The CIA has been using propaganda to control public perception of covert operations overseas since at least the early 50s, when it was officially given this role under Operation Mockingbird. Although this authority was given only with regard to manipulating foreign media, it quickly morphed into a means of controlling US public opinion about the imperialist actions of its government. Failure to understand this is one of the main reasons that the American public has no idea what the government is actually doing in its name in other countries. Understanding how those who determine US foreign policies use conspiracy theories to control conversation about US policies abroad is crucial to understanding how to challenge their propaganda.
The most important deception of the US government is masking its imperialist policies, from Guatemala and Iran in the early 50s to the Ukrainian coup earlier this year. It took nearly 60 years before Americans were officially informed about the CIA-engineered overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian government of Mossadegh in 1953. To many Americans, that is ancient history even though it has changed the course of US-Iranian relations from then until today. They still ask "why do they hate us?" when the answer is a matter of public record. Corporate pundits play their part by never making this point when commenting on the long-standing enmity between Iran and the US. Instead, they repeat without question the CIA-vetted conspiracy theory that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons, in the complete absence of credible evidence. Today, this lie is repeated in public statements by both proponents and opponents of engagement with Iran
American imperialism beyond its present borders had its modest beginnings in the Spanish-American War. This was a war heavily promoted by much of the corporate media of the time, following the lead of William Randolph Hearst. The conspiracy theory of the time was that the USS Maine was sunk in Havana harbor by a Spanish mine, a lie that was repeated enough that it came to be regarded as a matter of common knowledge. This led to an initially reluctant McKinley to embrace imperialism. The story of the rise of American influence from then is one of imperialist expansion to serve the interests of international corporations. As the US grew into the most powerful military, economic and diplomatic power in world history, it eventually gave up trying to justify its aggression on the basis of false claims that it was defending itself from direct attacks.
At the end of WWII, the US adopted a new policy of making war against anyone it perceived as a possible enemy. Based on the assertion that the national interest included waging war anywhere where communism tried to take hold, Truman chose to go to war with Korea. As importantly, he did not seek Congressional approval to launch the assault . The US-controlled UN endorsed the Korean War despite the fact that it was not defensive nor intended to stop genocide, the only two exceptions to laws stating that national sovereignty is inviolable, This is a doctrine going back centuries to the Treaty of Westphalia after the 30 Years War. It served as a founding principle of the UN charter. Since then, any offensive war against a sovereign nation is against the law. However, under policies based on the notion of American exceptionalism, violation of national sovereignty is no longer considered by the US government as an impediment to involving itself in civil wars or starting wars of choice. The UN has become irrelevant except for the cover it provides NATO and its allies, especially Israel.
The Korean War was immensely unpopular, especially after it resulted in what millions of Americans considered the country's first defeat. Although the USSR, China and communism itself were regarded by most as real threats to US security, the nation was tired of war. During the Eisenhower administration foreign intervention was mostly covert, with the CIA providing cover under policies established by Operation Mockingbird. In his final days in office, Eisenhower warned Americans about the threats posed by the growing power and economic influence of the military-industrial complex. According to James Douglass, author of JFK and the Unspeakable , the MIC was referred to as the military-industrial-government complex in the first draft of his speech. The original term was much more descriptive of the power that these corporations had come to wield over the American government, but perhaps he felt that Americans were not ready for the truth. At any rate, he was no longer in a position to do anything about the threat.
Douglass makes a compelling argument that it was Kennedy's efforts to change America's imperialist policies that led to his murder by what he calls "the national security state." Kennedy was shot five months after declaring his intention to end the Cold War. This was after declaring a unilateral ban on atmospheric nuclear testing leading to a partial nuclear test ban treaty with the USSR, secretly opening discussions with Kruschev, beginning to establish a backdoor dialogue with Castro and signing three orders to develop a plan to withdraw from Vietnam beginning in 1963.
Many Americans have forgotten that it was Johnson who used the manufactured incident in the Gulf of Tonkin to escalate a war that Kennedy tried to end. A mere 10 years after the end of the Korean War, American empire builders used this ruse to gain public support for a war of corporate imperialist expansion. The failure of Americans to accept the fact that they are routinely lied to by leaders of both parties has had disastrous consequences.
In the aftermath of the JFK murder, there was a widespread belief that he was the victim of a conspiracy that the government was covering up. This led to a little-known CIA program to discredit critics of the Warren Commission report as "conspiracy theorists" while simultaneously conducting a campaign to erase from the American consciousness any awareness of everything Kennedy had done to challenge the military-industrial-government complex. The program was and continues to be a success, with the public growing increasingly skeptical of any alternative theory of JFK's murder, despite the fact that the House Select Committee on Assassinations declared in 1977 that he was murdered as the result of a "probable conspiracy" that Congress has yet to seriously investigate..
With few exceptions, the resistance to traditional power structures in the US that escalated in the wake of the assassinations of the Kennedys, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X has dissipated. The influence of the Vietnam antiwar movement is often overstated. The war continued until it became politically expedient to end it. The growing opposition to the war after 10 years and tens of thousands of American dead was only one consideration. What the movement did show is that Americans are capable of standing together against the government when it becomes oppressive. Occupy tried to recreate this but failed because it was so worried about "co-option" that it refused to work with established organizations and rejected calls to create a focused strategy for advancing its objectives.
The abdication of Congress during the Korean War of its role in deciding when the nation goes to war has been a major factor in subsequent US wars of imperial expansion. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was another example of giving away congressional war powers to the President. The Authorization for the Use of Military Force formally gave Bush almost complete authority to start wars of corporate conquest and to restrict civil liberties. That power has now devolved to Obama. To his credit, he sought congressional authorization for a direct attack on Syria and may seek authorization to strike at ISIS. This does not of course excuse the fact that he continues to use the AUMF to support proxy wars in Syria as he did in Libya, commit extrajudicial executions of both foreign nationals and US citizens around the world and to extend his power to suspend civil liberties through provisions of the 2012 NDAA that gave him the power to determine Americans enemy combatants, subject to military law until the "cessation of hostilities." The question is, if Obama truly believes that War of Terror cannot go on forever, how and when does he think it will end?
Only after Americans have a basic grasp of the imperialist nature of its government and whose interests it serves will they be prepared to understand just how ruthless the puppet masters of Congress and the White House can be. It is the nature of Empires to crush all opposition, both foreign and domestic. The means to establish a permanent police state in the US are in place to respond to any organized resistance to imperialist policies, and effective antiwar organizations are closely monitored. If Americans fail to come together as part of a grassroots united international front against fascism and war, they too will become victims of the Empire in more than just the economic sense that they already are.
This brings us to the greatest conspiracy theory ever concocted by the US government; the official explanation of 9/11. The story should not be hard to debunk, since the report has been repudiated by both co-chairs and the Chief Counsel of the 9/11 Commission. The major obstacle to the 9/11 Truth movement is the successful use of the label "conspiracy theory" to inoculate against dissent. The majority of Americans still believe that 19 Saudis with box cutters managed to fly planes into the twin towers and the Pentagon in a way that professional pilots say they cannot. They are willing to accept the story that the failure to follow up on at least three independent lines of investigation that would have revealed the plot was due to incompetence and confusion by government agencies whose job it is to protect us. The alternative is unthinkable, so they reject any more logical explanation that forces them to question the nature and intentions of their "protectors."
The most effective way to challenge those who blindly accept the lies of their government is to tell them about a conspiracy to overthrow the government that is no theory, but established fact. Smedley Butler was a highly decorated Marine general who testified before Congress in 1933 about an plot by wealthy industrialists to stage a military coup and overthrow Roosevelt. It was the most important event in US history that most Americans have never heard of. Congress took the testimony, videos of which are still available online, but did nothing to pursue the plotters. This left them free to subvert the government is less obvious ways, and to raise their children to do the same. If this is not enough to persuade doubters that the government is and has been in the hands of corporate puppet masters for decades, nothing will. If and when America is free from their influence, it is a cautionary tale we will teach our children forever after.
The next time someone calls you a "conspiracy theorist," ask him if he has heard about Smedley Butler. Once he understand the implications of the plot Butler revealed, ask him if he knows that a third building fell on 9/11. If enough of us are willing to speak about the "unspeakable," we can change the national conversation about what is wrong with America and what needs to be done to create a true representative democracy in the United States.