Opinion: The stories behind conspiracy theories that are actually conspiracy facts
Our past is replete with examples of Americans being coaxed into wars unnecessarily — and sometimes because they were duped
Thousands of people have died since Hamas fighters launched an attack on Israel on Oct. 7. More than 1,200 Israelis were killed in the attack, and airstrikes from Israel in response have killed over 4,300 Palestinians.
What do — or should — Americans think about all of this?
This tragedy, on both sides of the conflict, has led to profound loss of innocent life. It’s no surprise, then, that 96% of Americans have at least some sympathy for Israelis, while 87% have at least some sympathy for Palestinians. What about U.S. involvement in the conflict itself?
Another poll found that 84% of Americans are worried about the U.S. military getting involved in the war between Israel and Hamas. Sympathy can extend to humanitarian aid, diplomacy and advocating for a peaceful resolution to the conflict — but most Americans are rightly reluctant, after decades of military adventurism in the Middle East, to get involved in yet another regional conflict.
One hopes that this reluctance stems from wisdom, since “those who don’t learn from the past are condemned to repeat it,” as the adage goes. And our past is replete with examples of Americans being coaxed into wars unnecessarily — and sometimes because they were duped.
Consider the story of 15-year-old Nayirah from Kuwait, who in 1990 tearfully told Americans about seeing Iraqi soldiers violently remove premature infants from their lifesaving incubators and toss them aside to die. This story was a bombshell that fueled American anger against Saddam Hussein and led to a declaration of war against Iraq.
But the story was fake. Nayirah was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States and was coached to persuasively lie by a public relations firm, Hill & Knowlton, that had been paid over $10 million by the Kuwaiti government to drum up support for U.S. intervention in the war. It worked.
Emotional appeals and false claims in the outbreak of war are certainly not anomalies. It happened with the famous claim of “weapons of mass destruction” that persuaded many Americans into supporting the invasion of Iraq a second time. It repeated when the “Ghost of Kyiv” Ukrainian fighter pilot purportedly shot down six Russian jets within hours of Moscow’s invasion. It’s the reason why the U.S. entered the Vietnam War, outraged about a North Vietnamese unprovoked attack against the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin that didn’t actually happen.
In the fog of war, truth is often one of the first casualties. And with flared emotions, the misinformed masses are easily deceived, whipped into a frenzy in support of whatever agenda those in power are trying to pursue. It’s a tale as old as time.
In a new book, “The Tuttle Twins Guide to True Conspiracies,” I outline 20 examples where intentional deception by powerful people — both in government and elsewhere — led to a loss of freedom and, in some cases, significant loss of life. Here are two examples:
At the height of the Cuban missile crisis, with communists at our doorstep, a radical group of fringe activists developed a “false flag” proposal to persuade reluctant Americans to support military intervention in Cuba. They suggested killing a bunch of Americans and making it look like Cubans were responsible, thereby angering voters who would demand retribution and justice. This group got an audience with JFK to pitch their idea; the president shot it down. And the “radical group of fringe activists” who came up with the idea? It was actually the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the top brass of the U.S. military in the Department of Defense. Their alarming proposal, which thankfully was shut down, was called Operation Northwoods.
A more recent example: When Hunter Biden’s laptop full of incriminating information was discovered, acting CIA Director Mike Morell drafted a letter, obtaining signatures from 51 former intelligence officials, including himself and four other former CIA directors. Five days after the story first broke, they published their letter, knowingly lying by claiming that the laptop was Russian disinformation, planted by Moscow to help President Donald Trump. Morell later revealed that he coordinated the letter to “help Vice President Biden ... because I wanted him to win the election.” It was a “talking point” he could use in a debate to discredit the laptop and avoid the controversy. The entire thing was a plot by professional spies to mislead voters.
Even in the current conflict with Israel and Hamas, it is difficult to sift between truth and propaganda; we often have to take the claims of those in authority.
But a lesson that practically screams from the pages of history is that we ought to follow the advice Ronald Reagan popularized, “Trust, but verify.” Or, to quote another proverb, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute and author of 42 books, including the acclaimed Tuttle Twins children’s book series that has sold more than 5 million copies. His newest book is the “Guide to True Conspiracies.”