Friday, September 25, 2009

The Nature of Parahistory, Part One

The Nature of Parahistory

The late Murray Rothbard ( the original TRB of the New Republic) wrote in 1977,
Anytime that a hard-nosed analysis is put forth of who our rulers are, of how their political and economic interests interlock, it is invariably denounced by Establishment liberals and conservatives (and even by many libertarians) as a "conspiracy theory of history," "paranoid," "economic determinist," and even "Marxist."

Three decades ago, these investigators were able to make considerable progress by asking the ancient question “cui bono? ( Who benefits?)” Today things are so much more complicated, and that question often cannot be answered with any certainty. Indeed, One recent writer classified anyone who asked the question as a conspiracy theorist. Today, it seems that these theorists are more worried about the machinations of government than those of the so-called economic power elite. They should probably be looking at the links between government and the people who own massive corporations and media operation. One thing remains the same; when people complain about conspiracy theories, they often mean someone is getting too close to the truth.

Ellen J. Langer, the renowned Harvard psychologist, wrote, “Certainty is based on flimsier evidence than most of us realize.” Some of the ancient historians of Rome knew this and tried to break through what was then the official story to get at what was really going on. Appian, a Greek, focused on the decline of the republic. He was described as a “genuine historian” in part because he wanted to get at the heart of matters. He was contemporaneous with but younger than Plutarch and unfortunately was somewhat colorless, perhaps like the present writer. Cassius Dio, another Greek, pursued the same theme and found that Octavian was installing an autocracy by stealth. He saw a sharp division between the official version of events and even admitted to employing heresay when it seemed to help explain events. He was fortunate to have good contacts, being a member of the Senate, a consul, and once srving as a proconsul in Africa. Complaints about not being able to get at the real re4asons for events wre echoed by Tacitus, who wrote much about the difference between public claims and private motives. When Tacitus left the Senate for the last time, he said in Greek, “Men fit to be slaves.”

These historians also complained about how surveillance made it difficult for individuals in private discussions to learn what was going on around them.
Livy, the most famous historian of the era, was not concerned about asking tough questions and usually conveyed the conventional wisdom and found truth on the side of the establishment, and valued ccconciliation and moderation.
These historians had serious evidenciary problems then, and their succeessors today face similar if not greater problems. Surveilance techniques have improved greatly and those who put out the official line are the beneficiaries of remarkable advances in cognitive science. We still cannot condone relying on heresay, but investigators cannot be blamed if they use it to ask questions and seek out verifiable leads.
Historians, working from official sources, often put together a stories that are close to what those in power want them to produce. Nevertheless, they still encounter gaps that they fill as best they can, through digging and careful analysis. Writers who look into questions that go beyond the official sources have far many more gaps to fill, but they use the same tools to fill them. I.F. Stone, patron saint of investigative reporters, said it is best to assume that politicians are fcrequently lying. He added that “The search for meaning is very satisfying; its very pleasant, but it can be very far from the truth.” He thought it necessary to continually call attention to evidence that does not fit, and warned that this could mean the good reporter must repudiate what he wrote just a few weeks ago.

There has always been much more going on than historians have seen. Above all, it should be remembered that history and culture has many layers and is eeen from a variety of perspectives. Cultural and historical analysis should reveal a variety of perspectives, eschewing one consensus approach. It is best rendered through “think description,” and one important strand should concern itself with likely private motives and activities that are important in influencing events but are not intended for public scrutinity. Over time, people have learned to look into such matters, and they are now firmly anchored among human “webs of significance.” They are more important for some people than others, and it seems there are those who , even in the days of Tiberius, could not live with the possibility that his numerous homilies about civic virtue did not wholly reveal what was the essence of this complex man. For these people the “said” of discourse must be about all there is—something that smothers what are complexities and inconsistencies for others. On the other hand, many more will see uninterpreted data as mere data and expect layered, thick descriptions to make interpretation possible. But including many perspectives in a thick discourse means that different hearers or readers will take away different meanings, depending upon the outlooks they brought to the work.

There have always been political processes that fly under the normal political radar and are marked by deceit, disinformation, concealment, and covert action. This is what is called deep politics or parapolitics. If the historian does not resort to thick descriptions, she many never come to ask research questions that can turn up traces of what is going on below the radar. From time to time, most people suspect that deep politics exists, often in relation to the drug trade, but the consequences of investigating and pursuing this are disquieting, and we usually suppress such thoughts. One professional historian , Alfred McCoy carefully investigated the CIA drug trade during the Vietnam war and barely came out of the effort with his life. In recent times, it seems that deep politics probably account for much of reality.
The stuff of deep politics rarely appears in mainstream, conventional, or orthodox history. Traditional history is ruled by rigid methodological rules that privilege official government explanations. This history is ideologically safe and unthreatening and favors history’s winners. Its version of “objectivity” is sharing the biases of the conventional wisdom and those who wield power. It usually distorts through fear of heterodox explanations and a deep attachment to ideological respectability. Patriotism also plays a role, and the flag can be used as a blindfold when one simply cannot entertain the possibility that our leaders could do some truly despicable things.

J.Edgar Hoover once said "The individual is handicapped by coming face to face with a conspiracy so monstrous he cannot believe it exists.” It is perfectly natural for humans to want comforting, non-threatening answers to important questions and historical puzzles. If someone had told Julius Caesar that almost 30 Senators had conspired to kill him when he showed up at the Senate, he would have dismissed the story as too monstrous to believe. He had enemies, yes, but he did not face a threat of this magnitude. For one thing, too many people were involved in this story. Someone would have talked by then.

How many people today really believe the conventional wisdom about the Kennedy assassination? The Warren Commission is a classical example of orthodox or mainstream history at its worst. The editor who published the first serious critique of the Warren Commission Report was a paid CIA asset. When he published the critique, he noted that it did not represent the opinion of his magazine. But the editor later remarked to a friend that the critique was probably true, but "The truth is too terrible. The American people would never be able to stand it."
The conventional explanations of 9/11 are so lame that a growing number suspect there is far more to that terrible story. Sometimes outlandish scandals simply evaporate such as the BCCI affair. Only John Kerry showed an interest in pursuing the matter, and he was blocked at every turn and there were whispers in the corridors of power about how he was a little kooky and addicted to conspiracy theories. We never learned entirely what went on with BCCI, probably because it provided many keys to deep politics. Historians and journalists avoid deep politics for any number of reasons. Several amateur journalists who pursued aspects of this story were most probably suicided. One is that it is so hard to access evidence of parapolitical activity. Sometimes, as in the case of US complicity in the murders of priests, nuns, and thousands and thousands of dissidents in Central America, is ample, and the stories still are not pursued. All of that is so distasteful and challenges everything we want to believe about ourselves and this country.

John Zaller and Dennis Chiu studied how the mainstream media covered 42 foreign policy crises between 1945 and 1999, and found the media consistently functioned as “government’s little helper.” In the build up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the media simply parroted the Bush administration line. On May 26, 2004, The New York Times found it necessary to publish an editorial apologizing that covcerage of Bush claims about Iraq was “not as rigorous as it should have been.” There has been a steady dedterioration of the news media. Some of it is attributable to lack of zeal and human weakness. Some of the blame is due to the difficulty in obtaining accurate information from government.

Recently, the United States has begun the process of establishing nuclear missile bases in Czechoslovakia and Poland. The US consistently claims that the missiles are only aimed at Iran, which someday will have some nuclear weapons. The Soviets complain that the weapons are aimed at them and they sometimes sold a bit paranoiac, unless one notices that the US has recently been building these bases all around Russia. Absent proof that the missiles will be pointed at Russia the journalist and historian can only report what the US has said its intentions are. The possibility that the Russians could be partly right cannot be entertained without clear evidence that the Pentagon is lying. Historians build their work partly on what journalists have reported and upon government documents they have been able to study. Lacking a document revealing hostile intentions toward the Russians, the historian’s account will reflect what the US government claims. This writer recently attended a lecture given by a respected specialist on Russian history about this situation. The specialist is a long-time acquaintance and almost certainly doubts the statements made by Dr. Condoleezza Rice on this matter. But his lecture did not reflect any doubt. He was trapped by historical method and perhaps aware that there was a clean-cut young man in the front row carefully tape recording his every word.

There is such a thing as the’shadow” or’secret” government. Eliot Abrams, then Undersecretary of State, referred to it in the Iran/Contra hearings. The problem is that its operations are open and transparent. If one wants to get closer to a more accurate picture of how things happen, it is necessary to dig for traces of its operations and sometime make inferences. Critics refer to that as empty “theory,” as in conspiracy theory. But to refuse to look for its workings is to wholeheartedly assume another theory, that things are exactly as the official story goes. The trouble is that accepting the official story usually ends up with what onbe could call Disney history. As William Faulkner wrote, the “past is never dead and buried, it isn’t even past.” Past events continually affect present happenings; without something approaching a realistic view of the past, it becomes impossible to grasp what goes on now.

In 1965, Indonesian military and paramilitary forces carried out one of the worst massacres of that century against Communists and labor leaders. The CIA had funded the creation of hit lists and was behind a barrage of stories and sometimes forged documents attributing plots and atrocities to the leftists. Despite much evidence of the agency’s involvement, The New York Times simply denied that the CIA was involved. The false news coverage of the massacre will become the basis for fake history.

The 9/11 attack was the defining event of recent times, and yet there are many contradictions and improbabilities within the convention wisdom. For some unknown reason, the Bush administration held up the establishment of an independent investigative commission for a year. For a month almost 4000 people served on an FBI task force investigating the tragedy, then the task force was shut down because the bureau said these people were needed to investigate terrorist plots.

We do not even have a thorough official account of what wrong with our national defenses that made those tragic events possible. The 9/11 Commission issued its report in July, 2004, and it was soon reported that many of the commissioners thought that the NORAD generals had lied to them. NORAD and the FAA released a number of time lines that are contradictory and establish that there was plenty of time to shoot sown at least one of the first three planes. The FAA also held back vital information. The 9/11 commission that investigated these matters labored under so many disadvantages that it was unable to produce a solid report. Fearing that the report would show that the it had down played the terrorist threat, the White House’stonewalled” –in the words of Republican Commissioner John Lehman, making it very difficult to extract basic information. Thomas Keane and Lee Hamilton, the two co-chairs, defended themselves in a 2006 book, essentially arguing that they were set up to fail. They wrote, "We were set up to fail. The thought occurred to both of us as we prepared to meet for the first time …" They also complained about how the CIA stonmewalled them. In 2007, it was learned that the CIA destroyed tapes that would have been very useful to the investigators. This prompted Keane and Hamilton to write to The New York Times, charging that the CIA had obstructed the investigation. The CIA had denied the commission access to captives and to their interrogators and was asked to make do with incomplete and poorly written summaries. Tenet’s testimony was filled with an unbelievable number of “I don’t remember’s and some commission members doubted the veracity of his testimony. Though spending money does not guarantee good results, the fact is that only $15 million was spent on the commission, while the government paid $40,000,000 exploring Bill Clinton’s sex life and a land deal in Arkansas.

AP reporter Leslie Miller wrote on May 6, 2004 that several hours after the attack a manager at New York air traffic control asked controllers who had handled two of the flights to record their experiences. A FAAquality assurance manager destropyed the casette sometime between December, 2001 and February, 2002. He used his hand to crush the case and then cut up the tape , throwing the pieces into multiple trash cans.

NORAD sent a two star general to the commission who claimed he was circling Washington coordinating efforts to shoot sown Flight 93, when the fact was that NORAD did not even know about the hijacking of that flight at the time he claimed to be in the air. It was reported soon after the 9/11 Commission Report was released that many of the commissioners thought the NORAD generals had lied to them, and that some wanted the Justice Department to review their testimony.

The same agency denied it had any tapes of what went on in traffic control towers. The commission learned about the tapes by accident and had to issue subpoenas to get them. NSA documents were only made available days before the report was to go to the printer. Speaker Dennis Hastert blocked the commission’s access to materials gathered by the House, even though one commissioner had just left Congress and had had access to those materials. . A close reading of the evidence indicates that the CIA twice warned President Bush that Al Qaeda was ready to seize planes in the United States and attack in the United States. Jane Mayer demonstrated that the CIA frequently briefed Bush on Al Qaeda.

Moreover, the evidence suggest that national security advisor deliberately mischaracterized the famous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing paper, as did the White House press secretary. She seemed to be almost consistently duplicitous when discussing the National Security Council’s approach to terrorism. There is no good evidence that the staff director Philip Zelikow was planted by the White House. He had been on Bush’s transition team and had drafted a paper that helped justify the invasion of Iraq. It is clear that this good friend of Condoleezza Rice created a very hostile work environment for the staff, alienated and demeaned the 9/11 widows, and worked consistently to cover up Bush administration failures. He was accused by staff of trying to sabotage subpoenaing NORAD tapes, which were crucial for the investigation. He was in telephone contact with Carl Rove, visited Condoleezza Rice, and instructed his secretary not to log White House phone calls. Zelikow, who later became Counsellor at the State Department, was briefed on the findings of the Able Danger intelligence project on Al Qaeda, but did not let the commission see the information. To avoid internal turmoil, the commission ecided assign any blame for what had happened. Its report became the official story, from which mainstream journalists and historians would have to work.

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