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Which superpower is more threatened by its “extractive elites”?

With growing indications of a looming economic and strategic confrontation with China, I’m republishing my related article from five years ago.

The recent political upheaval in American society is hardly surprising given some of the disturbing trends I had outlined.

TAC-ChinaAmericaViewAsPDF2 The rise of China surely ranks among the most important world developments of the last 100 years. With America still trapped in its fifth year of economic hardship, and the Chinese economy poised to surpass our own before the end of this decade, China looms very large on the horizon. We are living in the early years of what journalists once dubbed “The Pacific Century,” yet there are worrisome signs it may instead become known as “The Chinese Century.”

But does the Chinese giant have feet of clay? In a recently published book, Why Nations Fail, economists Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson characterize China’s ruling elites as “extractive”—parasitic and corrupt—and predict that Chinese economic growth will soon falter and decline, while America’s “inclusive” governing institutions have taken us from strength to strength. They argue that a country governed as a one-party state, without the free media or checks and balances of our own democratic system, cannot long prosper in the modern world. The glowing tributes this book has received from a vast array of America’s most prominent public intellectuals, including six Nobel laureates in economics, testifies to the widespread popularity of this optimistic message.

Yet do the facts about China and America really warrant this conclusion?

China Shakes the World • 1,400 Words

pudongg By the late 1970s, three decades of Communist central planning had managed to increase China’s production at a respectable rate, but with tremendous fits and starts, and often at a terrible cost: 35 million or more Chinese had starved to death during the disastrous 1959–1961 famine caused by Mao’s forced industrialization policy of the Great Leap Forward.

China’s population had also grown very rapidly during this period, so the typical standard of living had improved only slightly, perhaps 2 percent per year between 1958 and 1978, and this from an extremely low base. Adjusted for purchasing power, most Chinese in 1980 had an income 60–70 percent below that of the citizens in other major Third World countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Kenya, none of which were considered great economic success stories. In those days, even Haitians were far wealthier than Chinese.

All this began to change very rapidly once Deng Xiaoping initiated his free-market reforms in 1978, first throughout the countryside and eventually in the smaller industrial enterprises of the coastal provinces. By 1985, The Economist ran a cover story praising China’s 700,000,000 peasants for having doubled their agricultural production in just seven years, an achievement almost unprecedented in world history. Meanwhile, China’s newly adopted one-child policy, despite its considerable unpopularity, had sharply reduced population growth rates in a country possessing relatively little arable land.

A combination of slowing population growth and rapidly accelerating economic output has obvious implications for national prosperity. During the three decades to 2010, China achieved perhaps the most rapid sustained rate of economic development in the history of the human species, with its real economy growing almost 40-fold between 1978 and 2010. In 1978, America’s economy was 15 times larger, but according to most international estimates, China is now set to surpass America’s total economic output within just another few years.

Furthermore, the vast majority of China’s newly created economic wealth has flowed to ordinary Chinese workers, who have moved from oxen and bicycles to the verge of automobiles in just a single generation. While median American incomes have been stagnant for almost forty years, those in China have nearly doubled every decade, with the real wages of workers outside the farm-sector rising about 150 percent over the last ten years alone. The Chinese of 1980 were desperately poor compared to Pakistanis, Nigerians, or Kenyans; but today, they are several times wealthier, representing more than a tenfold shift in relative income.

A World Bank report recently highlighted the huge drop in global poverty rates from 1980 to 2008, but critics noted that over 100 percent of that decline came from China alone: the number of Chinese living in dire poverty fell by a remarkable 662 million, while the impoverished population in the rest of the world actually rose by 13 million. And although India is often paired with China in the Western media, a large fraction of Indians have actually grown poorer over time. The bottom half of India’s still rapidly growing population has seen its daily caloric intake steadily decline for the last 30 years, with half of all children under five now being malnourished.

China’s economic progress is especially impressive when matched against historical parallels. Between 1870 and 1900, America enjoyed unprecedented industrial expansion, such that even Karl Marx and his followers began to doubt that a Communist revolution would be necessary or even possible in a country whose people were achieving such widely shared prosperity through capitalistic expansion. During those 30 years America’s real per capita income grew by 100 percent. But over the last 30 years, real per capita income in China has grown by more than 1,300 percent.

Over the last decade alone, China quadrupled its industrial output, which is now comparable to that of the U.S. In the crucial sector of automobiles, China raised its production ninefold, from 2 million cars in 2000 to 18 million in 2010, a figure now greater than the combined totals for America and Japan. China accounted for fully 85 percent of the total world increase in auto manufacturing during that decade.

It is true that many of China’s highest-tech exports are more apparent than real. Nearly all Apple’s iPhones and iPads come from China, but this is largely due to the use of cheap Chinese labor for final assembly, with just 4 percent of the value added in those world-leading items being Chinese. This distorts Chinese trade statistics, leading to unnecessary friction. However, some high-tech China exports are indeed fully Chinese, notably those of Huawei, which now ranks alongside Sweden’s Ericsson as one of the world’s two leading telecommunications manufacturers, while once powerful North American competitors such Lucent-Alcatel and Nortel have fallen into steep decline or even bankruptcy. And although America originally pioneered the Human Genome Project, the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) today probably stands as the world leader in that enormously important emerging scientific field.


China’s recent rise should hardly surprise us. For most of the last 3,000 years, China together with the Mediterranean world and its adjoining European peninsula have constituted the two greatest world centers of technological and economic progress. During the 13th century, Marco Polo traveled from his native Venice to the Chinese Empire and described the latter as vastly wealthier and more advanced than any European country. As late as the 18th century, many leading European philosophers such as Voltaire often looked to Chinese society as an intellectual exemplar, while both the British and the Prussians used the Chinese mandarinate as their model for establishing a meritocratic civil service based on competitive examinations.

Even a century ago, near the nadir of China’s later weakness and decay, some of America’s foremost public intellectuals, such as Edward A. Ross and Lothrop Stoddard, boldly predicted the forthcoming restoration of the Chinese nation to global influence, the former with equanimity and the latter with serious concern. Indeed, Stoddard argued that only three major inventions effectively separated the world of classical antiquity from that of 18th-century Europe—gunpowder, the mariner’s compass, and the printing press. All three seem to have first appeared in China, though for various social, political, and ideological reasons, none were properly implemented.

Does China’s rise necessarily imply America’s decline? Not at all: human economic progress is not a zero-sum game. Under the right circumstances, the rapid development of one large country should tend to improve living standards for the rest of the world.

This is most obvious for those nations whose economic strengths directly complement those of a growing China. Massive industrial expansion clearly requires a similar increase in raw-material consumption, and China is now the world’s largest producer and user of electricity, concrete, steel, and many other basic materials, with its iron-ore imports surging by a factor of ten between 2000 and 2011. This has driven huge increases in the costs of most commodities; for example, copper’s world price rose more than eightfold during the last decade. As a direct consequence, these years have generally been very good ones for the economies of countries that heavily rely upon the export of natural resources—Australia, Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and parts of Africa.

Meanwhile, as China’s growth gradually doubles total world industrial production, the resulting “China price” reduces the cost of manufactured goods, making them much more easily affordable to everyone, and thereby greatly increases the global standard of living. While this process may negatively impact those particular industries and countries directly competing with China, it provides enormous opportunities as well, not merely to the aforementioned raw-material suppliers but also to countries like Germany, whose advanced equipment and machine tools have found a huge Chinese market, thereby helping to reduce German unemployment to the lowest level in 20 years.

And as ordinary Chinese grow wealthier, they provide a larger market as well for the goods and services of leading Western companies, ranging from fast-food chains to consumer products to luxury goods. Chinese workers not only assemble Apple’s iPhones and iPads, but are also very eager to purchase them, and China has now become that company’s second largest market, with nearly all of the extravagant profit margins flowing back to its American owners and employees. In 2011 General Motors sold more cars in China than in the U.S., and that rapidly growing market became a crucial factor in the survival of an iconic American corporation. China has become the third largest market in the world for McDonald’s, and the main driver of global profits for the American parent company of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC.

Social Costs of a Rapid Rise • 1,000 Words

Transforming a country in little more than a single generation from a land of nearly a billion peasants to one of nearly a billion city-dwellers is no easy task, and such a breakneck pace of industrial and economic development inevitably leads to substantial social costs. Chinese urban pollution is among the worst in the world, and traffic is rapidly heading toward that same point. China now contains the second largest number of billionaires after America, together with more than a million dollar-millionaires, and although many of these individuals came by their fortunes honestly, many others did not. Official corruption is a leading source of popular resentment against the various levels of Chinese government, ranging from local village councils to the highest officials in Beijing.

But we must maintain a proper sense of proportion. As someone who grew up in Los Angeles when it still had the most notorious smog in America, I recognize that such trends can be reversed with time and money, and indeed the Chinese government has expressed intense interest in the emerging technology of non-polluting electric cars. Rapidly growing national wealth can be deployed to solve many problems.

Similarly, plutocrats who grow rich through friends in high places or even outright corruption are easier to tolerate when a rising tide is rapidly lifting all boats. Ordinary Chinese workers have increased their real income by well over 1,000 percent in recent decades, while the corresponding figure for most American workers has been close to zero. If typical American wages were doubling every decade, there would be far less anger in our own society directed against the “One Percent.” Indeed, under the standard GINI index used to measure wealth inequality, China’s score is not particularly high, being roughly the same as that of the United States, though certainly indicating greater inequality than most of the social democracies of Western Europe.

Many American pundits and politicians still focus their attention on the tragic Tiananmen Square incident of 1989, during which hundreds of determined Chinese protesters were massacred by government troops. But although that event loomed very large at the time, in hindsight it generated merely a blip in the upward trajectory of China’s development and today seems virtually forgotten among ordinary Chinese, whose real incomes have increased several-fold in the quarter century since then.

Much of the Tiananmen protest had been driven by popular outrage at government corruption, and certainly there have been additional major scandals in recent years, often heavily splashed across the pages of America’s leading newspapers. But a closer examination paints a more nuanced picture, especially when contrasted with America’s own situation.

For example, over the last few years one of the most ambitious Chinese projects has been a plan to create the world’s largest and most advanced network of high-speed rail transport, an effort that absorbed a remarkable $200 billion of government investment. The result was the construction of over 6,000 miles of track, a total probably now greater than that of all the world’s other nations combined. Unfortunately, this project also involved considerable corruption, as was widely reported in the world media, which estimated that hundreds of millions of dollars had been misappropriated through bribery and graft. This scandal eventually led to the arrest or removal of numerous government officials, notably including China’s powerful Railways Minister.

Obviously such serious corruption would seem horrifying in a country with the pristine standards of a Sweden or a Norway. But based on the published accounts, it appears that the funds diverted amounted to perhaps as little as 0.2 percent of the total, with the remaining 99.8 percent generally spent as intended. So serious corruption notwithstanding, the project succeeded and China does indeed now possess the world’s largest and most advanced network of high-speed rail, constructed almost entirely in the last five or six years.

Meanwhile, America has no high-speed rail whatsoever, despite decades of debate and vast amounts of time and money spent on lobbying, hearings, political campaigns, planning efforts, and environmental-impact reports. China’s high-speed rail system may be far from perfect, but it actually exists, while America’s does not. Annual Chinese ridership now totals over 25 million trips per year, and although an occasional disaster—such as the 2011 crash in Weizhou, which killed 40 passengers—is tragic, it is hardly unexpected. After all, America’s aging low-speed trains are not exempt from similar calamities, as we saw in the 2008 Chatsworth crash that killed 25 in California.

For many years Western journalists regularly reported that the dismantling of China’s old Maoist system of government-guaranteed healthcare had led to serious social stresses, forcing ordinary workers to save an unreasonable fraction of their salaries to pay for medical treatment if they or their families became ill. But over the last couple of years, the government has taken major steps to reduce this problem by establishing a national healthcare insurance system whose coverage now extends to 95 percent or so of the total population, a far better ratio than is found in wealthy America and at a tiny fraction of the cost. Once again, competent leaders with access to growing national wealth can effectively solve these sorts of major social problems.

Although Chinese cities have negligible crime and are almost entirely free of the horrible slums found in many rapidly urbanizing Third World countries, housing for ordinary workers is often quite inadequate. But national concerns over rising unemployment due to the global recession gave the government a perfect opportunity late last year to announce a bold plan to construct over 35 million modern new government apartments, which would then be provided to ordinary workers on a subsidized basis.

All of this follows the pattern of Lee Kwan Yew’s mixed-development model, combining state socialism and free enterprise, which raised Singapore’s people from the desperate, abject poverty of 1945 to a standard of living now considerably higher than that of most Europeans or Americans, including a per capita GDP almost $12,000 above that of the United States. Obviously, implementing such a program for the world’s largest population and on a continental scale is far more challenging than doing so in a tiny city-state with a population of a few million and inherited British colonial institutions, but so far China has done very well in confounding its skeptics.


America’s Economic Decline • 800 Words

These facts do not provide much evidence for the thesis in Why Nations Fail that China’s leaders constitute a self-serving and venal “extractive” elite. Unfortunately, such indications seem far more apparent when we direct our gaze inward, toward the recent economic and social trajectory of our own country

Against the backdrop of remarkable Chinese progress, America mostly presents a very gloomy picture. Certainly America’s top engineers and entrepreneurs have created many of the world’s most important technologies, sometimes becoming enormously wealthy in the process. But these economic successes are not typical nor have their benefits been widely distributed. Over the last 40 years, a large majority of American workers have seen their real incomes stagnate or decline.

Meanwhile, the rapid concentration of American wealth continues apace: the richest 1 percent of America’s population now holds as much net wealth as the bottom 90–95 percent, and these trend may even be accelerating. A recent study revealed that during our supposed recovery of the last couple of years, 93 percent of the total increase in national income went to the top 1 percent, with an astonishing 37 percent being captured by just the wealthiest 0.01 percent of the population, 15,000 households in a nation of well over 300 million people.

Evidence for the long-term decline in our economic circumstances is most apparent when we consider the situation of younger Americans. The national media endlessly trumpets the tiny number of youthful Facebook millionaires, but the prospects for most of their contemporaries are actually quite grim. According to research from the Pew Center, barely half of 18- to 24-year-old Americans are currently employed, the lowest level since 1948, a time long before most women had joined the labor force. Nearly one-fifth of young men age 25–34 are still living with their parents, while the wealth of all households headed by those younger than 35 is 68 percent lower today than it was in 1984.

The total outstanding amount of non-dischargeable student-loan debt has crossed the trillion-dollar mark, now surpassing the combined total of credit-card and auto-loan debt—and with a quarter of all student-loan payers now delinquent, there are worrisome indicators that much of it will remain a permanent burden, reducing many millions to long-term debt peonage. A huge swath of America’s younger generation seems completely impoverished, and likely to remain so.


International trade statistics, meanwhile, demonstrate that although Apple and Google are doing quite well, our overall economy is not. For many years now our largest goods export has been government IOUs, whose dollar value has sometimes been greater than that of the next ten categories combined. At some point, perhaps sooner than we think, the rest of the world will lose its appetite for this non-functional product, and our currency will collapse, together with our standard of living. Similar Cassandra-like warnings were issued for years about the housing bubble or the profligacy of the Greek government, and were proven false year after year until one day they suddenly became true.

Ironically enough, there is actually one major category in which American expansion still easily tops that of China, both today and for the indefinite future: population growth. The rate of America’s demographic increase passed that of China over 20 years ago and has been greater every year since, sometimes by as much as a factor of two. According to standard projections, China’s population in 2050 will be almost exactly what it was in 2000, with the country having achieved the population stability typical of advanced, prosperous societies. But during that same half-century, the number of America’s inhabitants will have grown by almost 50 percent, a rate totally unprecedented in the developed world and actually greater than that found in numerous Third World countries such as Colombia, Algeria, Thailand, Mexico, or Indonesia. A combination of very rapid population growth and doubtful prospects for equally rapid economic growth does not bode well for the likely quality of the 2050 American Dream.

China rises while America falls, but are there major causal connections between these two concurrent trends now reshaping the future of our world? Not that I can see. American politicians and pundits are naturally fearful of taking on the fierce special interest groups that dominate their political universe, so they often seek an external scapegoat to explicate the misery of their constituents, sometimes choosing to focus on China. But this is merely political theater for the ignorant and the gullible.

Various studies have suggested that China’s currency may be substantially undervalued, but even if the frequent demands of Paul Krugman and others were met and the yuan rapidly appreciated another 15 or 20 percent, few industrial jobs would return to American shores, while working-class Americans might pay much more for their basic necessities. And if China opened wide its borders to more American movies or financial services, the multimillionaires of Hollywood and Wall Street might grow even richer, but ordinary Americans would see little benefit. It is always easier for a nation to point an accusing finger at foreigners rather than honestly admit that almost all its terrible problems are essentially self-inflicted.

Decay of Constitutional Democracy • 800 Words

The central theme of Why Nations Fail is that political institutions and the behavior of ruling elites largely determine the economic success or failure of countries. If most Americans have experienced virtually no economic gains for decades, perhaps we should cast our gaze at these factors in our own society.

Our elites boast about the greatness of our constitutional democracy, the wondrous human rights we enjoy, the freedom and rule of law that have long made America a light unto the nations of the world and a spiritual draw for oppressed peoples everywhere, including China itself. But are these claims actually correct? They often stack up very strangely when they appear in the opinion pages of our major newspapers, coming just after the news reporting, whose facts tell a very different story.

Just last year, the Obama administration initiated a massive months-long bombing campaign against the duly recognized government of Libya on “humanitarian” grounds, then argued with a straight face that a military effort comprising hundreds of bombing sorties and over a billion dollars in combat costs did not actually constitute “warfare,” and hence was completely exempt from the established provisions of the Congressional War Powers Act. A few months later, Congress overwhelmingly passed and President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, granting the president power to permanently imprison without trial or charges any American whom he classifies as a national-security threat based on his own judgment and secret evidence. When we consider that American society has experienced virtually no domestic terrorism during the past decade, we must wonder how long our remaining constitutional liberties would survive if we were facing frequent real-life attacks by an actual terrorist underground, such as had been the case for many years with the IRA in Britain, ETA in Spain, or the Red Brigades in Italy.

Most recently, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have claimed the inherent right of an American president to summarily execute anyone anywhere in the world, American citizen or not, whom White House advisors have privately decided was a “bad person.” While it is certainly true that major world governments have occasionally assassinated their political enemies abroad, I have never before heard these dark deeds publicly proclaimed as legitimate and aboveboard. Certainly if the governments of Russia or China, let alone Iran, declared their inherent right to kill anyone anywhere in the world whom they didn’t like, our media pundits would immediately blast these statements as proof of their total criminal insanity.

These are very strange notions of the “rule of law” for the administration of a president who had once served as top editor of the Harvard Law Review and who was routinely flattered in his political campaigns by being described as a “constitutional scholar.”

Many of these negative ideological trends have been absorbed and accepted by the popular culture and much of the American public. Over the last decade one of the highest-rated shows on American television was “24”, created by Joel Surnow and chronicling Kiefer Sutherland as a patriotic but ruthless Secret Service agent, with each episode constituting a single hour of his desperate efforts to thwart terrorist plots and safeguard our national security. Numerous episodes featured our hero torturing suspected evildoers in order to extract the information necessary to save innocent lives, with the entire series representing a popular weekly glorification of graphic government torture on behalf of the greater good.

Now soft-headed protestations to the contrary, most governments around the world have at least occasionally practiced torture, especially when combating popular insurgencies, and some of the more brutal regimes, including Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, even professionalized the process. But such dark deeds done in secret were always vigorously denied in public, and the popular films and other media of Stalin’s Soviet Union invariably featured pure-hearted workers and peasants bravely doing their honorable and patriotic duty for the Motherland, rather than the terrible torments being daily inflicted in the cellars of the Lubyanka prison. Throughout all of modern history, I am not aware of a single even semi-civilized country that publicly celebrated the activities of its professional government torturers in the popular media. Certainly such sentiments would have been totally abhorrent and unthinkable in the “conservative Hollywood” of the Cold War 1950s.

And since we live in a entertainment-dominated society, sentiments affirmed on the screen often have direct real-world consequences. At one point, senior American military and counter-terrorism officials felt the need to travel to Hollywood and urge its screenwriters to stop glorifying American torture, since their shows were encouraging U.S. soldiers to torture Muslim captives even when their commanding officers repeatedly ordered them not to do so.

Given these facts, we should hardly be surprised that international surveys over the past decade have regularly ranked America as the world’s most hated major nation, a remarkable achievement given the dominant global role of American media and entertainment and also the enormous international sympathy that initially flowed to our country following the 9/11 attacks.

An Emerging One-Party State • 1,000 Words

So far at least, these extra-constitutional and often brutal methods have not been directed toward controlling America’s own political system; we remain a democracy rather than a dictatorship. But does our current system actually possess the central feature of a true democracy, namely a high degree of popular influence over major government policies? Here the evidence seems more ambiguous.

Consider the pattern of the last decade. With two ruinous wars and a financial collapse to his record, George W. Bush was widely regarded as one of the most disastrous presidents in American history, and at times his public approval numbers sank to the lowest levels ever measured. The sweeping victory of his successor, Barack Obama, represented more a repudiation of Bush and his policies than anything else, and leading political activists, left and right alike, characterized Obama as Bush’s absolute antithesis, both in background and in ideology. This sentiment was certainly shared abroad, with Obama being selected for the Nobel Peace Prize just months after entering office, based on the widespread assumption that he was certain to reverse most of the policies of his detested predecessor and restore America to sanity.

Yet almost none of these reversals took place. Instead, the continuity of administration policy has been so complete and so obvious that many critics now routinely speak of the Bush/Obama administration.

The harsh violations of constitutional principles and civil liberties which Bush pioneered following the 9/11 attacks have only further intensified under Obama, the heralded Harvard constitutional scholar and ardent civil libertarian, and this has occurred without the excuse of any major new terrorist attacks. During his Democratic primary campaign, Obama promised that he would move to end Bush’s futile Iraq War immediately upon taking office, but instead large American forces remained in place for years until heavy pressure from the Iraqi government finally forced their removal; meanwhile, America’s occupation army in Afghanistan actually tripled in size. The government bailout of the hated financial manipulators of Wall Street, begun under Bush, continued apace under Obama, with no serious attempts at either government prosecution or drastic reform. Americans are still mostly suffering through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but Wall Street profits and multimillion-dollar bonuses soon returned to record levels.

In particular, the continuity of top officials has been remarkable. As Bush’s second defense secretary, Robert Gates had been responsible for the ongoing management of America’s foreign wars and military occupations since 2006; Obama kept him on, and he continued to play the same role in the new administration. Similarly, Timothy Geithner had been one of Bush’s most senior financial appointments, playing a crucial role in the widely unpopular financial bailout of Wall Street; Obama promoted him to Treasury secretary and authorized continuation of those same policies. Ben Bernanke had been appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve by Bush and was reappointed by Obama. Bush wars and bailouts became Obama wars and bailouts. The American public voted for an anti-Bush, but got Bush’s third term instead.

During the Cold War, Soviet propagandists routinely characterized our democracy as a sham, with the American public merely selecting which of the two intertwined branches of their single political party should alternate in office, while the actual underlying policies remained essentially unchanged, being decided and implemented by the same corrupt ruling class. This accusation may have been mostly false at the time it was made but seems disturbingly accurate today.

When times are hard and government policies are widely unpopular, but voters are only offered a choice between the rival slick marketing campaigns of Coke and Pepsi, cynicism can reach extreme proportions. Over the last year, surveys have shown that the public non-approval of Congress—representing Washington’s political establishment—has ranged as high as 90–95 percent, which is completely unprecedented.

But if our government policies are so broadly unpopular, why are we unable to change them through the sacred power of the vote? The answer is that America’s system of government has increasingly morphed from being a representative democracy to becoming something closer to a mixture of plutocracy and mediacracy, with elections almost entirely determined by money and media, not necessarily in that order. Political leaders are made or broken depending on whether they receive the cash and visibility needed to win office.

National campaigns increasingly seem sordid reality shows for second-rate political celebrities, while our country continues along its path toward multiple looming calamities. Candidates who depart from the script or deviate from the elite D.C. consensus regarding wars or bailouts—notably a principled ideologue such as Ron Paul—are routinely stigmatized in the media as dangerous extremists or even entirely airbrushed out of campaign news coverage, as has been humorously highlighted by comedian Jon Stewart.


We know from the collapsed communist states of Eastern Europe that control over the media may determine public perceptions of reality, but it does not change the underlying reality itself, and reality usually has the last laugh. Economics Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and his colleagues have conservatively estimated the total long-term cost of our disastrous Iraq War at $3 trillion, representing over one-fifth of our entire accumulated national debt, or almost $30,000 per American household. And even now the direct ongoing costs of our Afghanistan War still run $120 billion per year, many times the size of Afghanistan’s total GDP. Meanwhile, during these same years the international price of oil has risen from $25 to $125 per barrel—partly as a consequence of these past military disruptions and growing fears of future ones—thereby imposing gigantic economic costs upon our society.

And we suffer other costs as well. A recent New York Times story described the morale-building visit of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to our forces in Afghanistan and noted that all American troops had been required to surrender their weapons before attending his speech and none were allowed to remain armed in his vicinity. Such a command decision seems almost unprecedented in American history and does not reflect well upon the perceived state of our military morale.

Future historians may eventually regard these two failed wars, fought for entirely irrational reasons, as the proximate cause of America’s financial and political collapse, representing the historical bookend to our World War II victory, which originally established American global dominance.

Our Extractive Elites • 1,600 Words

When parasitic elites govern a society along “extractive” lines, a central feature is the massive upward flow of extracted wealth, regardless of any contrary laws or regulations. Certainly America has experienced an enormous growth of officially tolerated corruption as our political system has increasingly consolidated into a one-party state controlled by a unified media-plutocracy.

Consider the late 2011 collapse of MF Global, a midsize but highly reputable brokerage firm. Although this debacle was far smaller than the Lehman bankruptcy or the Enron fraud, it effectively illustrates the incestuous activities of America’s overlapping elites. Just a year earlier, Jon Corzine had been installed as CEO, following his terms as Democratic governor and U.S. senator from New Jersey and his previous career as CEO of Goldman Sachs. Perhaps no other American had such a combination of stellar political and financial credentials on his resume. Soon after taking the reins, Corzine decided to boost his company’s profits by betting its entire capital and more against the possibility that any European countries might default on their national debts. When he lost that bet, his multi-billion-dollar firm tumbled into bankruptcy.

At this point, the story moves from a commonplace tale of Wall Street arrogance and greed into something out of the Twilight Zone, or perhaps Monty Python. The major newspapers began reporting that customer funds, eventually said to total $1.6 billion, had mysteriously disappeared during the collapse, and no one could determine what had become of them, a very strange claim in our age of massively computerized financial records. Weeks and eventually months passed, tens of millions of dollars were spent on armies of investigators and forensic accountants, but all those customer funds stayed “missing,” while the elite media covered this bizarre situation in the most gingerly possible fashion. As an example, a front page Wall Street Journal story on February 23, 2012 suggested that after so many months, there seemed little likelihood that the disappeared customer funds might ever reappear, but also emphasized that absolutely no one was being accused of any wrongdoing. Presumably the journalists were suggesting that the $1.6 billion dollars of customer money had simply walked out the door on its own two feet.

Stories like this give the lie to the endless boasts of our politicians and business pundits that America’s financial system is the most transparent and least corrupt in today’s world. Certainly America is not unique in the existence of long-term corporate fraud, as was recently shown in the fall of Japan’s Olympus Corporation following the discovery of more than a billion dollars in long-hidden investment losses. But when we consider the largest corporate collapses of the last decade that were substantially due to fraud, nearly all the names are American: WorldCom, Enron, Tyco, Global Crossing, and Adelphia. And this list leaves out all the American financial institutions destroyed by the financial meltdown—such as Lehman, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Washington Mutual, and Wachovia—and the many trillions of dollars in American homeowner equity and top-rated MBS securities which evaporated during that process. Meanwhile, the largest and longest Ponzi Scheme in world history, that of Bernie Madoff, had survived for decades under the very nose of the SEC, despite a long series of detailed warnings and complaints. The second largest such fraud, that of Allen R. Stanford, also bears the label “Made in the USA.”

Some of the sources of Chinese success and American decay are not entirely mysterious. As it happens, the typical professional background of a member of China’s political elite is engineering; they were taught to build things. Meanwhile, a remarkable fraction of America’s political leadership class attended law school, where they were trained to argue effectively and to manipulate. Thus, we should not be greatly surprised that while China’s leaders tend to build, America’s leaders seem to prefer endless manipulation, whether of words, money, or people.

How corrupt is the American society fashioned by our current ruling elites? That question is perhaps more ambiguous than it might seem. According to the standard world rankings produced by Transparency International, the United States is a reasonably clean country, with corruption being considerably higher than in the nations of Northern Europe or elsewhere in the Anglosphere, but much lower than in most of the rest of the world, including China.

But I suspect that this one-dimensional metric fails to capture some of the central anomalies of America’s current social dilemma. Unlike the situation in many Third World countries, American teachers and tax inspectors very rarely solicit bribes, and there is little overlap in personnel between our local police and the criminals whom they pursue. Most ordinary Americans are generally honest. So by these basic measures of day-to-day corruption, America is quite clean, not too different from Germany or Japan.

By contrast, local village authorities in China have a notorious tendency to seize public land and sell it to real estate developers for huge personal profits. This sort of daily misbehavior has produced an annual Chinese total of up to 90,000 so-called “mass incidents”—public strikes, protests, or riots—usually directed against corrupt local officials or businessmen.

However, although American micro-corruption is rare, we seem to suffer from appalling levels of macro-corruption, situations in which our various ruling elites squander or misappropriate tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars of our national wealth, sometimes doing so just barely on one side of technical legality and sometimes on the other.

Sweden is among the cleanest societies in Europe, while Sicily is perhaps the most corrupt. But suppose a large clan of ruthless Sicilian Mafiosi moved to Sweden and somehow managed to gain control of its government. On a day-to-day basis, little would change, with Swedish traffic policemen and building inspectors performing their duties with the same sort of incorruptible efficiency as before, and I suspect that Sweden’s Transparency International rankings would scarcely decline. But meanwhile, a large fraction of Sweden’s accumulated national wealth might gradually be stolen and transferred to secret Cayman Islands bank accounts, or invested in Latin American drug cartels, and eventually the entire plundered economy would collapse.

Ordinary Americans who work hard and seek to earn an honest living for themselves and their families appear to be suffering the ill effects of exactly this same sort of elite-driven economic pillage. The roots of our national decline will be found at the very top of our society, among the One Percent, or more likely the 0.1 percent.


Thus, the ideas presented in Why Nations Fail seem both true and false. The claim that harmful political institutions and corrupt elites can inflict huge economic damage upon a society seems absolutely correct. But while the authors turn a harsh eye toward elite misbehavior across time and space—from ancient Rome to Czarist Russia to rising China—their vision seems to turn rosy-tinted when they consider present-day America, the society in which they themselves live and whose ruling elites lavishly fund the academic institutions with which they are affiliated. Given the American realities of the last dozen years, it is quite remarkable that the scholars who wrote a book entitled Why Nations Fail never glanced outside their own office windows.

A similar dangerous reticence may afflict most of our media, which appears much more eager to focus on self-inflicted disasters in foreign countries than on those here at home. Presented below is a companion case-study, “Chinese Melamine and American Vioxx: A Comparison,” in which I point out that while the American media a few years ago joined its Chinese counterparts in devoting enormous coverage to the deaths of a few Chinese children from tainted infant formula, it paid relatively little attention to a somewhat similar domestic public-health disaster that killed many tens or even hundreds of thousands of Americans.

A society’s media and academic organs constitute the sensory apparatus and central nervous system of its body politic, and if the information these provide is seriously misleading, looming dangers may fester and grow. A media and academy that are highly corrupt or dishonest constitute a deadly national peril. And although the political leadership of undemocratic China might dearly wish to hide all its major mistakes, its crude propaganda machinery often fails at this self-destructive task. But America’s own societal information system is vastly more skilled and experienced in shaping reality to meet the needs of business and government leaders, and this very success does tremendous damage to our country.

Perhaps Americans really do prefer that their broadcasters provide Happy News and that their political campaigns constitute amusing reality shows. Certainly the cheering coliseum crowds of the Roman Empire favored their bread and circuses over the difficult and dangerous tasks that their ancestors had undertaken during Rome’s rise to world greatness. And so long as we can continue to trade bits of printed paper carrying presidential portraits for flat-screen TVs from Chinese factories, perhaps all is well and no one need be too concerned about the apparent course of our national trajectory, least of all our political leadership class.

But if so, then we must admit that Richard Lynn, a prominent British scholar, has been correct in predicting for a decade or longer that the global dominance of the European-derived peoples is rapidly drawing to its end and within the foreseeable future the torch of human progress and world leadership will inevitably pass into Chinese hands.

Ron Unz is publisher of The American Conservative and founder of


Since I’ve been preoccupied with software issues the last few weeks, I decided I might as well publish this strategy memo that I privately distributed some time ago.

A couple of years ago, I launched my Unz Review, providing a wide range of different alternative perspectives, the vast majority of them totally excluded from the mainstream media. I’ve also published a number of articles in my own American Pravda series, focusing on the suspicious lapses and lacunae in our media narratives.

The underlying political strategy behind these efforts may already be apparent, and I’ve sometimes suggested it here and there. But I finally decided I might as well explicitly outline the reasoning in a memo as provided below.


The Mainstream Media is the Crucial Opposing Force

Groups advocating policies opposed by the American establishment should recognize that the greatest obstacle they face is usually the mainstream media.

Ordinary political and ideological opponents surely exist, but these are usually inspired, motivated, organized, and assisted by powerful media support, which also shapes the perceived framework of the conflict. In Clauswitzian terms, the media often constitutes the strategic “center of gravity” of the opposing forces.


The Media Should Be Made a Primary Target

If the media is the crucial force empowering the opposition, then it should be regarded as a primary target of any political strategy. So long as the media remains strong, success may be difficult, but if the influence and credibility of the media were substantially degraded, then the ordinary opposing forces would lose much of their effectiveness. In many respects, the media creates reality, so perhaps the most effective route toward changing reality runs through the media.


Discrediting the Media Anywhere Weakens It Everywhere

The mainstream media exists as a seamless whole, so weakening or discrediting the media in any particular area automatically reduces its influence everywhere else as well.

The elements of the media narrative faced by a particular anti-establishment group may be too strong and well-defended to attack effectively, and any such attacks might also be discounted as ideologically motivated. Hence, the more productive strategy may sometimes be an indirect one, attacking the media narrative elsewhere, at points where it is much weaker and less well-defended. In addition, winning those easier battles may generate greater credibility and momentum, which can then be applied to later attacks on more difficult fronts.


A Broad Alliance May Support the Common Goal of Weakening the Media

Once we recognize that weakening the media is a primary strategic goal, an obvious corollary is that other anti-establishment groups facing the same challenges become natural, if perhaps temporary, allies.

Such unexpected tactical alliances may drawn from across a wide range of different political and ideological perspectives—Left, Right, or otherwise—and despite the component groups having longer-term goals that are orthogonal or even conflicting. So long as all such elements in the coalition recognize that the hostile media is their most immediate adversary, they can cooperate on their common effort, while actually gaining additional credibility and attention by the very fact that they sharply disagree on so many other matters.

The media is enormously powerful and exercises control over a vast expanse of intellectual territory. But such ubiquitous influence also ensures that its local adversaries are therefore numerous and widespread, all being bitterly opposed to the hostile media they face on their own particular issues. By analogy, a large and powerful empire is frequently brought down by a broad alliance of many disparate rebellious factions, each having unrelated goals, which together overwhelm the imperial defenses by attacking simultaneously at multiple different locations.

A crucial aspect enabling such a rebel alliance is the typically narrow focus of each particular constituent member. Most groups or individuals opposing establishment positions tend to be ideologically zealous about one particular issue or perhaps a small handful, while being much less interested in others. Given the total suppression of their views at the hands of the mainstream media, any venue in which their unorthodox perspectives are provided reasonably fair and equal treatment rather than ridiculed and denigrated tends to inspire considerable enthusiasm and loyalty on their part. So although they may have quite conventional views on most other matters, causing them to regard contrary views with the same skepticism or unease as might anyone else, they will usually be willing to suppress their criticism at such wider heterodoxy so long as other members of their alliance are willing to return that favor on their own topics of primary interest.


Assault the Media Narrative Where It is Weak Not Where It Is Strong

Applying a different metaphor, the establishment media may be regarded as a great wall that excludes alternative perspectives from the public consciousness and thereby confines opinion to within a narrow range of acceptable views.

Certain portions of that media wall may be solid and vigorously defended by powerful vested interests, rendering assaults difficult. But other portions, perhaps older and more obscure, may have grown decrepit over time, with their defenders having drifted away. Breaching the wall at these weaker locations may be much easier, and once the barrier has been broken at several points, defending it at others becomes much more difficult.

For example, consider the consequences of demonstrating that the established media narrative is completely false on some major individual event. Once this result has been widely recognized, the credibility of the media on all other matters, even totally unrelated ones, would be somewhat attenuated. Ordinary people would naturally conclude that if the media had been so wrong for so long on one important point, it might also be wrong on others as well, and the powerful suspension of disbelief that provides the media its influence would become less powerful. Even those individuals who collectively form the corpus of the media might begin to entertain serious self-doubts regarding their previous certainties.

The crucial point is that such breakthroughs may be easiest to achieve in topics that seem merely of historical significance, and are totally removed from any practical present-day consequences.


Reframe Vulnerable “Conspiracy Theories” as Effective “Media Criticism”


Over the last few decades, the political establishment and its media allies have created a powerful intellectual defense against major criticism by investing considerable resources in stigmatizing the notion of so-called “conspiracy theories.” This harsh pejorative term is applied to any important analysis of events that sharply deviates from the officially-endorsed narrative, and implicitly suggests that the proponent is a disreputable fanatic, suffering from delusions, paranoia, or other forms of mental illness. Such ideological attacks often effectively destroy his credibility, allowing his actual arguments to be ignored. A once-innocuous phrase has become politically “weaponized.”

However, an effective means of circumventing this intellectual defense mechanism may be to adopt a meta-strategy of reframing such “conspiracy theories” as “media criticism.”

Under the usual parameters of public debate, challenges to established orthodoxy are treated as “extraordinary claims” that must be justified by extraordinary evidence. This requirement may be unfair, but it constitutes the reality in many public exchanges, based upon the framework provided by the allegedly impartial media.

Since most of these controversies involve a wide range of complex issues and ambiguous or disputed evidence, it is often extremely difficult to conclusively establish any unorthodox theory, say to a confidence level of 95% or 98%. Therefore, the media verdict is almost invariably “Case Not Proven” and the challengers are judged defeated and discredited, even if they actually appear to have the preponderance of evidence on their side. And if they vocally contest the unfairness of their situation, that exact response is then subsequently cited by the media as further proof of their fanaticism or paranoia.

However, suppose that an entirely different strategy were adopted. Instead of attempting to make a case “beyond any reasonable doubt,” proponents merely provide sufficient evidence and analysis to suggest that there is a 30% chance or a 50% chance or a 70% chance that the unorthodox theory is true. The very fact that no claim of near certainty is being advanced provides a powerful defense against any plausible accusations of fanaticism or delusional thinking. But if the issue is of enormous importance and—as is usually the case—the unorthodox theory has been almost totally ignored by the media, despite apparently having at least a reasonable chance of being true, then the media may be effectively attacked and ridiculed for its laziness and incompetence. These charges are very difficult to refute and since no claim is being made that the unorthodox theory has necessarily been proven correct, merely that it might possibly be correct, any counter-accusations of conspiratorial tendencies would fall flat.

Indeed, the only means the media might have of effectively rebutting those charges would be to explore all the complex details of the issue (thereby helping to bring various controversial facts themselves to much wider attention) and then argue that there is only a negligible chance that the theory might be correct, perhaps 10% or less. Thus, the usual presumptive burden is completely reversed. And since most members of the media are unlikely to have ever paid much serious attention to the subject, their ignorant presentation may be quite weak and vulnerable to a knowledgeable deconstruction. Indeed, the most likely scenario is that the media will just continue to totally ignore the entire dispute, thereby reinforcing those plausible accusations of laziness and incompetence.

Individuals distressed by media failings on a controversial topic often accuse the media and its individual representatives of being biased, corrupted, or quietly under the control of powerful forces allied with the establishment position. These charges may sometimes be correct and sometimes not, but they are usually quite difficult to prove, except in the minds of existing true-believers, and they do carry the taint of “paranoia.” On the other hand, claiming that media failings are due to venial sins such as laziness and incompetence are just as likely to be correct, and these charges are much less likely to risk a backlash.

Finally, once the media itself has become the primary target of the criticism, it automatically loses its status as a neutral outside arbitrator and no longer has as much credibility in proclaiming the winning side of the debate.


The Advantage of Flooding Media Defense Zones

Individuals who challenge the prevailing media narrative with unorthodox claims are often reluctant to raise too many such controversial claims simultaneously lest they be ridiculed as “crazy,” with all their views summarily dismissed.

In most cases, this may be the correct strategy to pursue, but if handled properly, an exact opposite approach might sometimes be quite effective. So long as the overall presentation is framed as media criticism and no inordinate weight is attached to the validity of any of the particular claims being presented, attacking along a very broad front, perhaps including dozens of entirely independent items, may “flood the zone” of the media, saturating and overwhelming existing defenses. Or as suggested in a quote widely misattributed to Stalin, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

Consider the example of entertainer Bill Cosby. Over the years, one or two individual women had come forward claiming that he had drugged and raped them, and the charges had been largely ignored as unsubstantiated or implausible. However, over the last year or two, the dam suddenly burst and a total of nearly sixty separate women came forward, all making identical accusations, and although there seems little hard evidence in any of the particular cases, virtually every observer now concedes that the charges are likely to be true.

Suppose it is established that there is a reasonable likelihood that the media completely missed and ignored an important matter that should have been investigated and reported. The impact is not necessarily substantial, and many individuals stubbornly wedded to a belief in their establishment media narratives might even resist admitting the possibility that the media had seriously erred in that particular situation.

However, suppose instead that several dozen such separate examples could be established, each strongly suggesting a serious error or omission on the part of the media. At that point, ideological defenses would crumble and nearly everyone would quietly acknowledge that many, perhaps even most, of the accusations were probably true, producing an enormous credibility gap for the mainstream media. The credibility defenses of the media would have been saturated and overcome.

The key point is that all of the particular items should be presented as reasonable-likelihood cases, and indicative of media shortcomings rather than being proven or necessarily as important issues in and of themselves. By remaining aloof and somewhat agnostic regarding any individual item, there is little risk of being tagged as fanatic or monomaniacal for raising a multitude of them.


My American Pravda Series and Unz Review Webzine as Examples

The political/media strategy outlined above was the central motivation behind my American Pravda articles and Unz Review webzine.

For example, in the original 2013 American Pravda article I raised over half a dozen enormous media lapses, all of them now universally acknowledged: Enron’s collapse, the Iraq War WMDs, the Madoff Swindle, the Cold War spies, and various others. Having thereby set the stage by presenting this admitted pattern of major failure, demonstrating that a considerable suspension of disbelief was warranted, I then extended the discussion to three or four important additional examples, none of them yet acknowledged, but all of them perfectly plausible. Perhaps as a consequence, the article received reasonably good attention including by elements of the mainstream media itself, who are often willing to acknowledge the errors of their class so long as these are presented persuasively and in a responsible manner.

Following that piece, I intermittently produced additional elements in the series, some more comprehensive than others, and am now embarking upon a regular series.

The McCain/POW examples in the series perfectly illustrate the strategy I have suggested above. The Vietnam War ended over forty years ago, the POWs have probably all been dead for decades, and even John McCain is in the very twilight of his career. The practical significance of raising the scandal or providing evidence establishing its likelihood is virtually nil. But if it were to become widely recognized that our entire media successfully covered up such a massive scandal for so many years, the credibility of the media would have suffered a devastating blow. Several such blows and it would be in ruins. Meanwhile, the powerful vested interests that once so vigorously maintained the official narrative in that area are long gone, and the orthodox case has few remaining defenders in the media, greatly increasing the likelihood of an eventual breakthrough and victory.

A similar strategy in broader form is applied by my Unz Review alternative media webzine, which hosts numerous different writers, columnists, and bloggers, all tending to sharply challenge the establishment media narrative along a wide variety of different axes and issues, some of them conflicting. By raising serious doubts about the omissions and errors of our mainstream media in so many different areas, the goal is to weaken the perceived credibility of the media, leading readers to consider the possibility that large elements of the conventional narrative may be entirely incorrect.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Media, American Pravda 
An alliance of pro-immigrant Democrats and anti-immigration Republicans could finally fix our broken system

I’m still totally preoccupied with my current software project, but since immigration is back in the headlines due to the controversial proposals of the new Trump Administration, I’ve decided to republish my article on the subject from a few months ago. Congress has remained politically deadlocked on immigration for two decades, and I believe what I’ve outlined below might constitute the only viable solution to the problem.

ViewAsPDF2 From everything I’ve heard Swedes seem like very pleasant people, rather agreeable to have around, while my personal experience with Mexicans leads me to a similar conclusion. But suppose so many millions of Swedes poured across the borders into our southern neighbor that within just a few decades Mexico City had become majority Swedish, while much of the rest of that country were following a somewhat similar trajectory. Under such circumstances, severe political problems would surely arise, perhaps even endangering social stability.

I think this one short paragraph provides a better clue to the unexpected political rise of Donald Trump than would a hundred footnoted academic articles.

In the year 1915 America was over 85% white, and a half-century later in 1965, that same 85% ratio still nearly applied. But partly due to the passage of the Immigration Reform Act of that year, America’s demographics changed very rapidly over the following five decades. By 2015 there had been a 700% increase in the total number of Hispanics and Asians and the black population was nearly 100% larger, while the number of (non-Hispanic) whites had grown less than 25%, with much of even that small increase due to the huge influx of Middle Easterners, North Africans, and other non-European Caucasians officially classified by our U.S. Census as “white.” As a consequence of these sharply divergent demographic trends, American whites have fallen to little more than 60% of the total, and are now projected to become a minority within just another generation or two, already reduced to representing barely half of all children under the age of 10.

Demographic changes so enormous and rapid on a continental scale are probably unprecedented in all human history, and our political establishment was remarkably blind for having failed to anticipate the possible popular reaction. Over the last twelve months, Donald Trump, a socially liberal New Yorker, has utilized the immigration issue to seize the GOP presidential nomination against the vehement opposition of nearly the entire Republican establishment, conservative and moderate alike, and at times his campaign has enjoyed a lead in the national polls, placing him within possible reach of the White House. Instead of wondering how a candidate came to take advantage of that particular issue, perhaps we should instead ask ourselves why it hadn’t happened sooner.

The answer is that for various pragmatic and ideological reasons, the ruling elites of both our major parties have largely either ignored or publicly welcomed the demographic changes transforming the nation they jointly control. Continuous heavy immigration has long been seen as an unabashed positive both by open borders libertarians of the economically-focused Right and also by open borders multiculturalists of the socially-focused Left, and these ideological positions permeate the community of policy experts, staffers, donors, and media pundits who constitute our political ecosphere.

Earlier this year, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, an elderly individual with unabashed socialistic views, was interviewed by Vox‘s Ezra Klein, and explained that “of course” heavy foreign immigration—let alone “open borders”—represented the economic dream of extreme free market libertarians such as the Koch brothers, since that policy would obviously drive down the wages of workers and greatly advantage Capital at the expense of Labor. These notions scandalized his neoliberal interlocutor, and the following day another Vox colleague joined in the attack, harshly denouncing the candidate’s views as “ugly” and “wrongheaded,” while instead pointing to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal as the proper font of progressive economic doctrine. Faced with such sharp attacks by young and influential Democratic pundits less than half his age, Sanders soon retreated from his simple statement of fact, and henceforth avoided raising the immigration issue during the remainder of his campaign.

Only a brash, self-funded billionaire contemptuous of establishment wisdom would challenge this bipartisan immigration consensus among our political elites, and only a prominent celebrity could launch his campaign with sufficient visibility to achieve a media breakthrough. This seemed an unlikely combination of traits to find in one individual, but the unlikely occurred, and our national politics has been upended.

There had already been strong previous indications of this smoldering political volcano among voters, though these signs were repeatedly ignored or discounted by the DC Republican appartachiks who spent their time attending each others’ receptions and fundraisers. During the 2014 election cycle, immigration was a key issue behind the stunning defeat of Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who lost to an unknown primary challenger whom he outspent 40-to-1, constituting one of the greatest upsets in Congressional history. Prior to that, anti-immigration Tea Party insurgents had ended the long careers of incumbent Republican senators Bob Bennett of Utah in 2010 and Richard Lugar of Indiana in 2012.


Compounding the psychological pressure driving the politics of immigration has been the role of the mainstream media in fostering a sense of beleaguerment and marginalization within America’s shrinking white majority. Because of the huge rise in the Hispanic and Asian populations over the last fifty years, the relative percentage of blacks had increased only slightly, going from 11% to 12%, but nonetheless black media visibility had massively expanded, whether in sports, entertainment, news reports, or even advertising. Therefore, as far back as the 1990s, Gallup polls indicated that the average American believed that our national population was already one-third black, and already minority-white given the estimates of Hispanics and other non-white subgroups.


Meanwhile, the less than even-handed attitude of our national elites towards ethnic activism has hardly helped ameliorate the political situation. A strident Black Nationalist such as Malcolm X was widely condemned during his own lifetime as an extremist advocate of violence, yet he has now been honored with a U.S. postage stamp, while today a lifelong racial activist such as Al Sharpton has his own MSNBC cable television show and received 80-odd invitations to the White House over the last few years. Such treatment seems very different from what their white-activist counterparts, either past or present, might expect to receive. Trump publicly denounced the Mexican-American federal judge hearing his legal case as being ethnically biased against him, citing the latter’s membership in a La Raza Lawyers Association. The organization in question seems rather innocuous and Trump’s accusation weak, but one wonders whether a Caucasian affiliated with a similar white-advocacy group containing “the Race” in its title would have ever even been nominated to the bench, let alone successfully confirmed.

In late July, Avik Roy, a Republican intellectual of South Asian ancestry, declared with anguish that he had completely misunderstood the true nature of the political party he had long and diligently served. He and his Beltway friends—the wonks and ideologues of Conservativism, Inc.—had spent years earnestly debating health care reform, targeted tax cuts, and free trade promotion, assuming that such policies and principles were similarly inspiring the voters who elected their Republican candidates to office. And then Trump, with harsh, racially-charged rhetoric, diametrically opposing policy views, and a negligible advertising budget crushed all those prominent national leaders at the ballot box. According to Roy, he and all his conservative friends and patrons had been living “in a kind of bubble,” believing that their voters cared about their “philosophical, economic conservatism,” but they were entirely mistaken: “In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.” Indeed, over the last few months, some analysts have suggested that mainstream conservative leaders have been unmasked as generals commanding a ghost army, representing an ideological movement that never really existed.

Commentary-Unz For nearly twenty years, I have been arguing that a shrinking white majority, endlessly poked and prodded by diversitarian cultural provocations and fearful of falling into oppressed minority status, might erupt into a nationalistic movement organized along white racial lines, perhaps seizing the Republican Party as its vehicle. I take no great pleasure that my concerns are being echoed much more widely today.

Pro-Immigrant Democrats and Anti-Immigration Republicans • 1,500 Words

So much for the diagnosis. Donald Trump is obviously a highly flawed candidate who may or may not win the presidency in five weeks time; but even if he ultimately falls short, recognition of the previously unsuspected power of the popular forces he has unleashed will have permanently altered the American political landscape. Allowing sharp racial polarization to dominate the politics of a nation that is already almost 40% non-white seems a very dangerous situation. Immigration ranks as the hottest of the newly emergent issues that have propelled Trump to the nomination. Does there exist any room for a mutually agreeable compromise?

The possibility might appear remote given that the two sides apparently have such diametrically opposed interests. A Trumpized Republican Party seems overwhelmingly hostile to immigration, while its Democratic counterpart draws much of its political strength from immigrants, who, together with their friends, relatives, and ideological allies, constitute a large portion of its electoral base.

Since the early 2000s the primary goal of pro-immigrant advocates has been allowing the 11 million or more undocumented immigrants to “come out of the shadows” by legalizing their status, and most of the Republican Party establishment has supported several attempts over the last dozen years to achieve exactly this result via Congressional legislation. Yet despite the backing of broad coalitions representing enormous financial resources and business lobbying power, all these efforts have failed, breaking upon the rocks of a scrappy alliance of far smaller and less wealthy grassroots anti-immigration groups. And now this opposing anti-immigration coalition has demonstrated its powerful appeal at the national level and seized control of the Republican Party. If a pro-immigrant Democratic Party has repeatedly failed to pass legislation backed by pro-immigration Republican leaders, can there be any possible hope of success after that Republican Party has become so stridently anti-immigration?

Strangely enough, the answer is yes, and the outlines of a potentially viable deal may even be visible. The crucial insight is recognizing that “pro-immigrant” policies are not necessarily the same as “pro-immigration” policies, and indeed may be exactly the opposite.

This is more than merely a play upon words. Most of the powerful, immigrant-focused groups within the Democratic coalition are primarily concerned with the well-being of existing immigrants, whether legal or illegal, and have only a secondary interest in future levels of immigration. Meanwhile, the overriding goal of the leading forces in the anti-immigration camp is to drastically reduce current immigration levels, and while they would dearly like to dislodge those immigrants already here, most quietly recognize that achieving that goal may not be politically practical.

Indeed, the commonality of interests between these two seemingly opposed ideological camps may actually be far greater than is usually recognized. The fundamental law of supply and demand dictates that the more individuals who occupy a particular market niche, the weaker becomes their economic bargaining power and the lower their incomes. Thus, existing dentists or taxi drivers have a strong vested interest in supporting restrictive licensing barriers preventing others from entering their profession and competing against them. Exactly the same is true of existing immigrants, who frequently face new immigrants as their most direct economic competitors, and hence may often become strong opponents of further immigration.

This has certainly been a common pattern in the past. For example, Samuel Gompers, founding president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), was himself a European immigrant but also became a leading champion of the restrictive immigration laws of the 1920s, which drastically reduced the flow of additional European immigrants and thereby protected his union members against impoverishment. Much more recently, the same was true with labor leader Cesar Chavez, today enshrined as the foremost Hispanic icon in the progressive pantheon. It is a little known fact that for decades Chavez was one of America’s leading opponents of immigration, especially of the undocumented variety, endlessly denouncing the government’s laxity in enforcing immigration laws and even going so far as to organize numerous vigilante patrols along the Mexican border, not dissimilar from those of the controversial Minutemen activists of the 2000s.


But if immigrants themselves have such strong economic reasons to oppose continuing heavy immigration, why in modern America have they almost invariably become leading political opponents of the anti-immigration groups advocating exactly those same policies? The obvious explanation has been the extreme heavy-handedness of many on the anti-immigration side, who have often resorted to crude ethnic attacks or unwarranted vilification in making their case.

TAC-HispanicCrime1 A perfect example of this self-defeating behavior came from Trump’s own campaign after the immigration issue caught fire following a July 2015 fatal shooting in San Francisco. A young white woman died at the hands of a undocumented Mexican felon, recently released from jail rather than deported due to lax “Sanctuary City” policies, and the resulting media firestorm was enormous. Later investigation revealed that the shooting itself was clearly accidental, and the annual number of ordinary whites murdered by illegal immigrants seems almost microscopically small, but Trump’s crude denunciations of Mexican immigrants as “rapists and killers” naturally provoked outrage within the Hispanic community.

A subtle factor driving the counter-productive tactics of many anti-immigration groups may be their severe misperception of the nature of the conflict. There is a common tendency in politics to commit the error of ideological projection, thereby assuming, often implicitly, that the motivations of one’s opponents are the mirror-image of one’s own. So the politically-fearful white racial-activists who largely dominate the anti-immigration movement naturally believe that Hispanic immigrants are similarly motivated, and that the goal of their leaders is to swamp the country with more of their own background, thereby allowing them to seize political power along ethnic lines. However, there seems little evidence for this, with most Hispanics being rather conflicted about future immigration, though they generally do support humane treatment for those immigrants who are already here and might circle the political wagons if they perceive their community is under unfair racial attack. Thus, many anti-immigration leaders probably consider themselves locked into a zero-sum ethnic political struggle that does not necessarily exist.

Meanwhile, Hispanic leaders and other immigrant advocates probably exhibit a similar misunderstanding about the true priorities of their opponents in the anti-immigration camp. For tactical political reasons, the latter almost invariably focus their rhetorical fire upon the undocumented, partly because the phrase “illegal immigrant” seems to conjure up the image of a dangerous foreign criminal, while terms like “legal immigrant” or “refugee” have much more positive psychological connotations. But this subterfuge masks the true goals and concerns of that movement. Whether motivated by fears of white racial displacement, destructive economic competition for native workers, or even merely the harms of unchecked population growth, nearly all anti-immigration groups are actually just as concerned about legal immigration as the undocumented type. For them, total numbers are the central issue—indeed, the largest such organization styles itself “NumbersUSA”—and since legal entrants always represent the bulk of the overall flow, legal immigration is their true primary target.

In actuality, the leading opponents of the anti-immigration camp may be found within the mainstream business community, much of which considers a heavy, continuing flow of immigrants, legal or otherwise, as an important source of low-cost labor that also exerts powerful downward pressure upon the wages of all other working-class employees. But although such pro-business elements have traditionally dominated the politics of the Republican Party, these are exactly the interest groups that have frequently been routed politically by anti-immigration grassroots rightwingers in Republican primaries and have now suffered the same fate at the presidential level, as the Trump campaign crushed their favored candidates. So given their current weakness, they would probably be unable to block a political package supported by a strange-bedfellows alliance of pro-immigrant Democrats and anti-immigration Republicans.

One of the factors potentially driving such an unlikely historic coalition would be the simple fact that each of these groups is extremely dissatisfied with the status quo and desperate for change, but neither separately has any realistic chance of achieving its goals in the foreseeable future. Only some sort of unexpected “grand bargain” crossing ideological lines might break the current political deadlock.

For almost twenty years, immigrant advocates have been pressing for measures to lighten the burden of illegality that weighs upon so many millions of families in their community, and all these efforts have invariably failed. Passing any sort of “amnesty” proposal would require control of the House together with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and the likelihood of this happening in the foreseeable future is not high.

Meanwhile, annual immigration rates, legal and illegal combined, have easily exceeded a million a year for most of the last generation, and all but the most unrealistic anti-immigration leaders must recognize that there exists little political hope of ever enacting Congressional legislation to reduce these numbers under existing political alignments. Instead, they have merely been fighting—and winning—a long series of defensive battles against “amnesty” and further expanded open borders proposals.

Thus, these two powerful ideological coalitions have fought each other to a complete stalemate, and each also views the current situation as totally unacceptable. But if they were to join forces, both might achieve their fondest goals while sacrificing relatively little in return.

Outlines of a Possible “Grand Bargain” • 1,700 Words

What might be the principal components of a legislative package able to bridge such a seemingly wide ideological chasm between pro-immigrant Democrats and anti-immigration Republicans?

  • Enacting Large, Permanent Cuts to Legal Immigration

One central element would be large, permanent cuts in the rate of legal immigration. As mentioned, the bulk of these new arrivals tend to be eager workers, who exert severe downward wage pressure on their working-class competitors, with previous immigrants probably suffering the most economic damage. American business interests may benefit in the short run by keeping their labor costs as low as possible, but our working population suffers, and the resulting low-wage society reduces the consumer spending that drives our economy.

Furthermore, such elevated levels of immigration over the last few decades have led to an American population growth rate that is exceptionally high for a developed country. An exponentially growing population drives up housing prices and other asset values, greatly increasing the wealth of the One Percent but further injuring the economic prospects of ordinary Americans and worsening our economic inequality. I think it is hardly coincidental that the last forty years of high immigration rates have exactly coincided with forty years of economic stagnation for most ordinary Americans, together with an unprecedented concentration of wealth at the top.

Permanently reducing the rate of legal immigration, perhaps by a factor of 50% or more, would solve many of these problems, with the exact allocation of the remaining slots being subject to negotiation.

  • Raising the Minimum Wage

Obviously, large cuts in legal immigration would be meaningless unless the legislative package also contained credible means of drastically reducing future illegal immigration, a promise often made but never kept. However, a crucial difference is that the prospective political coalition being assembled would exclude most of the traditionally pro-immigration, pro-business wing of the Republican Party, thereby allowing a much different approach to the issue, which might also greatly broaden the potential popular appeal.

For example, I have long argued that the best and most effective means of reducing illegal immigration is a large increase in the minimum wage.

The vast majority of illegal immigrants come to America for jobs, and our pundits are correct in saying “they take the jobs that Americans won’t.” But the reason that Americans won’t take those jobs is often that the wages are just too low. Only recently-arrived illegal immigrants are desperate enough to take many of those terrible, low-paying jobs.

A large hike in the federal minimum wage—perhaps to $12 per hour—would eliminate this problem. Americans and established immigrants would flock to such positions once the wages were more reasonable, while the relatively small number of jobs that disappear would be those that require exploitation of an ultra-low-wage workforce, jobs that should have no place in a developed economy.

Enforcing minimum wage laws is far easier than enforcing immigration laws, and penalties could be strengthened for cases of serious “wage theft.” Once the magnetic lure of low-wage job openings had vanished, other immigration enforcement measures would immediately become much more effective, and future inflows could be reduced to minimal levels. In effect, a high and strictly enforced minimum wage functions as an invisible economic wall, probably much more effective at deterring border-crossers than anything built of concrete and steel.

Meanwhile, a much higher minimum wage would also automatically reduce many of means-tested social welfare benefits currently going to low wage workers. American businesses would be forced to pay their own employees rather than shift so much of the cost to ordinary American taxpayers.

Over the last few years, raising the federal minimum wage has become a central policy goal of most Democrats, but has invariably been blocked in Congress by conservative Republicans. However, once that proposal is reframed as an immigration control measure and embedded within a much broader package focused on that issue, many of the more rightwing Republicans would probably come on board, propelled by their stridently anti-immigration base. Meanwhile, incorporating a large minimum wage hike would guarantee the enthusiasm of those Democrats less concerned with immigration issues.

  • Dealing Humanely with Illegal Immigrants

A much higher minimum wage combined with strengthened immigration enforcement measures should be able to reduce future illegal immigration to minimal levels, while large, permanent cuts in legal immigration should eliminate the population pressure driving America toward becoming a low-wage society and reducing the quality-of-life for American workers.

But any agreement on these necessary longer-term policies would also have to deal humanely with millions of existing undocumented residents, who had arrived during an era when the government did not seriously enforce its immigration laws.

Any politically viable proposal would need to offer permanent residency and perhaps eventual citizenship to individuals who have already lived in the United States for many years, had no criminal record, and possessed strong ties to the local community, such as American-born family members.

Meanwhile, a large hike in the minimum wage and stronger employment enforcement laws would eliminate the jobs of many of lower-skilled immigrant workers too recently arrived to qualify for a change in status. Such existing illegal residents should be offered free transportation back to their home countries, together with a generous one-time cash settlement, perhaps as high as $5,000 or even $10,000 per adult, encouraging them to come forward and accept permanent deportation, an investment that would be very cost-effective for the American taxpayer. (Naturally such payments would require a written commitment not to return, enforced by serious criminal penalties.) With their jobs having disappeared, it seems likely that most of the more recently arrived immigrants would find such a financial offer very attractive, completely obviating the need for any harsh federal “deportation force.”

  • Reforming the Abusive H-1B Immigration Visa System

One of the strongest constituencies currently backing higher levels of immigration is Silicon Valley, primarily due to the acute shortage of H-1B visas for specially skilled foreigners, now capped at 85,000 per year.

However, as a series of articles in the New York Times has demonstrated, this shortage is entirely artificial. Outsourcing companies have been gaming the H-1B system and capturing the bulk of the visas, then using these to import large numbers of low-wage immigrants as replacements for experienced, higher-paid American tech workers. Thus, the poorly-designed current visa system severely undercuts middle class wages while also harming the international competitiveness of America’s best technology firms by unreasonably restricting their own supply of elite foreign hires.

An effective means of addressing this situation would be to reform the H-1B system by having the government auction off the visas, thereby ensuring that they go to those companies for which they provide the greatest economic value. Such a bidding process would also end the ongoing job loss and downward wage pressure experienced by regular workers in the industry.

Incorporating such H-1B visa changes into the proposed immigration reform package might have an excellent chance of bringing major elements of the powerful technology industry into the political coalition supporting the legislation. Meanwhile, since the overall number of such visas would remain unchanged, anti-immigration groups are unlikely to protest this change, while tech worker organizations might become enthusiastic at the prospects of finally ending of the continual downward wage-pressure they have long been experiencing at the hands of low-end outsourcing companies.


Decades of angry and fruitless struggle over immigration issues have surely persuaded most cynical observers that any significant change—let alone a major breakthrough—is almost impossible, and the hardened political trench-lines are unlikely to be broken for the foreseeable future. Lobbyists still promise eventual victory, thereby collecting their regular paychecks from donors, while activists continue organizing their protests, but few others believe that anything will ever actually happen.

However, an unexpected strategic realignment, joining America’s leading pro-immigrant and anti-immigration forces, would completely transform this deadlocked political landscape, cutting across the defensive lines in diagonal fashion and creating possibilities where none had previously existed. Such an unlikely alliance would also surely attract the sort of intense media coverage able to focus enormous national attention on the issue, thereby pressuring our elected officials to produce actual legislation.

Furthermore, this sort of a trans-ideological alliance might also help soften the exceptional bitterness that currently pervades the immigration debate, as the various zealous partisans discovered to their amazement that their longtime adversaries were not necessarily so hostile to their own primary objectives. Given America’s enormous ideological and ethnic diversity, healing these existing national wounds would be a very welcome development.

Many political analysts might reject this sort of scenario as a pipe-dream, believing that no political conflict so contentious and longstanding—especially one possessing such strong ethnic overtones—could possibly be resolved in so simple and relatively amicable a fashion. Yet ironically enough, something very similar happened less than twenty years ago on another such issue, itself also closely tied to immigration.

For decades, one of America’s most bitter educational struggles, heavily laced with ethnically divisive rhetoric, had centered on the issue of so-called “bilingual education,” namely whether young immigrant children should be taught for years in their own native language or instead should be immersed in English from their first day of school. Opponents of these programs, ranging from mainstream conservatives to anti-immigrant activists, regularly denounced them as motivated by Latino separatism, perhaps even laying the groundwork for an eventual secessionist movement along the lines of the French population of Quebec. Meanwhile, outraged Latino politicians and liberal activists energetically defended that system, regularly accusing its critics of racist or nativist sentiments. The harsh rhetoric and angry partisans on both sides poisoned the public dialogue and the likelihood of any resolution seemed minimal.

However, in the late 1990s, I and several others launched a major project to shift the debate from the ideological to the practical and pedagogical, focusing on the simple question of whether or not the programs actually worked, and catalyzing our efforts around a series of successful ballot initiatives. Prompted by this campaign, the national media began exploring these entirely different issues, and soon discovered that English language immersion was much more successful, as well as also being far more popular among actual immigrant Latino families themselves. As a consequence, native-language instruction programs gradually faded from the national curriculum, and indeed the very term “bilingual education” has largely disappeared from the media lexicon over the last dozen years. A decades-long political conflict, bitter and ethnically-charged, evaporated so completely that a younger generation may scarcely be aware that it ever even existed.

We can only hope that our ongoing “Immigration Wars” might similarly be resolved and almost totally forgotten within such a short period of time. Another twenty years of total political deadlock on the issue might be disastrous.

For Further Reading:


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.

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.

• Category: History • Tags: American Media, American Pravda, TWA 800 

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.

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 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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.

Book Reviews:


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

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.

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.


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.

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.

For Further Reading:


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

About Ron Unz

A theoretical physicist by training, Mr. Unz serves as founder and chairman of, 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
Which superpower is more threatened by its “extractive elites”?
What Was John McCain's True Wartime Record in Vietnam?
The sources of America’s immigration problems—and a possible solution
The unprecedented racial transformation of California and its political consequences.
Are elite university admissions based on meritocracy and diversity as claimed?
The unspoken statistical reality of urban crime over the last quarter century.