On Memorial Day, Honor the Heroes of Peace

This Memorial Day, I want to say thanks to a different kind of veteran. This is not a generic, blanket commendation to those who participated in US wars, most of which (since 1945, anyway) had very little to do with “freedom.” Instead, I wish to thank those that risked their reputations, careers and personal freedom to reveal war crimes, blow the whistle on wrongdoing, or refuse to participate in illegal military actions. In addition, I thank those who, after having served in the military, have spoken out to denounce the unnecessary death and suffering caused by US foreign policy.

The first veteran I wish to honor served in World War I and numerous US foreign interventions: Major General Smedley Butler, the most highly decorated man in the history of the US Marine Corps. In 1935, after his retirement, he wrote a book called War is a Racket, which was highly critical of US foreign policy. He supported veterans in the “Bonus Army” in their 1932 march on Washington and refused to participate in the 1933 “Business Plot” in which wealthy businessmen conspired to overthrow FDR in a fascist coup. I pay homage to Butler in my novel Centrifugal Force, in which a group of rebellious veterans, with grievances similar to those of the real-life Bonus Army, call themselves the “Smedley Butler Brigade.”

Next is a man with whom most of you are probably familiar: retired Congressman Ron Paul of Texas. Paul, who is also a medical doctor, served as a flight surgeon in the US Air Force from 1963-1965 and then in the Air National Guard for another three years. During his years in the US House of Representatives, Dr. Paul was an outspoken critic of US foreign intervention. After the 9/11 attacks, he was one of the few Republicans who did not jump on the Afghan War bandwagon, insisting that the pursuit of Osama bin Laden should be a matter of international law enforcement and not a cause for military conquest. He refused to support the illegal Iraq War or the inhumane sanctions on Iran, and probably could have become President if he had compromised. Today he continues the fight for a just foreign policy through the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Finally I wish to honor a man who has been much maligned: former US Army Private Bradley Manning, who languishes in prison for the alleged crime of giving classified material to the website Wikileaks. Notable among these materials is the “Collateral Murder” video, which shows US helicopter pilots in Iraq gunning down unarmed civilians, including journalists. Though none of the materials subsequently released by Wikileaks has endangered American military personnel in any specific way, Manning was of course arrested and stripped of his rank. In the intervening years, the government has subjected him to unbelievably harsh treatment, including solitary confinement. The media has also attacked him, minimizing his heroic actions by calling him “unstable” and by calling attention to his homosexuality. He is still awaiting trial. Patriotic Americans who realize that Manning is not a traitor but a hero for opposing US government war crimes (which endanger us all by inspiring terrorists around the world) should contact the Bradley Manning Support Network.

These men are only three of the many veterans who not only served in the military, but maintained the capability for independent thought. They acted on the strength of their convictions, in defiance of the jingoistic herd mentality that surrounded them. This is the true spirit of America – not unthinking obedience, but an unswerving dedication to the ideals of freedom, justice, and peace.


Eight Myths about Conspiracy Theories

This time I’d like to stray from science fiction and write about one of my favorite topics- conspiracy theories. Why do people, especially in the mainstream media, view them with such disdain? I’d say that it’s due to a number of misconceptions, which I’ll address below.

  1. Believing in conspiracies is a sign of mental illness.We’ve all met the disturbed, paranoid type. I once encountered a homeless woman who muttered continually about Richard Nixon “reading her mind” with spy cameras. Then there are the “tin foil hat” people, like Mel Gibson in Shyamalan’s movie Signs (or in Mel’s case, real life.) Since some conspiracy believers are crazy, the argument goes, all must be- a conclusion that violates Logic 101. There’s nothing crazy about keeping an open mind. Even if a given conspiracy is nonsense, it can still provide inspiration for a good story. Chris Carter took advantage of several of them for the X-Files.
  2. Conspiracies can’t work in the real world because conspirators are always caught.People often cite the Watergate and Iran-contra scandals as proof of this assertion. These guys were caught and prosecuted, despite their powerful positions. More likely it was due to the plotters themselves. Nixon was a paranoid drunk and Oliver North was an arrogant fool. Yet on the topic of organized crime, people draw the opposite conclusion. When we hear of a truck full of drugs being busted on the border, we wonder how many others got through.
  3. Someone will always talk and expose the conspiracy.Never underestimate the power of group loyalty. For example, a policeman who blows the whistle on corruption in his department runs the risk of losing his job, and will likely be viewed as a turncoat by his friends on the force. In intelligence agencies and the military there’s the added threat of legal sanctions. Look what happened to Bradley Manning, reviled by millions as a “traitor,” despite his good intentions.
  4. If conspiracies were real, people who threatened to reveal them would be killed.There are numerous examples of people with knowledge that was dangerous to the powerful who died under mysterious circumstances: Clinton aide Vince Foster, British weapons inspector David Kelley, and JFK mistress Mary Pinchot Meyer to name just three. In most cases, however, it’s more effective to harass, intimidate, and otherwise marginalize the truth-tellers. Even the most damning revelations are harmless if no one believes them.
  5. Companies and private organizations conspire, but democratic governments don’t.The media can’t dismiss all conspiracies, because they like to point the finger at modern bogeymen such as tobacco companies and the Vatican. Foreign governments are also fair game if they’re enemies of the United States. Right wing pundits accused Saddam Hussein of plotting to attack America, but our “friends” the Saudi monarchy (who actually do support extremism) were off limits. See Gary North’s article explaining how conspiracies for monetary gain are acceptable but not those for political power.
  6. Belief in conspiracy theories is bad for public health and/or the environment.

This is why the Climate-gate scandal never gained traction in the mainstream media: environmentalists can only be motivated by good. Instead we hear how parents in Pakistan refuse to vaccinate their children because they suspect the CIA of poisoning the injections. The media doesn’t consider the behavior of the US in Pakistan (especially the drone strikes) as a likely cause of these suspicions. Obama aide Cass Sunstein has publicly expressed his desire to suppress web sites that promote “false information” on health issues. No doubt he would like to treat conspiracy theorists the way European governments treat Holocaust deniers- with arrest and prosecution.

  1. Because some conspiracies are false, they all are.

I’m a big fan of conspiracy sites such as Prison Planet. This doesn’t mean I accept every one of their theories as fact. Even the ideas I consider to be far-fetched (chemtrails, HAARP) may contain a kernel of truth or, as I noted before, provide fodder for sci-fi stories. My own theory is that agencies such as the CIA secretly promote bogus conspiracies to discredit the government’s skeptics. Consider the many bizarre and contradictory theories about the 9/11 attacks. Debates about “pods” under the aircrafts’ wings and molten metal under the twin towers draw attention away from more obvious questions, such as, did someone in the government have foreknowledge of the attacks? Could this be why FBI agents were ordered not to investigate suspicious Arab flight students?

  1. Governments practice secrecy not to manipulate and exploit us, but to protect us.There are plenty of counter-examples that show how governments, even Western democracies, view their citizens as expendable pawns in the “great game” of international politics. Consider the Pentagon Papers, which revealed that the Johnson Administration deceived the public about the Vietnam War. Or the Downing Street memo, which admitted that the reasons for attacking Iraq were rationalizations for a policy that had already been decided. For me, the clincher was the book Day of Deceit, by Robert Stinnett, which uses declassified documents to prove FDR had foreknowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack, which he welcomed as an excuse to get the US into the war. What I find most amazing is that so many people are still so gullible. If the government proposes yet another war against an apparently harmless enemy, they conclude that “the President must know something we don’t.” Who, I ask you, are the crazy ones?


Conspiracy theories are not always far-fetched or implausible, though even the crazy ones can be entertaining. Sometimes they make more sense than the conventional wisdom. Perhaps the theories themselves may be part of a larger conspiracy.