind 9/11, despite almost no one in authority having ever explicitly made such a fallacious claim.

ConspiracyTheory These factors of media manipulation were very much in my mind a couple of years ago when I stumbled across a short but fascinating book published by the University of Texas academic press. The author of Conspiracy Theory in America was Prof. Lance deHaven-Smith, a former president of the Florida Political Science Association.

Based on an important FOIA disclosure, the book’s headline revelation was that the CIA was very likely responsible for the widespread introduction of “conspiracy theory” as a term of political abuse, having orchestrated that development as a deliberate means of influencing public opinion.

During the mid-1960s there had been increasing public skepticism about the Warren Commission findings that a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, had been solely responsible for President Kennedy’s assassination, and growing suspicions that top-ranking American leaders had also been involved. So as a means of damage control, the CIA distributed a secret memo to all its field offices requesting that they enlist their media assets in efforts to ridicule and attack such critics as irrational supporters of “conspiracy theories.” Soon afterward, there suddenly appeared statements in the media making those exact points, with some of the wording, arguments, and patterns of usage closely matching those CIA guidelines. The result was a huge spike in the pejorative use of the phrase, which spread throughout the American media, with the residual impact continueing right down to the present day. Thus, there is considerable evidence in support of this particular “conspiracy theory” explaining the widespread appearance of attacks on “conspiracy theories” in the public media.

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But although the CIA appears to have effectively manipulated public opinion in order to transform the phrase “conspiracy theory” into a powerful weapon of ideological combat, the author also describes how the necessary philosophical ground had actually been prepared a couple of decades earlier. Around the time of the Second World War, an important shift in political theory caused a huge decline in the respectability of any “conspiratorial” explanation of historical events.

For decades prior to that conflict, one of our most prominent scholars and public intellectuals had been historian Charles Beard, whose influential writings had heavily focused on the harmful role of various elite conspiracies in shaping American policy for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many, with his examples ranging from the earliest history of the United States down to the nation’s entry into WWI. Obviously, researchers never claimed that all major historical events had hidden causes, but it was widely accepted that some of them did, and attempting to investigate those possibilities was deemed a perfectly acceptable academic enterprise.

However, Beard was a strong opponent of American entry into the Second World War, and he was marginalized in the years that followed, even prior to his death in 1948. Many younger public intellectuals of a similar bent also suffered the same fate, or were even purged from respectability and denied any access to the mainstream media. At the same time, the totally contrary perspectives of two European political philosophers, Karl Popper and Leo Strauss, gradually gained ascendancy in American intellectual circles, and their ideas became dominant in public life.

Popper, the more widely influential, presented broad, largely theoretical objections to the very possibility of important conspiracies ever existing, suggesting that these would be implausibly difficult to implement given the fallibility of human agents; what might appear a conspiracy actually amounted to individual actors pursuing their narrow aims. Even more importantly, he regarded “conspiratorial beliefs” as an extremely dangerous social malady, a major contributing factor to the rise of Nazism and other deadly totalitarian ideologies. His own background as an individual of Jewish ancestry who had fled Austria in 1937 surely contributed to the depth of his feelings on these philosophical matters.

Meanwhile, Strauss, a founding figure in modern neo-conservative thought, was equally harsh in his attacks upon conspiracy analysis, but for polar-opposite reasons. In his mind, elite conspiracies were absolutely necessary and beneficial, a crucial social defense against anarchy or totalitarianism, but their effectiveness obviously depended upon keeping them hidden from the prying eyes of the ignorant masses. His main problem with “conspiracy theories” was not that they were always false, but they might often be true, and therefore their spread was potentially disruptive to the smooth functioning of society. So as a matter of self-defense, elites needed to actively suppress or otherwise undercut the unauthorized investigation of suspected conspiracies.

Even for most educated Americans, theorists such as Beard, Popper, and Strauss are probably no more than vague names mentioned in textbooks, and that was certainly true in my own case. But while the influence of Beard seems to have largely disappeared in elite circles, the same is hardly true of his rivals. Popper probably ranks as one of the founders of modern liberal thought, with an individual as politically influential as left-liberal financier George Soros claiming to be his intellectual disciple. Meanwhile, the neo-conservative thinkers who have totally dominated the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement for the last couple of decades often proudly trace their ideas back to Strauss.

So, through a mixture of Popperian and Straussian thinking, the traditional American tendency to regard elite conspiracies as a real but harmful aspect of our society was gradually stigmatized as either paranoid or politically dangerous, laying the conditions for its exclusion from respectable discourse.

 

By 1964, this intellectual revolution had largely been completed, as indicated by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the famous article by political scientist Richard Hofstadter critiquing the so-called “paranoid style” in American politics, which he denounced as the underlying cause of widespread popular belief in implausible conspiracy theories. To a considerable extent, he seemed to be attacking straw men, recounting and ridiculing the most outlandish conspiratorial beliefs, while seeming to ignore the ones that had been proven correct. For example, he described how some of the more hysterical anti-Communists claimed that tens of thousands of Red Chinese troops were hidden in Mexico, preparing an attack on San Diego, while he failed to even acknowledge that for years Communist spies had indeed served near the very top of the U.S. government. Not even the most conspiratorially minded individual suggests that all alleged conspiracies are true, merely that some of them might be.

Most of these shifts in public sentiment occurred before I was born or when I was a very young child, and my own views were shaped by the rather conventional media narratives that I absorbed. Hence, for nearly my entire life, I always automatically dismissed all of the so-called “conspiracy theories” as ridiculous, never once even considering that any of them might possibly be true.

To the extent that I ever thought about the matter, my reasoning was simple and based on what seemed like good, solid common sense. Any conspiracy responsible for some important public event must surely have many separate “moving parts” to it, whether actors or actions taken, let us say numbering at least 100 or more. Now given the imperfect nature of all attempts at concealment, it would surely be impossible for all of these to be kept entirely hidden. So even if a conspiracy were initially 95% successful in remaining undetected, five major clues would still be left in plain sight for investigators to find. And once the buzzing cloud of journalists noticed these, such blatant evidence of conspiracy would certainly attract an additional swarm of energetic investigators, tracing those items back to their origins, with more pieces gradually being uncovered until the entire cover-up likely collapsed. Even if not all the crucial facts were ever determined, at least the simple conclusion that there had indeed been some sort of conspiracy would quickly become established.

However, there was a tacit assumption in my reasoning, one that I have since decided was entirely false. Obviously, many potential conspiracies either involve powerful governmental officials or situations in which their disclosure would represent a source of considerable embarrassment to such individuals. But I had always assumed that even if government failed in its investigatory role, the dedicated bloodhounds of the Fourth Estate would invariably come through, tirelessly seeking truth, ratings, and Pulitzers. However, once I gradually began realizing that the media was merely “Our American Pravda” and perhaps had been so for decades, I suddenly recognized the flaw in my logic. If those five—or ten or twenty or fifty—initial clues were simply ignored by the media, whether through laziness, incompetence, or much less venial sins, then there would be absolutely nothing to prevent successful conspiracies from taking place and remaining undetected, perhaps even the most blatant and careless ones.

In fact, I would extend this notion to a general principle. Substantial control of the media is almost always an absolute prerequisite for any successful conspiracy, the greater the degree of control the better. So when weighing the plausibility of any conspiracy, the first matter to investigate is who controls the local media and to what extent.

Let us consider a simple thought-experiment. For various reasons these days, the entire American media is extraordinarily hostile to Russia, certainly much more so than it ever was toward the Communist Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s. Hence I would argue that the likelihood of any large-scale Russian conspiracy taking place within the operative zone of those media organs is virtually nil. Indeed, we are constantly bombarded with stories of alleged Russian conspiracies that appear to be “false positives,” dire allegations seemingly having little factual basis or actually being totally ridiculous. Meanwhile, even the crudest sort of anti-Russian conspiracy might easily occur without receiving any serious mainstream media notice or investigation.

This argument may be more than purely hypothetical. A crucial turning point in America’s renewed Cold War against Russia was the passage of the 2012 Magnitsky Act by Congress, punitively targeting various supposedly corrupt Russian officials for their alleged involvement in the illegal persecution and death of an employee of Bill Browder, an American hedge-fund manager with large Russian holdings. However, there’s actually quite a bit of evidence that it was Browder himself who was actually the mastermind and beneficiary of the gigantic corruption scheme, while his employee was planning to testify against him and was therefore fearful of his life for that reason. Naturally, the American media has provided scarcely a single mention of these remarkable revelations regarding what might amount to a gigantic Magnitsky Hoax of geopolitical significance.

To some extent the creation of the Internet and the vast proliferation of alternative media outlets, including my own small webzine, have somewhat altered this depressing picture. So it is hardly surprising that a very substantial fraction of the discussion dominating these Samizdat-like publications concerns exactly those subjects regularly condemned as “crazy conspiracy theories” by our mainstream media organs. Such unfiltered speculation must surely be a source of considerable irritation and worry to government officials who have long relied upon the complicity of their tame media organs to allow their serious misdeeds to pass unnoticed and unpunished. Indeed, several years ago a senior Obama Administration official argued that the free discussion of various “conspiracy theories” on the Internet was so potentially harmful that government agents should be recruited to “cognitively infiltrate” and disrupt them, essentially proposing a high-tech version of the highly controversial Cointelpro operations undertaken by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.

Until just a few years ago I’d scarcely even heard of Charles Beard, once ranked among the towering figures of 20th century American intellectual life. But the more I’ve discovered the number of serious crimes and disasters that have completely escaped substantial media scrutiny, the more I wonder what other matters may still remain hidden. So perhaps Beard was correct all along in recognizing the respectability of “conspiracy theories,” and we should return to his traditional American way of thinking, notwithstanding endless conspiratorial propaganda campaigns by the CIA and others to persuade us that we should dismiss such notions without any serious consideration.

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About a decade ago I’d gotten a little friendly with the late Alexander Cockburn, one of America’s premier radical journalists and the founder of Counterpunch, a leading leftist webzine. With virtually all of America’s mainstream media outlets endlessly cheerleading for the total insanity of our Iraq War, Counterpunch was a port in the storm, and gained considerable credibility in my eyes.

Although Alex lived in the far northern reaches of the Golden State, the rural North Coast close to the Oregon border where much of the local cash economy was based on illegal marijuana growing, he periodically took trips down to the Bay Area, and sometimes dropped by Palo Alto to have lunch with me when he did. Often as not, he brought along a book that he was in the middle of reading, and based on his strong recommendations, it usually ended up on my own list.

Sometimes my appraisal differed sharply from his own. For example, Shlomo Sand’s international best-seller The Invention of the Jewish People was very widely praised in left-liberal and anti-Zionist circles, and attracted considerable attention in the mainstream media. But although I found many parts of the history extremely interesting, the central claim appeared to be incorrect. As far as I’m aware, there seems overwhelming genetic evidence that Europe’s Ashkenazi Jews do indeed trace much of their ancestry back to the Holy Land, apparently being the descendants of a few hundred (presumably Jewish) Middle Easterners, mostly male, who settled in Southern Europe some time after the Fall of Rome and took local Northern Italian wives, afterward remaining largely endogamous for the next thousand-plus years of their growing presence in Central and Eastern Europe. However, being a historian rather than a genetic researcher, Prof. Sand was apparently unaware of this hard evidence, and focused upon much weaker literary and cultural indicators, perhaps also being somewhat influenced by his own ideological predilections.

On the other hand, some of Alex’s other recommendations I found absolutely fascinating and quite persuasive. Once, he mentioned he was reading a book about the foreign spy network that had seized considerable control of the American political system just prior to our entry into WWII. “Oh,” I said, “you mean the Soviet Communist spy network?” I had recently become better aware of the volume of evidence revealed by Venona decrypts. “No,” he answered with a smile, “the other foreign spy network, the one run by Britain.”

He explained that British spies had played a massive hidden role in getting America involved in the Second World War despite the overwhelming opposition of the citizenry, and very possibly had murdered a top Republican Party official as they secretly gained political control of the GOP and its presidential nominating process. Being himself from a family of British Communist Party members, he found it quite amusing that rival networks of British spies and Communist spies had quietly competed or cooperated for control of our own national government during that era, even while the totally ignorant and oblivious American sheep grazed contently, emitting an occasional “Baa!” now and again, and never noticed that the direction of their flock periodically changed in seemingly inexplicable ways.

DesperateDeception So I went ahead and ordered the book, Desperate Deception by Thomas E. Mahl, and put it in my stack, though being busy with software work, it was a couple of years until I finally got around to reading it. Unfortunately, by that time, Alex was no longer among us, so I couldn’t drop him a note of thanks for the recommendation. As someone with merely a cursory knowledge of twentieth century American history, largely acquired from high school textbooks and newspaper articles, I found the material quite shocking, but based on a few conversations I’ve had, I suspect that many Americans, including those far more knowledgeable than myself, would react in much the same way.

These days, informed observers have grown a bit blasé at the notion of our country being manipulated by agents of a foreign power together with its influential domestic allies, and although the endless, Stalinesque standing ovations given by Congress to Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu last year raised a few temporary eyebrows at the time, the incident was quickly forgotten. But back in the more innocent era of the 1930s, there was still a naive feeling that American elected officials should act in service to what they perceived as America’s own national interests, and if the facts of Prof. Mahl’s book had become known at the time, there surely would have been a serious political backlash.

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Indeed, at numerous points the author notes that the puzzled political opponents of our involvement in the Second World War sensed that there seemed to be some unseen coordinating hand behind the individuals and forces arrayed against them, but they never guessed that it was simply a foreign intelligence service.

The history was that Britain and France had entered into a war against Germany, and soon found themselves at a stalemate or actually overmatched. Only America’s entrance into World War I had turned the tide of that conflict, leading to an allied victory, and the same factor seemed necessary in the even more difficult second round. However, America’s involvement in WWI had come to be seen by the American people in hindsight as a disastrous mistake, and the notion of going to war in Europe a second time was enormously unpopular. Hence a heavy secret campaign of political subversion and media manipulation was necessary to undermine the public figures opposing intervention and ensure that America would go to war even though very few Americans actually wanted to do so.

This task was rendered considerably more difficult by another factor only lightly touched upon by the author. During the period in question, an enormous amount of political influence was held by a network of Communist agents loyal to the Soviet Union, as conclusively demonstrated many decades later by the declassification of the Venona decrypts. However, Stalin and Hitler had become allies just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, and until the German invasion of Russia in June 1941, Communists were generally opposed to any American support for Britain or France, let alone direct military intervention. So for nearly the entire period in question, the British spies and agents of influence pushing for America to go to war sometimes encountered resistance from the Communist spies and agents of influence pushing in the opposite direction.

The audacity of the British spy ring was really quite remarkable, and partly explained by the enormous degree of control that they and their American allies exerted over most of the leading media outlets, which largely protected them against risk of damaging public disclosures. Under this umbrella of media immunity, documents were forged to embarrass political opponents, leading public opinion polls were manipulated or possibly even faked, and attractive women were deployed to sway prominent elected officials.

For example, I’d always seen the name of Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan cited as the Republican leader whose remarkable conversion from “isolationism” to interventionism and internationalism laid the basis for decades of bipartisan American foreign policy. And in a full chapter, Mahl provides persuasive evidence that Vandenberg’s ideological shift was heavily facilitated by three successive women who served as his primary paramours over a number of years, all of them acting on behalf of British intelligence.

Mahl devotes another chapter to chronicling the repeated, ultimately successful attempts by these outside forces to defeat Rep. Hamilton Fish, entrenched for decades in his Upstate New York district, who served as the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was one of the nation’s leading opponents of foreign intervention. Large amounts of outside money regularly flowed into his district along with massive, coordinated attacks by every available media outlet, levelling the most absurd accusations, including that he was backed by Nazi agents or even one himself, with these charges sometimes based on simple forgeries. In fact, the only foreign agents involved in his campaigns were the British spies secretly coordinating the anti-Fish effort.

Interestingly enough, among the top arguments advanced to stampede ordinary Americans into regarding Germany as a dangerous national threat was the claim that Hitler planned to violate the Monroe Doctrine by seizing control of Latin America, as proven by a secret Nazi map indicating the eventual zones of military occupation. But Germany possessed a surface navy of negligible strength, so any attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean then invade and conquer half the Western Hemisphere would have been a remarkable undertaking indeed, and naturally the map was fabricated by the British, possibly at the behest of the Roosevelt Administration. The individuals who forged the “Niger Yellowcake papers” to promote the Iraq War were mere pikers by comparison.

Another fascinating historical detail regards the creation of the OSS, the American intelligence service that served as the ancestor of the CIA. The FBI already existed as did America’s military intelligence service, but those entrenched organizations were obviously much less vulnerable to external political influence, let alone foreign control. Therefore, most of the impetus behind the creation of the new OSS apparently came from elements of British Intelligence, who also helped select the top leadership, leading to interesting questions about where the primary loyalty of those latter individuals actually lay. Indeed, British agents often described OSS Director Bill Donovan as “our man” in their internal communications.

 

But perhaps the most remarkable story, totally unfamiliar to me, was the bizarre nature of the 1940 presidential race. Franklin Roosevelt had partly won his landslide reelection in 1936 by running as a strong opponent of intervention in any future European war, but in 1937 the economy had once again collapsed, including a new stock market crash, a return to near-record unemployment, and a widespread perception that despite unprecedented government spending, the vaunted New Deal had ultimately been proven unsuccessful. In addition, FDR’s attempt to “pack” the Supreme Court had suffered a major bipartisan defeat in 1937, further undercutting his popularity and raising perceptions that his presidency had been a failure. As an indication of Roosevelt’s unpopularity, the Republicans gained 80 House seats in the 1938 mid-term elections, one of the largest swings in U.S. history.

The 1939 outbreak of war in Europe provided a huge, welcome boost to the American economy, and also a potential excuse for Roosevelt to break every American political tradition and seek a third presidential term. But Roosevelt’s support for military involvement in that conflict posed a major obstacle to such plans since all the leading Republican contenders were strong anti-interventionists, Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio foremost among them, as were the American people. So Roosevelt would apparently either have to risk an election defeat or once again heavily commit himself to maintaining America’s future military neutrality, thus restricting his future course of action if elected and also perhaps alienating some of his key backers, who were focused entirely on the need for America to quickly enter the war against Germany.

Obviously, the ideal situation would be if Roosevelt’s Republican presidential opponent somehow happened to be his ideological twin on “internationalism,” thereby giving the probable majority of “isolationist” voters no choice whatsoever in the voting booth. Powerful figures in the East Coast WASP Establishment wing of the Republican Party, including Henry Luce of the Time-Life media empire and Thomas Lamont of J.P. Morgan & Company, eagerly sought this exact result, but without either a potential Republican candidate or significant popular support, the effort seemed hopeless.

Yet when the 1940 party convention finally drew to a close on June 28th, the unexpected Republican presidential nominee, Wendell Willkie, exactly fulfilled that unlikely goal. He was also a rather strange choice in many other respects, being a somewhat politically obscure lifelong Democrat who had never previously held any elective office, nor had he even competed in any Republican primary. Experienced political observers at the time regarded the Willkie nomination as being among the most bizarre and baffling in American political history, with the redoubtable H.L. Mencken suggesting that Divine Intervention was the only possible explanation.

Mahl, however, points to more mundane factors. There exists enormous evidence of major skullduggery by British agents, including the total manipulation of the nomination process by the convention manager, who was their close ally. Microphones were sabotaged at crucial points and duplicate tickets printed to ensure that all the galleries were completely packed by loud Willkie partisans, whose enthusiasm helped sway wavering delegates. Success might have been very difficult without such illegal machinations, and interestingly enough, the gentleman who arranged them only acquired his position of authority when the original convention manager, an ardent Taft supporter, had suddenly collapsed and died several weeks earlier. This occurrence, seemingly so crucial for Willkie’s nomination, may have been entirely fortuitous, but Mahl notes that the individuals recruited into the local British spy ring were explicitly warned that they might need to commit murder as part of their duties.

Despite Willkie’s remarkable success at securing the nomination, his presidential campaign itself proved a total disaster, with many of his erstwhile supporters quickly dropping away or even transferring their allegiance to Roosevelt. His history as a Democrat and his advocacy of an aggressive internationalism hardly inspired Republican voter enthusiasm, while his Wall Street background constituted a perfect foil for Roosevelt’s populist positions. So despite enormous public doubts about Roosevelt, Willkie suffered a landslide defeat, thereby handling Roosevelt his third term.

The latter proved remarkably magnanimous in victory, becoming very friendly with Willkie, giving him several important appointments, notably to a top American position in Britain, and even considering him as a replacement for pro-Soviet Henry Wallace as his 1944 Vice Presidential choice and likely successor, before ultimately settling upon Harry S. Truman instead. Thus a lifelong Democrat came from obscurity to suddenly capture the Republican Presidential nomination in 1940 before nearly becoming the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee in 1944, which would have put him in the White House upon Roosevelt’s death in 1945.

A glance at Wikipedia suggests that the psychic strain of having come so close to supreme power perhaps became too much for poor Willkie, who soon after being denied the Vice Presidency began suffering numerous heart attacks, finally collapsing and dying at age 52 just before the 1944 election. The entire strange history of these events brings to mind Lenin’s emphasis on the tremendous benefits of creating or at least controlling one’s own political opposition, and perhaps also underscores the possible health risks faced by individuals caught up in such schemes.

Mahl’s monograph, based on his doctoral dissertation in diplomatic history at Kent State University, was published almost 20 years ago in Brassey’s Intelligence & National Security Library, a respected specialty press, received some notable scholarly endorsements, and was briefly reviewed in Foreign Affairs and other mainstream journals. But the only extensive American coverage of this important work seems to have been in small ideological publications such as the paleoconservative Chronicles and the libertarian Independent Review and Mises Review, which conveniently provide much more detailed reviews and summaries of the material than I have presented above. However, despite no sign of a substantial refutation, I also see no indication that the research has ever been substantially incorporated into our histories of that era. For example, Willkie’s 11,000 word Wikipedia entry contains an extensive bibliography and over 150 references, but includes no mention of Mahl’s important research findings.

It is hardly uncommon for a supposedly sovereign nation to have its political system or democratic elections subverted and controlled by the hidden actions of a foreign power, and the last century has been replete with such examples. But while I’m sure that the average educated Guatemalan or Columbian is perfectly aware of the numerous public policy manipulations that his unfortunate country suffered over the decades at the hands of the CIA, I doubt that too many of their American counterparts would guess that much U.S. history might also have been heavily influenced by the subtle interventions of one or more foreign intelligence agencies.

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General Patton U.S. commemorative stamp, issued in 1953.  Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
General Patton U.S. commemorative stamp, issued in 1953. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

During the long Cold War many Russians grew sufficiently disenchanted with the lies and omissions of their own news outlets that they turned to Western radio for a glimpse of the truth.

The growth of the Internet has now provided Americans with a similar opportunity to click on a foreign website and discover the important stories that have somehow escaped the attention of their own leading journalists. Ironically, much of such “alternative media” coverage actually appears in the leading British newspapers, eminently respectable and published in our closest historic ally.

For example, three or four years ago I noticed a link on a prominent libertarian website suggesting that George S. Patton, one of America’s most renowned World War II military commanders, had been murdered by order of the U.S. government. Not being someone much drawn to conspiracy-mongering, the lurid claim seemed totally outlandish, but I decided to click my mouse and harmlessly examine a bit of Internet fringe-lunacy. However, the source turned out to be a lengthy article in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph, one of the world’s leading newspapers, describing a newly published book based on a decade of detailed research and interviews undertaken by an experienced American military affairs writer.

The book and the article had appeared in 2008 and I had never heard a word about the story in any of my major American newspapers. The description seemed sufficiently factual and detailed that I consulted a couple of prominent academics I know, with backgrounds in history and political science. They had also never encountered the theory, being just as surprised as I was by the material and by the fact that such remarkable revelations had never received any attention in our own country, home of the freest and most scandal-mongering media in the world.

WilcoxBook With curiosity getting the better of me, I ordered the book for about $8 from Amazon.com.

Target Patton, written by Robert K. Wilcox and published by Regnery Press, runs over 450 pages, with an extensive bibliography and nearly 700 footnotes. The many years spent by the author on this project are clearly reflected in the contents, which include numerous personal interviews and the careful analysis of an enormous amount of primary and secondary source material. I’ve seldom encountered so detailed and seemingly exhaustive a work of investigatory journalism, quite understandable given the explosive nature of the charges being made. And yet the expose had never reached readers of the American mainstream media.

I personally found the evidence for Patton’s assassination quite persuasive, even overwhelming, and any curious readers can currently order the book for as little as $2.93 plus shipping and judge for themselves.

Wilcox himself had been just as shocked as anyone else when he first encountered the surprising claims, but the initial evidence persuaded him to invest years fully researching the theory before publishing the results. Some of his major findings seem quite telling.

In the months before his death, Patton had become a powerful critic of the American government, its conduct of World War II, and its policy toward the Soviets. He planned to resign from the military after returning to the U.S. and then begin a major public speaking tour against America’s political leadership; as one of our most celebrated war heroes, his denunciations would certainly have had a huge impact. His fatal car accident took place the day before his scheduled departure home, and he had narrowly escaped death twice before under very strange circumstances.

There are extensive personal interviews with the self-confessed government assassin, then attached to America’s OSS intelligence service, the wartime forerunner of the CIA. This operative had a long and substantially documented career in exactly that sort of activity, both during the war itself and for decades afterward, allegedly working internationally on a free-lance basis and “weeding” selected human targets both for the CIA and various other employers. Towards the end of his life, he became disgruntled over what he regarded as his ill-treatment by ungrateful U.S. government bureaucrats and also a bit guilt-ridden over having been responsible for the death of one of America’s greatest military heroes, prompting his decision to go public, with his claims backed by a voluminous personal diary. Numerous other interviews with individuals connected with the circumstances of Patton’s death seemed to largely corroborate the theory.

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The assassin recounted that OSS Chief William Donovan had ordered the killing on the grounds that Patton had “gone crazy,” becoming a major threat to American national interests. Around this same time, a military counter-intelligence field agent began encountering credible reports of a planned assassination plot against Patton and attempted to warn his superiors, including Donovan; not only were his warnings disregarded, but he was repeatedly threatened, and at one point, even placed under arrest. It seems clear that Donovan’s orders came from his superiors, either in the White House or elsewhere.

The motivation may or may not have ultimately had a foreign origin. Over the last twenty years, scholars such as John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr have exhaustively demonstrated that during the 1930s and 1940s a large network of Communist spies had gained enormous influence in the uppermost reaches of the American government. Indeed, Wilcox carefully documents how the OSS itself had been heavily infiltrated at the highest levels by elements of the Soviet NKVD, and that during this particular period, the two intelligence organizations were in an ambiguous quasi-partnership, with Donovan being especially eager to curry political favor with the pro-Soviet elements near the top of the U.S. government.

Meanwhile, Patton, a zealous anti-Communist, had very different views, urging an immediate military attack on the weakened forces of the Soviet Union. It is easy to understand how Stalin and those American leaders in his orbit might have decided that Patton’s physical removal was an absolute priority.

At the time of his death, Patton was the highest ranking U.S. military officer in Europe, and the story naturally became front-page news throughout the world. Several official reports were produced regarding the exact circumstances of the very strange traffic accident responsible, but all of these have completely disappeared from U.S. government files. I find it difficult to imagine a non-sinister explanation for this.

These few paragraphs provide merely the smallest slice of the enormous amount of documentary material and painstaking analysis that Wilcox spent ten years compiling for his outstanding book. Obviously, many questions remain, and absolute proof is impossible seventy years after the event. But from my perspective, the likelihood of an assassination, almost certainly with the active involvement of top American officials, seems overwhelming.

I have also been reliably informed that for many years there has been a widespread belief within the American intelligence community that Patton was eliminated by the U.S. government for political reasons. Such quiet knowledge in those circles is hardly surprising. The alleged government assassin first publicly confessed his guilt in the plot decades ago in front of a journalist at an OSS reunion dinner in DC, while seated at the table of his longtime friend and colleague William Colby, former Director of the CIA. And although the resulting local news stories were completely ignored by the national media, it is hardly surprising that word soon got around within intelligence circles.

Perhaps some experienced scholar with a different perspective could invest time and effort attempting to refute the powerful case set forth by Wilcox, though none apparently has. But suppose that the evidence for this theory is not nearly as overwhelming as it appears, and only sufficient to provide a reasonable possibility that the story is true, perhaps a 25% likelihood. I would argue that if there exists even a slight chance that one of America’s most renowned generals—our top-ranking military officer in post-WWII Europe—was assassinated for political reasons by America’s own government, the scandal would surely rank among the greatest in modern U.S. history.

The book was written by a reputable author and published by a mainstream though conservative-oriented press, but it went unmentioned in America’s major national publications, whether conservative or liberal, nor was any subsequent investigation undertaken. A leading British newspaper reported what American journalists had totally ignored.

It seems likely that if a similar book had been published providing such solidly-documented historical revisionism regarding the sudden death of a top Russian or Chinese general at the close of the Second World War, the story might have easily reached the front pages of the New York Times, and certainly the weekly Book Review section. Perhaps there might even have been considerable media coverage if the victim had been a prominent Guatemalan general, whose name was totally unknown to most of the American public. Yet similar allegations surrounding the demise of one of America’s most famous and popular military leaders of the 1940s have been of no interest to America’s mainstream journalists.

Once again, we must distinguish the two issues. Whether or not I am correct in believing that the case for Patton’s assassination is overwhelming might certainly be disputed. But the fact that the American media has completely failed to report these revelations is absolutely undeniable.

 

As mentioned, I had originally encountered this fascinating history a few years ago, and at the time had been too preoccupied with other matters to publish a column as I’d intended. But having decided to return to the topic, I quickly reread the book to refresh my memory, and found it even more persuasive than I had the first time round. Eight years after original publication, I still failed to find any coverage in our timorous mainstream newspapers, but given the enormous growth of looser web-based journalism, I wondered what might have appeared elsewhere.

Googling around a bit, I didn’t find a great deal. A couple of times over the years, Wilcox had managed to place short pieces of his own somewhere, including the New York Post in 2010 and in the American Thinker webzine in 2012, with the latter including mention of a possibly important new witness who had finally decided to come forth. But otherwise his astonishing book seems to have been entirely shoved down the memory-hole.

On the other hand, others have recently begun trying to take advantage of his research, while refashioning the narrative into one more likely to find favor within the American establishment and the media it controls.

OReillyBook Most notable was Bill O’Reilly, the FoxNews pundit, who published Killing Patton in 2014, another in his series of popular history best-sellers co-authored by Martin Dugard. The very title itself challenged the official story of an accidental car crash, and I eagerly opened the book, only to be severely disappointed. The presentation seemed thin and padded, with perhaps 10% of the text merely rehashing the analysis provided by Wilcox while the remaining 90% represented a rather conventional historical summary of the Western Front near the end of the Second World War, including heavy coverage of the Nazi concentration camps, and with little of this material having any connection to Patton. The only interesting part of the text seemed based on Wilcox’s original research, and that relationship was heavily disguised by the total absence of any footnotes, with the only indication being a single short sentence near the end citing the Wilcox book as a very helpful summary of “the conspiracy theories.” Not unreasonably, the latter author seemed somewhat irritated at the lack of appropriate notice or credit he received.

O’Reilly’s dumbed-down book sold over a million copies, with a title proclaiming Patton’s assassination. But the resulting media coverage was still rather scanty and largely negative, criticizing the supposed indulgence of “conspiracy theories.” Media Matters summarized the reaction as “Historians Rip O’Reilly’s New Patton Book,” and given the near-total lack of any documentation provided by O’Reilly, much of that criticism may not have been unreasonable. Thus, the media totally ignored a heavily documented and persuasive book, while attacking and ridiculing a weak one on the same subject, with this dual approach constituting an effective means of obscuring the truth.

America’s opinion leaders tend to rely upon our most elite national newspapers for their knowledge of the world, and the only coverage I found in these of O’Reilly’s best-seller was a rather odd opinion piece by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. Cohen seemed rather uninterested in the assassination question one way or another, but harshly condemned O’Reilly for devoting insufficient pages to discussing Patton’s alleged anti-Semitism. Indeed, he almost implied that some of the remarks later found in Patton’s private diaries were sufficiently nasty toward Jews that perhaps no American should even care whether our highest ranking general in Europe had been killed by his own government or anyone else. The mentality of our mainstream media these days is very strange indeed, and we live in the world it creates for us.

Most recently, the success of the O’Reilly book and our revived Cold War with Russia may have led to production of a new documentary making the case for Patton’s assassination, but possibly reconstructing the facts with a distorted twist. Wilcox’s original research had demonstrated that top American leaders organized Patton’s assassination, though probably in conjunction with the Soviets. O’Reilly provided some of those facts in his book, but his media interviews airbrushed out the American role, simply declaring that “Stalin killed Patton.” And based on news reports, I wonder if this new documentary, apparently made without Wilcox’s involvement, will similarly ignore the massive evidence of direct U.S. government involvement, while perhaps attempting to fix the blame solely upon the nefarious Russians.

Finally, this important historical incident provides a useful means of evaluating the credibility of certain widely-used resources. For years I’ve emphasized to people that Wikipedia is absolutely worthless as a source of reliable information on any relatively “controversial” topic. Given Patton’s enormous historical stature, it is hardly surprising that his Wikipedia entry is exceptionally long and detailed, running over 15,000 words, with nearly 300 references and footnotes. But this exhaustive exposition contains not the slightest suggestion of any suspicious aspects to his death. “Wiki-Pravda” indeed.

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shutterstock_14569234

Several years ago, my articles advocating a large hike in the minimum wage caught the attention of James Galbraith, the prominent liberal economist, and we became a little friendly. As president of Economists for Peace and Security, he invited me to speak on those issues at his DC conference in late 2013. And after the presentations, he arranged a meeting with a friend of his, influential in DC political circles, at which the two of us could present my minimum wage proposals.

While we were waiting for the taxi to take us to that meeting, I heard him quietly discussing a few other matters with a friend standing next to him. Phrases such as “attacking Russia,” “a nuclear first strike,” and “Kennedy and the Joint Chiefs” came to my ears. I can’t recall the exact words, but the conversation stuck in my mind both at the time and on my later flight home that evening, and although I hadn’t mentioned anything, I wondered what remarkable historical facts he had been discussing. His father, the legendary economist John Kenneth Galbraith, had spent decades as one of America’s most prominent public intellectuals and was a very influential figure in the Kennedy Administration, so I assumed that he was not merely engaging in casual speculation.

Finally, a week or two later, my curiosity got the better of me, and I dropped him a note, gingerly raising the topic I’d accidentally overheard. I suggested that if he possessed any private information regarding so astonishing a possibility—that the Kennedy Administration might have considered a nuclear first strike against the USSR—perhaps he had a duty to bring the facts to public awareness lest they be lost to history.

He replied that he’d indeed found persuasive evidence that the US military had carefully planned a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, and agreed about the historical importance. But he’d already published an article laying out the case. Twenty years earlier. In The American Prospect, a very respectable though liberal-leaning magazine. So I located a copy on the Internet:

I quickly read the article and was stunned. The central document was a Top Secret/Eyes Only summary memo of a July 1961 National Security Council meeting written by Howard Burris, the military aide to then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson, which was afterward deposited in the Johnson Archives and eventually declassified. The discussion focused on the effectiveness of a planned nuclear first strike, suggesting that 1963 would be the optimal date since America’s relative advantage in intercontinental nuclear missiles would be greatest at that point. Galbraith’s student, Heather A. Purcell, had discovered the memo and co-authored the article with him, and as they pointed out, this meeting was held soon after the US military had discovered that the Soviet missile forces were far weaker than previously had been realized, leading to the plans for the proposed attack and also proving that the first strike under discussion could only have been an American one.

This history was quite different from the deterrent-based framework of American nuclear-war strategy that I had always absorbed from reading my textbooks and newspapers.

Obviously no nuclear attack took place, so the plans must have been changed at some point or discarded, and there were various indications that President Kennedy had had important doubts from the very beginning. But the argument made was that at the time, the first strike proposal was taken very seriously by America’s top political and military leadership. Once we accept that idea, other historical puzzles more easily fall into place.

Consider, for example, the massive campaign of “civil defense” that America launched immediately thereafter, leading to the construction of large numbers of fallout shelters throughout the country, including the backyard suburban ones which generated some famous ironic images. Although I’m hardly an expert on nuclear war, the motivation had never made much sense to me, since in most cases the supplies would only have been sufficient to last a few weeks or so, while the deadly radioactive fallout from numerous Soviet thermonuclear strikes on our urban centers would have been long-lasting. But an American first strike changes this picture. A successful U.S. attack would have ensured that few if any bombs fell on American soil, with the shelters intended merely to provide a couple of weeks of useful protection until the global radioactive dust-clouds resulting from the nuclear destruction of the Soviet Union had dissipated, and these anyway would have only reached America in highly attenuated form.

Furthermore, we must reassess the background to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, certainly one of the most important and dangerous events of that era. If Soviet military analysts had reached conclusions similar to those of their American counterparts, it is hardly surprising that their political leaders would have taken the considerable risk of deploying nuclear warheads on intermediate range missiles close to American cities, thereby greatly multiplying their deterrent capability immediately prior to their point of greatest strategic vulnerability. And there was also the real possibility that their intelligence agents might have somehow gotten hints of the American plans for an actual nuclear first strike. The traditional view presented in the American media has always been that an unprovoked American attack was simply unimaginable, any Soviet paranoia notwithstanding, but if such an attack was not only imagined but actually planned, then our Cold War narrative must be significantly modified. Indeed, perhaps important aspects of the superpower confrontations of that era should be completely inverted.

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Could such a momentous historical discovery have been so totally ignored by our mainstream journalists and historians that I’d never heard of it during the previous twenty years? Gossipy rumors of an additional JFK infidelity might periodically make the headlines, but why was there no discussion of serious plans to launch a non-defensive global thermonuclear war likely to kill many millions?

I have limited expertise in either analyzing nuclear warfare strategy or interpreting national security documents, so I could easily be making an error in evaluating the strength of the case. But in a later issue of TAP, William Burr and David Alan Rosenberg, scholars proficient in exactly those areas, published a lengthy rebuttal to the article, followed by a rejoinder from Galbraith and Purcell. And in my own opinion, the Burr/Rosenberg critique was quite unpersuasive.

In their arguments, they emphasized that the key document was found in the Vice Presidential archives, while the National Archives and those of President Kennedy himself are usually a far better source of important material. But perhaps that’s exactly the point. The authenticity of the Burris document was never disputed, and Burr/Rosenberg cite absolutely no contradictory archival material, implying that the documentary evidence was not available to them. So the materials dealing with such an extraordinarily explosive proposal had either elsewhere not been declassified or might even have been removed from the main archives, with only the less direct Burris summary memo in a secondary location surviving the purge and later being declassified, perhaps because its treatment of the subject was much less explicit.

Meanwhile, a careful reading of the Burris memo seems to strongly support the Galbraith/Purcell interpretation, namely that in July 1961 President Kennedy and his top national security officials discussed cold-blooded plans for a full nuclear attack against the Soviet Union in roughly two years’ time, when the relative imbalance of strategic forces would be at its maximum. The proposal seemed quite concrete, rather than merely being one of the numerous hypotheticals endlessly produced by all military organizations.

In a later footnote, Galbraith even mentioned that he subsequently had his interpretation personally confirmed by Kennedy’s former National Security Advisor: “When once I asked the late Walt Rostow if he knew anything about the National Security Council meeting of July 20, 1961 (at which these plans were presented), he responded with no hesitation: `Do you mean the one where they wanted to blow up the world?’”

 

Once I accepted the reasonable likelihood of the analysis, I was shocked at how little attention the remarkable article had received. When I simply Googled the names of the authors “Galbraith Heather Purcell” I mostly discovered very brief mentions scattered here and there, generally in specialized books or in articles written by Galbraith himself, and found absolutely nothing in the major media. Possibly one of the most important revisions to our entire history of the Cold War—with huge implications for the Cuban Missile Crisis—seems to have never achieved any significant public awareness.

And there is also a sequel on this same topic. In 2001 military affairs writer Fred Kaplan published a major article in The Atlantic with the explicit title “JFK’s First-Strike Plan.” Drawing on a wealth of newly declassified archival documents, he similarly described how the Kennedy Administration had prepared plans for a nuclear first strike against the Soviets. His analysis was somewhat different, suggesting that Kennedy himself had generally approved the proposal, but that the attack was intended as an option to be used during a hypothetical future military confrontation rather than being aimed for a particular scheduled date.

The government plans unearthed by Kaplan are clearly referring to the same strategy discussed in the Burris memo, but since Kaplan provides none of the documents themselves, it is difficult to determine whether or not the evidence is consistent with the somewhat different Galbraith/Purcell interpretation. It is also decidedly odd that Kaplan’s long article gives no indication that he was even aware of that previous theory or its differing conclusions, containing not a single sentence mentioning or dismissing it. I find it very difficult to believe that a specialist such as Kaplan remained totally unaware of the earlier TAP analysis, but perhaps this might possibly be explained given the near-total media blackout. Prior to the establishment of the Internet or even in its early days, important information ignored by the media might easily vanish almost without a trace.

Kaplan’s long article seems to have suffered that similar fate. Aside from a few mentions in some of Kaplan’s own later pieces, I found virtually no references at all in the last 15 years when I casually Googled it. Admittedly, the timing could not have been worse, with the article appearing in the October 2001 edition of the magazine, released in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, but the silence is still troubling.

The unfortunate fact is that when a massively important story is reported only once, with virtually no follow-up, the impact may be minimal. Only a small slice of the public encounters that initial account, and the lack of any repetition would eventually lead even those individuals to forget it, or perhaps even vaguely assume that the subsequent silence implied that the claims had been mistaken or later debunked. Every standard historical narrative of the 1960s that continues to exclude mention of serious plans for an American nuclear first strike constitutes a tacit denial of that important reality, implicitly suggesting that the evidence does not exist or had been discredited. As a consequence, I doubt whether more than a sliver of those seemingly informed Americans who carefully read the NYT and WSJ each morning are aware of these important historical facts, and perhaps the same is even true of the journalists who write for those esteemed publications. Only repetition and continuing coverage gradually incorporates a story into our framework of the past.

It is easy to imagine how things might have gone differently. Suppose, for example, that similarly solid evidence of plans for a devastating and unprovoked nuclear attack on the Soviet Union had been found in the archival records of the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan. Is there not a far greater likelihood that the story have been heavily covered and then endlessly repeated in our media outlets, until it had become full embedded in our standard histories and was known to every informed citizen?

 

In some respects, these discussions of events from over a half-century ago have little relevance for us today: the individuals involved are now all merely names in our history books and the world is a very different place. So although the sharp differences between the Galbraith/Purcell analysis and that of Kaplan might engage academic specialists, the practical differences would today be minimal.

But what has enormous significance is the media silence itself. If our media failed to report these shocking new facts about the early 1960s, how much can we rely upon it for coverage of present-day events of enormous importance, given the vastly more immediate pressures and political interests which are surely brought to bear? If our mainstream histories of what happened fifty years ago are highly unreliable, what does that suggest about the stories we read each morning concerning the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine or the South China Sea or the Middle East?

Consider a particularly troubling thought-experiment. Suppose that the proposed nuclear attack on Russia had actually gone ahead, resulting in millions or tens of millions dead from the bombs and worldwide radioactive fallout, perhaps even including a million or more American casualties if the first strike had failed to entirely eliminate all retaliatory capability. Under such a dire scenario, is it not likely that every American media organ would have been immediately enlisted to sanitize and justify the terrible events, with virtually no dissent allowed? Surely John F. Kennedy would have been enshrined as our most heroic wartime president—greater than Lincoln and FDR combined—the leader who boldly saved the West from an imminent Soviet attack, a catastrophic nuclear Pearl Harbor. How could our government ever admit the truth? Even decades later, this patriotic historical narrative, uniformly endorsed by newspapers, books, films, and television, would have become almost unassailable. Only the most marginal and anti-social individuals would dare to suggest that the facts might actually have been otherwise, and they would be widely regarded as eccentric or even mentally ill for doing so. After all, how would the general public know anything different? As I always tell people, the media creates reality.

I am grateful that the world escaped this terrible nuclear disaster. But I find it disturbing that I spent decades religiously reading The New York Times every morning, but only discovered this crucial element of the Cold War by overhearing a conversation while waiting for a taxi.

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Postscript:

Prof. James Galbraith has now provided a note, clarifying his own views on the issues discussed in this article:

http://www.unz.com/runz/american-pravda-did-the-us-plan-a-nuclear-first-strike-against-russia-in-the-early-1960s/#comment-1531657

 
Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman.  Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons
Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

For months the business headlines of America’s leading media outlets have been charting the looming downfall of Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, now on the verge of losing control of his enormous media company to Shari Redstone, the once-estranged daughter of controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone. Just a few years ago, he was America’s highest-paid chief executive, with his rise to power chronicled in a massive 4,000 word New York Times profile, which absorbed much of the front page of the Business Section. And now he is seemingly more focused on negotiating his exit package, with his fall partly matching the decline in his corporate share price.

But even more remarkable than his fall in business stature has been the new-found silence on his tested intelligence, which for years had been described as corresponding to an IQ in the range of 260, very possibly the highest ever recorded in the history of the human species.

What’s that? Doesn’t that woman who has for decades provided a “Dear Abby” type letter-column in Parade Magazine have the world’s highest IQ? Or isn’t it that semi-employed college drop-out and former bar-bouncer who mathematically proved the existence of God and generated much chatter on the Internet a dozen years back? And weren’t their IQs merely in the low 200s at most, so surely everyone would have heard if America’s highest-paid CEO were also its greatest national genius, thereby confirming the financial reward-structure of our strictly-meritocratic economy? How did our flawless elite media somehow manage to miss the story?

The facts were hardly buried in the small print. For years, his fawning media profiles, at least going back to a 1995 Forbes cover story, have emphasized his exceptional youthful brilliance by noting that he scored a perfect 1600 on the SATs at the tender age of thirteen, a personal detail that his publicists ensured was repeated in numerous other MSM outlets over the years, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters.

Now as it happens, scoring a perfect 1600 on the pre-1995 SAT is hardly a trivial achievement at any age. The overwhelming majority of high-performing high school seniors had taken the exam, and most years those scoring 1600 numbered only in the single digits, occasionally reaching a dozen or so. The exam also had a very high correlation with IQ test results, and indeed the late Henry Harpending once noted that a reasonable case could be made that the old SAT constituted the best high-end intelligence test in the world, being normed on such an enormous population group. Considering that only a small handful of our brightest 17-year-olds annually got a perfect score, an individual who casually achieved that same remarkable feat at the age of 13 must possess an almost superhuman intellect.

By contrast, consider a far lesser mortal such as mathematician Jordan Ellenberg, whose mundane achievements are summarized in his unadorned Wikipedia page. As a child prodigy, he taught himself to read at the age of two, and by fourth grade was a champion in high school math competitions. He went on to win Gold Medals with perfect scores in two different International Math Olympiads, took second place in the national Intel/Westinghouse Science Talent Search, and twice achieved the remarkable honor of being a Putnam Fellow in math at Harvard, where he earned both his A.B. and Ph.D.; later, he also wrote a novel that was a finalist in a national fiction prize. These are hardly intellectual distinctions to sneeze at, and his perfect 1600 on the SAT was fully in keeping with his obvious ability. Indeed, since he got that perfect score as a high school junior, he was very possibly the youngest such student that year in the entire country. However, that last achievement likely came at the age of 16, while his scores at an earlier age were far lower. Indeed, if we exclude young Dauman, I’m not sure there’s ever been a single student under the age of 15 or 16 who ever got a perfect 1600 on the pre-1995 exam.

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I have little doubt that if American journalists were a bit more conversant with the higher reaches of academic testing, Dauman’s remarkable test scores would have constituted the headline focus of each of his media profiles, easily eclipsing his wealth or his corporate position. After all, if an individual selected as the new CEO of some large company had also invented a functioning teleportation device as a teenager, which achievement would receive greater national recognition?

In 1985 Harvard’s Robert Klitgaard published his influential book Choosing Elites on our meritocratic methods of college admissions, with a significant focus on academic tests such as the SAT. In a long, extended footnote (pp. 234-235), he provided a intriguing table presenting the rough equivalency between V+M SAT results and Stanford-Binet childhood IQ scores. While I can’t say whether the estimates are correct, they don’t seem unreasonable to me, and I’m not aware of anything better elsewhere. Although the paucity of data causes the actual table to end at IQ=190, it seems pretty clear that a pre-1995 V+M SAT score of 1600 taken at the usual age of 17 would roughly correspond to an IQ=200. When individuals score beyond the validity of tests, we are faced with problems of extrapolation, and perhaps the least-bad approach would be to apply the old-fashioned age-ratio-method of intelligence-testing, suggesting that Dauman’s score of 1600 at the age of 13 corresponded to an IQ of over 260.

Dauman may be as modest as he is brilliant, and it’s intriguing that after his stupendous SAT scores were mentioned in that glowing 2012 NYT profile, they seem to have disappeared from subsequent media mention despite nearly two decades of emphasis, and I very much doubt that my short item characterizing him as “The Third Greatest Genius in Human History” was the primary cause. A cynical observer might even suspect that he had been slightly “embellishing” his scores for all those years, and his lawyers and publicists finally persuaded him to stop doing so.

But this could not possibly be the case. After all, consider the case of poor Scott Thompson, a PayPal executive appointed Yahoo CEO in early 2012. He claimed that decades earlier he had earned his undergraduate degree at obscure Stonehill College, majoring in accounting and computer science, but when it was revealed that his major had solely been in accounting, the controversy forced his immediate resignation.

Meanwhile, Dauman has been locked in an exceptionally bitter battle for control against his mentor’s daughter over Viacom, a media empire worth tens of billions of dollars. If there were even the slightest possibility that he had actually spent decades making utterly preposterous claims about his academic ability, casually assuming that these would never be noticed by the totally credulous and ignorant journalists of the mainstream media, her crack teams of researchers would surely have already uncovered that fact and used it to destroy him. Thus, Dauman’s IQ surely must be in the 260 range, and if he does ultimately lose his control over MTV and Comedy Central, the world might be the beneficiary, if he chooses to focus his vast intellect on finding an immortality serum or a means of traveling faster than light.

 

On an entirely different matter, I just spent a couple of days reading yet another POW book, Kiss the Boys Goodbye by Monika Jensen-Stevenson and William Stevenson, which left me rather puzzled. Published in 1990 at a point when nearly 70% of the American public believed that there were live POWs still held in Southeast Asia, this text provided remarkable claims of US government involvement in a massive cover-up, along with the sordid motives supposedly responsible. In various later anti-POW books, several former military men who said that they had directly seen imprisoned POWs were dismissed in a few paragraphs as obvious con-men or liars, mostly based on official records; here, those same individuals were discussed and interviewed for pages and finally judged to be credible, while accusations were made that the government was organizing a massive smear campaign against them, including the fabrication of false testimony aimed at destroying their reputations.

The book itself is written in a rather breezy style, and given its shocking claims, I would normally have extreme doubts about its credibility. But the primary author was an award-winning producer at Sixty Minutes, who spent over five years working on the POW project, while her husband and co-author had considerable expertise in intelligence and military matters, especially related to Southeast Asia, and had written a sheaf of books on those topics, including the best-seller A Man Called Intrepid. Many of the charges of government cover-up and conspiracy are based on direct personal experience, so unless we assume that she is a liar or a lunatic, they would seem likely to be correct. And if even merely 10% of the book’s claims are correct, then the POWs almost certainly did exist. So my overall verdict on this new material is “I just don’t know.” Unfortunately, these days I do take this sort of “conspiracy book” much more seriously than I might have six or seven years ago.

Finally, one of John McCain’s wartime propaganda broadcasts for the Communists has now been unearthed and released, exactly confirming some of the material I described in my article last year.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Media, IQ, McCain/POW
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Twenty years ago, California public schools were forcing thousands of Latino children into Spanish-almost-only classes against the wishes of their parents.

In 1996, The Los Angeles Times told the story of a group of Latino immigrant parents who began a public protest against their local elementary school for refusing to teach their children English, boycotting classes and marching outside with picket signs.

That protest inspired our “English for the Children” initiative campaign, which began the following year. Our Proposition 227 required California public schools to teach children English from their first day of classes, placing children who didn’t know English into an intensive sheltered English immersion program to teach them the language as quickly as possible, then moving them into the regular classes with all the other children.

Our honorary chairman was the late Jaime Escalante of “Stand and Deliver” fame, one of America’s most famous teachers, and we attracted enormous public support. Even though almost all the politicians, Democrat and Republican alike, refused to support our initiative, we still won a landslide victory, getting over 61 percent of the vote.

The educational results were tremendous. Most California newspapers had opposed our ballot measure, but once it passed they immediately began reporting how well the new system worked and how quickly and easily hundreds of thousands of Latino children were learning English.

Within four years, the academic test scores of over 1 million immigrant schoolchildren had increased by 30 percent, 50 percent or even 100 percent. Proposition 227 was so successful that its educational results were reported on the front page of The New York Times, with major coverage by CBS News and many other national media outlets.

The founding president of the California Association of Bilingual Educators publicly admitted that he’d been mistaken for 30 years and that intensive English immersion was the best educational policy for immigrant children. He became a leading national advocate of English in the schools.

Because nearly all the Latino children in California schools are now immediately taught English, they’re doing much better academically and gaining admission to top colleges. Despite the end of affirmative action in California, there’s been a huge increase in the number of Latinos attending the prestigious University of California system.

So-called “Dual-Language Programs” — in which up to 90 percent of the instruction is in Spanish — were never completely outlawed by Proposition 227. However, parents who wanted to place their children in such non-English classes had to sign an annual waiver, and since the overwhelming majority of Latino parents wanted their children taught English, that’s exactly what has happened.

Because all these educational changes were so successful, almost everyone in California began supporting them, and the entire issue has been dead and forgotten for the last dozen years.

However, a small group of die-hard bilingual education activists never gave up. They recently hoodwinked some of the politicians in Sacramento into placing Proposition 58 on the ballot, hoping to repeal Proposition 227 and allow the re-establishment of Spanish-almost-only classes throughout California.

The supporters of Proposition 58 have publicly admitted that one of their biggest objections to the current system is that it has been difficult to persuade immigrant parents to sign waivers placing their children in non-English classes. Therefore, Proposition 58 eliminates that requirement and allows children to be placed in non-English classes without the written consent of their parents, just as had been the case 20 years ago.

The overwhelming majority of California voters, immigrant and native-born alike, believe children should be taught English in school. Therefore, the supporters of Proposition 58 are being dishonest and trying to trick the voters. They sought to give their ballot measure the very deceptive official title “English Language Education” even though it actually repeals the requirement that children be taught English in California public schools. Their proposed title of their proposition is the exact opposite of what it actually does.

And the worst part of Proposition 58 is hidden away in Section 8, which repeals all restrictions on the California Legislature to make future changes. This would allow the Legislature to reestablish mandatory Spanish-almost-only instruction in all our public schools by a simple majority vote, once again forcing all Latino children into those classes against their parents’ wishes.

Proposition 227 — “English for the Children” — has worked very well in California and has greatly improved the education of millions of immigrant schoolchildren since 1998. The voters should keep this successful system and not be tricked into re-establishing the failed education programs of the past.

Unz, a Silicon Valley software developer, was chairman of the 1998 “English for the Children” campaign to pass Proposition 227.

(Reprinted from The San Diego Union-Tribune by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Bilingual Education, Hispanics, Immigration
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To recast a famous philosophical conundrum, what would happen if hundreds of thousands of Americans died, but the media never reported that calamity?

I spend hours each morning closely reading the print editions of my daily newspapers, and for over a decade that question has seemed real rather than merely hypothetical. The reason may be summarized in one word: “Vioxx.”

Vioxx? What’s Vioxx? I suspect that the overwhelming majority of Americans today would have only the vaguest recollection of that name, and if forced to guess, the largest number might respond: “Vioxx—Is that a new Pokemon character?”

Actually, no. The Vioxx Scandal of the mid-2000s represented one of the greatest medical health disasters of modern times, almost entirely due to corporate greed. An ocean of Americans perished, tens of thousands by official government estimate, but with the true figure more likely ranging into the hundreds of thousands. Yet despite that huge body-count, no one was ever punished, and the entire affair was quickly shoved down the memory hole by our national media, perhaps because the media itself had been a major financial participant.

The story is a simple one. At the end of the 1990s, pharmaceutical giant Merck introduced a patented, vastly more expensive substitute for simple aspirin, which it marketed as a painkiller to the elderly by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on direct-to-consumer advertising through television and other media outlets. The advertising did the trick, and twenty-five million Americans were eventually prescribed Vioxx, generating over $2 billion in annual revenue.

The media benefited from the advertising, Merck benefited from the sales, and many millions of Americans benefited from an effective arthritis remedy that supposedly had fewer side-effects than old-fashioned aspirin. Unfortunately, one of these side-effects turned out to be a huge increase in the risk of strokes and heart attacks, many of them fatal.

Some of initial media reports indicated that Merck had desperately fought behind the scenes to suppress the FDA study demonstrating that their extremely lucrative drug had already killed at least 35,000 Americans, but then “voluntarily” recalled that drug just days before the research report was finally scheduled for release.

And there was a striking epilogue to this scandal, ignored by the media, but which I discussed in an article published a few years ago. Since the historical facts haven’t changed, I quote a few of my crucial paragraphs:

This story of serious corporate malfeasance largely forgiven and forgotten by government and media is depressing enough, but it leaves out a crucial factual detail that seems to have almost totally escaped public notice. The year after Vioxx had been pulled from the market, the New York Times and other major media outlets published a minor news item, generally buried near the bottom of their back pages, which noted that American death rates had suddenly undergone a striking and completely unexpected decline.

The headline of the short article that ran in the April 19, 2005 edition of USA Today was typical: “USA Records Largest Drop in Annual Deaths in at Least 60 Years.” During that one year, American deaths had fallen by 50,000 despite the growth in both the size and the age of the nation’s population. Government health experts were quoted as being greatly “surprised” and “scratching [their] heads” over this strange anomaly, which was led by a sharp drop in fatal heart attacks.

On April 24, 2005, the New York Times ran another of its long stories about the continuing Vioxx controversy, disclosing that Merck officials had knowingly concealed evidence that their drug greatly increased the risk of heart-related fatalities. But the Times journalist made no mention of the seemingly inexplicable drop in national mortality rates that had occurred once the drug was taken off the market, although the news had been reported in his own paper just a few days earlier.

A cursory examination of the most recent 15 years worth of national mortality data provided on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website offers some intriguing clues to this mystery. We find the largest rise in American mortality rates occurred in 1999, the year Vioxx was introduced, while the largest drop occurred in 2004, the year it was withdrawn. Vioxx was almost entirely marketed to the elderly, and these substantial changes in national death-rate were completely concentrated within the 65-plus population. The FDA studies had proven that use of Vioxx led to deaths from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, and these were exactly the factors driving the changes in national mortality rates.

The impact of these shifts was not small. After a decade of remaining roughly constant, the overall American death rate began a substantial decline in 2004, soon falling by approximately 5 percent, despite the continued aging of the population. This drop corresponds to roughly 100,000 fewer deaths per year. The age-adjusted decline in death rates was considerably greater.

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Back in college I had a strong interest in the old Soviet Union, and was always amused when experts explained that some of the most important news developments were often tucked away as small items in the back pages of Pravda or Izvestia. I find it distressful that the same situation now seems true in our own society.

 

I was prompted to resurrect this old story after I attended a rare dinner party a few days ago with a group of Republican political activists. One of the individuals was quite agitated at the supposedly dangerous nature of our Chinese imports, and launched into a lengthy diatribe against that totally corrupt foreign government. He angrily reminded his listeners about the Melamine Scandal, in which baby food products sold in China were adulterated by a potentially harmful plastic chemical compound, leading to the illness of hundreds of thousands of infants and the death of six. Although I was too polite to interrupt his monologue, I knew those details quite well since I had directly contrasted that case—and the reaction of the Chinese government—with how America had handled the Vioxx disaster:

China’s leaders may not be democratically elected, but they pay close attention to strong popular sentiment. Once pressed, they quickly launched a national police investigation which led to a series of arrests and uncovered evidence that this widespread system of food adulteration had been protected by bribe-taking government officials. Long prison sentences were freely handed out and a couple of the guiltiest culprits were eventually tried and executed for their role, measures that gradually assuaged popular anger. Indeed, the former head of the Chinese FDA had been executed for corruption in late 2007 under similar circumstances.

Obviously, the two situations were not exactly parallel, but consider the different reactions by the national government and media, and what it implies about the realities of popular control in the two societies. In China, a wave of illness culminating in the deaths of six infants became a gigantic national scandal, leading to prison sentences and even executions for the corrupt businessmen responsible and the government officials who facilitated their crimes.

Meanwhile, in the United States a somewhat similar medical scandal producing a body-count perhaps fifty thousand times larger was quickly hushed up and forgotten by the media, with no serious government investigation or significant punishment for any of the guilty parties. The Merck CEO was forced to resign and replaced by one of his top lieutenants, but allowed to keep his $50 million in past bonuses, greatly boosted by lucrative Vioxx sales. A lengthy class-action lawsuit was eventually settled, with the trial lawyers splitting almost $2 billion among themselves, while payouts to the actual victims amounted to roughly $100 per Vioxx user or perhaps $10,000 per American fatality. Given these facts, is it China or is it America that seemingly possesses a free and vigorous media, with a government responsive to the will of the people and protective of their best interests?

Nearly a half century ago, China was in the throes of Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and its government behaved very oddly, leading to all sorts of long-term problems for Chinese society. These days, China seems like a perfectly normal country with a perfectly normal government, and instead it is our own political leadership whose bad behavior may inspire much hand-wringing among future historians.

When ruling elites have little concern for the best interests of the populations they govern, the results can be dire. Under the drunken and totally corrupt Yeltsin Regime of the 1990s, Russia’s national wealth was looted by its financial Oligarchs, who siphoned off vast quantities to their overseas holdings while reducing much of the Russian population to penury. As a direct consequence, Russia suffered one of the greatest peacetime demographic collapses in modern world history, a collapse that was quickly ended and gradually reversed once a patriotic nationalist such as Vladimir Putin came to power and implemented different policies.

Late last year a pair of prominent scholars revealed a stunning rise in the death rates of white Americans over the last dozen years, and some have noted the intriguing parallel between Russia of the Yeltsin years and the situation in our own country. The rapid growth in the highly lucrative prescription drug industry seems a major contributor to this dire health situation, which is heavily concentrated among the non-affluent, whose real wages have stagnated or declined for most of the last 40 years. When large population groups gradually notice that their mortality rates are rising and their financial well-being is falling, they may grow dissatisfied with their existing national elites, and the widespread popularity of Donald Trump in such circles should hardly come as a great surprise.

In his most recent book, Prof. Michael Hudson, a distinguished international economist, has correctly emphasized the strong structural similarities between biological and economic systems. Based on this useful correspondence, he suggests that many of America’s current problems may be best understood once we recognize that our society has been very heavily parasitized by its extractive elites. He further notes that parasites typically attempt to seize control of the sensory organs and central nervous system of their unfortunate host, thereby disorienting their victim or even convincing it that they represent an integral and necessary part of the organism’s own tissue.

Since the mainstream media constitute the sensory organs of our body politic, Hudson’s words often ring true as I read my morning newspapers.

 

For Further Reading:

 
RonUnz1
About Ron Unz

A theoretical physicist by training, Mr. Unz serves as founder and chairman of UNZ.org, a content-archiving website providing free access to many hundreds of thousands of articles from prominent periodicals of the last hundred and fifty years. From 2007 to 2013, he also served as publisher of The American Conservative, a small opinion magazine, and had previously served as chairman of Wall Street Analytics, Inc., a financial services software company which he founded in New York City in 1987. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University, Cambridge University, and Stanford University, and is a past first-place winner in the Intel/Westinghouse Science Talent Search. He was born in Los Angeles in 1961.

He has long been deeply interested in public policy issues, and his writings on issues of immigration, race, ethnicity, and social policy have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, The Nation, and numerous other publications.

In 1994, he launched a surprise Republican primary challenge to incumbent Gov. Pete Wilson of California, running on a conservative, pro-immigrant platform against the prevailing political sentiment, and received 34% of the vote. Later that year, he campaigned as a leading opponent of Prop. 187, the anti-immigration initiative, and was a top featured speaker at a 70,000 person pro-immigrant march in Los Angeles, the largest political rally in California history to that date.

In 1997, Mr. Unz began his “English for the Children” initiative campaign to dismantle bilingual education in California. He drafted Prop. 227 and led the campaign to qualify and pass the measure, culminating in a landslide 61% victory in June 1998, effectively eliminating over one-third of America’s bilingual programs. Within less than three years of the new English immersion curriculum, the mean percentile test scores of over a million immigrant students in California rose by an average of 70%. He later organized and led similar initiative campaigns in other states, winning with 63% in the 2000 Arizona vote and a remarkable 68% in the 2002 Massachusetts vote without spending a single dollar on advertising.

After spending most of the 2000s focused on software projects, he has recently become much more active in his public policy writings, most of which had appeared in his own magazine.


Personal
Classics
What Was John McCain's True Wartime Record in Vietnam?
The unspoken statistical reality of urban crime over the last quarter century.
Talk TV sensationalists and axe-grinding ideologues have fallen for a myth of immigrant lawlessness.
Are elite university admissions based on meritocracy and diversity as claimed?
Hundreds of POWs may have been left to die in Vietnam, abandoned by their government—and our media.
The major media overlooked Communist spies and Madoff’s fraud. What are they missing today?