“Conspiracy theory”. It’s a phrase we’ve all heard before. And it has certain unavoidable connotations that result from its common usage. The implication is often that anything dubbed a “conspiracy theory” is an outrageous absurdity. It is something ridiculed by intelligent and rational persons, only embraced by lunatics, or radicals on the fringes of society, or geeks who watch too many movies. Simply apply the word “conspiracy” to a thing and it suddenly becomes unbelievable, too ridiculous to be true, the stuff of fantasy. It’s almost as though conspiracies, by definition, cannot exist.
But can’t they? Let’s dissect the phrase. Webster’s defines “conspiracy” as “the act of conspiring together”, “an agreement among conspirators”, or “a group of conspirators”. A “conspirator”, of course, is “one that conspires”, and to “conspire” is “to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement” or “to act in harmony toward a common end”. A “theory”, as it is used, is “the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another”.
So a “conspiracy theory” is an analysis of a set of facts in their relation to a group of people having agreed to work in harmony toward a common end, even though doing so might involve doing something unlawful. Is this really such a fantastical, whimsical notion? Do not, in fact, conspiracies manifest themselves regularly? Has not history shown that conspiracies are very much a fact of life? Why, then, the connotations of whimsical falsehood attached to the phrase?
After September 11th, George W. Bush spoke of “conspiracies of terror” that “are being answered by an expanding global coalition” (nobody mocked Bush as a “conspiracy theorist”). He then went on to say, “Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th; malicious lies that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists, themselves, away from the guilty.”
The “conspiracy theories” he referred to are fairly well known, and need not be repeated here. But do they “attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists”? Is that their purpose? And are they based upon “malicious lies”, or are they founded in fact and reasoned analysis?
An analysis of the historical facts surrounding certain other conspiracies may shed some light on the subject.
Take, for example, the notion that the government deceived the American people in order to create a pretext to invade Iraq. Is that such a radical suggestion? Why is this regarded as a “conspiracy theory”, when it is overwhelmingly supported by reasoned analysis of the available facts using the simple methodology of comparing what was claimed with the actual evidence available at the time?
By comparison, and ironically, the government’s claims that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States because it possessed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and was intent upon and capable of using them against the U.S. or of supplying them to al Qaeda in order to achieve the same end was not considered a “conspiracy theory”. Why not?
Why the Orwellian flip-flop, so that those of us who said the government was lying, that they had no evidence to support their claims, and who demonstrated this fact by simply comparing what was said to what was known publicly (no security clearance required) were actually considered the “conspiracy theorists”?
The very idea that Iraq posed a “threat” was absurd. There were many people proclaiming that the “threat” posed by Iraq was a fabrication, pointing out that there was no real evidence to support the claims made by the government (I was among them, and I was labeled a “conspiracy theorist” on more than one occasion for doing so). The idea that Iraq posed such a serious threat to the U.S. would have been laughable, had it not been for the intense seriousness of the situation and the deadly potential consequences of this great deception.
And yet polls indicated that as much as 70% of the population of the U.S. not only believed Iraq posed just such a threat, but that they actually believed that Iraq was responsible for the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
How is it possible for so many people, mostly fairly well educated, to fall prey to such a deception? How is it possible for so many to be convinced of such a wild conspiracy theory, unsupported by any available evidence, while regarding the notion that the claims were not true as somehow being a “conspiracy theory” itself? How can two plus two equal five, and how can war equal peace?
Let’s recognize an incontrovertible fact: the United States engaged in aggression against Iraq based upon an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory.
If the facts and circumstances surrounding the case for war in Iraq do not awaken us to the Orwellian world in which we live, a world in which conspiracies very much exist, then we are probably doomed to continue living perpetually in such self-deception. If, however, there is the slightest possibility that we might learn from this history, then there may be cause for hope.
 “President Bush Speaks to United Nations”, The White House, November 10, 2001