The desired resultant from the execution of this plan would be to place the United States in the apparent position of suffering defensible grievances from a rash and irresponsible government and to develop an international image of a threat to peace in the Western Hemisphere.

The title of this post is not the misguided ramblings of some looney who sees a red under every bed or believes that Big Brother is watching only him or who has lined his hat with foil to keep his thoughts from being stolen. It was part of a very real plan was drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  approved by their  Chairman General Lyman Lemnitzer and sent to the Secretary of Defense.  Rejected by the administration of the day it was shelved along with our plans to lend-lease 50 bombers to the Chinese in 1938 to bomb the Japanese and Heaven only knows what else.

Given what our original intent was in our founding – to be the city of the hill – and given that such a utopian vision is impossible to sustain we should not be too surprised to find that the government – our government – has used feints, misdirections, misrepresentations and outright lies to accomplish its ends ever since Cornwallis quit the continent. The sheer and utter guile it took to expand our sway from Plymouth Rock to a line that runs from the Aleutians through Hawaii and Guam on the other side of the world could not have been accomplished by men who could not tell a lie.

A large part of the American confusion about our past – and present – has to do with our less than satisfactory understanding of the facts of history. Consider James Thurber in this regard;  I found myself sitting next to a lady on an airplane the other day who all of a sudden turned to me, and she said, “Why did we have to pay for Louisiana when we got all the other states for free?”

He told her, “Louisiana was owned by two sisters called Louisa and Anna Wilmot, and they offered to give it to the United States, provided it was named after them. That was the Wilmot Proviso. But Winfield Scott refused to do that. That was the dread Scott decision.”

She said, “Well, that’s all very well, but I still don’t understand why we had to pay for Louisiana.”

Things may not be quite this bad – or they may be much worse. We have some historians blaming everything Jefferson did on their most recent opinion that he suffered from Tourette’s syndrome just as a few years ago historians were anxious to blame everything he did on the Clintonesque comedy he was supposedly playing with slave girls – neither of which interpretations have any evidence that would last five minutes in a court of law. The reality is of course far more interesting and had far more consequences for our history. We needed to grow to counter English and Spanish territorial ambitions, Napoleon needed money AND our cooperation is reestablishing slavery in the Caribbean. As with any real estate contract time was of the essence, the Constitution was subverted – not for the first time, and we suddenly controlled the land halfway to the Pacific in our effort to stretch from sea to shining sea.

Olmsted may be correct that our paranoia about the government has been steadily increasing since Woodrow Wilson campaigned that he “kept us out of the war” in 1916 and had Congress declare war within 60 days of his second inauguration in 1917. And Wilson was the man who gave us Alexander Mitchell Palmer as attorney general who in turn recruited J. Edgar Hoover, a 24-year-old law school graduate who spent the war working in and then leading the Justice Department’s Enemy Alien Bureau,   as his scourge. Palmer’s own words would define the coming “rule of law” for government; The war power is of necessity an inherent power in every sovereign nation. It is the power of self-preservation and that power has no limits other than the extent of the emergency.

While this formulation is not as eloquent as Cicero’s, for among arms the laws fall mute [Inter arma enim silent leges], it does beg the question; Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Real enemies : conspiracy theories and American democracy, World War I to 9/11 Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2009 Kathryn S. Olmsted United States Politics and government 20th century Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. x, 320 p.; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [287]-307) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Many Americans believe that their own government is guilty of shocking crimes. Government agents shot the president. They faked the moon landing. They stood by and allowed the murders of 2,400 servicemen in Hawaii.

Although paranoia has been a feature of the American scene since the birth of the Republic, in Real Enemies Kathryn Olmsted shows that it was only in the twentieth century that strange and unlikely conspiracy theories became central to American politics. In particular, she posits World War I as a critical turning point and shows that as the federal bureaucracy expanded, Americans grew more fearful of the government itself – the military, the intelligence community, and even the President.

Analyzing the wide-spread suspicions surrounding such events as Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, Watergate, and 9/11, Olmsted sheds light on why so many Americans believe that their government conspires against them, why more people believe these theories over time, and how real conspiracies – such as the infamous Northwoods plan – have fueled our paranoia about the governments we ourselves elect.


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