Conspiracies rely upon the unknown… where there is no paper trail, recorded voices, or first hand accounts, conspiracies thrive. Nothing brings out distrust more than secrecy, regardless of its motivation. To say that every conspiracy is unfounded is either dangerously naive, or the weakest defense of a person with something to hide. Where you find enough secrecy, there will always be conspiracy theories- because the historical record is not definitive…secrecy prevents it.
Patsy no longer
Mafia, Cubans, Russians, Alien contact… there has been enough secrecy surrounding John Kennedy’s assassination, and the subsequent investigation, to fill volumes- enough to even prompt another government inquiry. There is so much secrecy, so many unanswered questions surrounding Kennedy’s death that multiple conspiracies competed for the public’s attention. Every avenue unsatisfactorily explored by official investigation is open to scrutiny, followed by conjecture. Competing conspiracy theories have grown more outrageous through the years- many bordering on the absurd.
Mystery in a riddle…
The ebbs and flows of the historical record… now show lone gunman theories back in favor. Every major study of the assassination in the last decade has fingered Lee Harvey Oswald as the shooter. The Grassy Knoll is now a punchline, rather than an epicenter. The new authoritative narrative on the assassination dismisses long sought after eyewitnesses accounts as unreliable, confused, or fraudulent. Tactics utilized by conspiracy theorist for decades have been turned around with chilling effect- on the 50th anniversary of the assassination- believe Oswald acted alone or else.
Never Forget Edward Lansdale- the key man.
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Barack Obama’s decision not to attend ceremonies… commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address was controversial. The Obama administration, already under severe scrutiny for the botched health insurance roll-out, was in no mood for more criticism regarding the President’s decision making.
Really not that close? Obama was sworn in on the Lincoln bible….twice
The decision not to attend ANY sesquicentennial Gettysburg…celebrations struck many observers as an odd one. President Obama has gone out of his way establishing historic ties to our 16th President, a fellow Illinoisan. He announced his candidacy in 2007 near the doors of Lincoln’s law office in Springfield, was sworn in on the Lincoln bible in 2009 and 2013, and followed Lincoln’s train route to Washington in 2009. The country sees the connection- Lincoln must mean a lot to this President… why the snub?
Only a photo op ?
Presidents have gone to Gettysburg before… but have avoided the November anniversary- the Gettysburg Address remembrance. Speaking at Gettysburg draws comparisons to Lincoln’s greatest speech- not a fair fight by any measure. Wilson’s speech at the 50th anniversary of the battle in 1913 is generally considered lackluster. Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy all visited Gettysburg during ceremonies honoring the battle- their words were forgettable. Lyndon Johnson is often praised for his words there in 1963, but those were delivered on Memorial Day.
Can we still call upon our better angels?
No President wants to be compared to Lincoln,… especially during times of political difficulty. Despite the dangers of historical context, Presidents in the 20th century made the journey to Gettysburg- for appearance if nothing else. The current President allowed present difficulty to cloud his judgement- an army of spin doctors and acolytes are trying to repair the damage in cyber space, but a legitimate opportunity at historical remembrance was missed. It is entirely reasonable that the people question his alleged fidelity with Lincoln.
Finest two minutes
Lincoln thought he failed November 19, 1863… obligatory applause from a damp crowd in Gettysburg offered him little consolation. Lincoln had just followed a masterful two-hour speech from America’s greatest orator, Edward Everett. The President sat down in his seat and commented to his friend, Ward Lamon, that the speech wouldn’t “scour” (would fail to clear away.) He left Gettysburg believing the bad press that followed the ceremony. The Chicago Times recorded, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”
Edward Everett put the ceremony in the proper perspective:
“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes. “
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Congressman Leo Ryan was gunned down during the Jonestown…tragedy on November 18, 1978. Amidst the horror of 909 suicides- 190 under the age of 12- it is easy to forget key details in a tragedy of this magnitude.
Leo Ryan was an outspoken critic of cults… in California, especially prevalent in his district in and around San Francisco. He held hearings to expose of the influence of Scientology in California and pushed for tougher age-of-consent laws to prevent the recruitment of minors. Ryan publicly denounced the teachings of Sun Myung Moon and was often critical of Jim Jones. When a group of concerned relatives approached Ryan about Jones’ activities in Guyana, the Congressman wasted little time setting up a fact finding mission- one he would lead personally.
Date with destiny
Cult members shot Ryan 26 times… and killed five members of his party- nine were wounded (including his aide, current Congresswoman Jackie Speier.) Ryan was attempting to evacuate a group of cult members held against their will by Jones and his “Red Guard.” These thugs opened fire as Ryan’s party was boarding the planes. The murder of a US Congressman was the catalyst for Jones to put his “revolutionary suicide” plan into motion.
Annette Gordon-Reed tries to explain… the suicide of James Hemings by excusing the biggest fault in her Pulitzer Prize winning book, lack of evidence, “he had his own private world…that we simply cannot retrieve.” Perhaps this admirable level of restraint should be exercised in all her work? She has no problem discounting this inherent weakness when explaining every sinister motive and lustful desire found in Thomas Jefferson. Here, Gordon-Reed is an authority; she knows exactly what was going through Jefferson’s mind as he allegedly exploited his slave, Sally Hemings. No corroboration from fellow scholars is offered when she speculates on their relationship, Gordon-Reed’s confidence is apparent…we dare not question the writer who according to the MacArthur Foundation, ” has dramatically changed the course of Jeffersonian scholarship.”
The disputed authority
History writers are taught to avoid… “squishy” words and phrases. If you are not sure, or cannot prove it, leave it out. Weak historical writing deals in speculation, unsubstantiated opinions, and baseless generalities. Gordon-Reed’s study of the Hemings family is rife with these amateurish tricks.
- Many, Most, average, conducive, highly, nearly, majority- imprecise words disguising a lack of statistical data
- Common ground, conducive to, seems to indicate, obvious deduction, tends to support, highly conducive- masking generalities and unsubstantiated opinions of the writer, these phrases insinuate expertise where it is lacking.
- There is no reason, no reasonable person, logic dictates, one can only conclude, it is reasonable to assume- a subtle, yet effective way at dissuading dissent. The writer is basically saying they are the only reasonable voice.
A study filled with generalities, opinion, and conjecture… wins every major non-fiction award in 2009? The tide of “new” Jefferson scholarship is ceaseless and can even sweep away the Pulitzer Committee. Somewhere, Dumas Malone is smiling, for we have most definitely blazed a crooked path since his Pulitzer victory for Jefferson scholarship in 1975.
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Originally posted on History Myths Debunked:
Woman playing violin: Lewis Walpole Library, Yale, England 1835
This well entrenched myth is trickier than I suspected, but when one digs into the details (“Just the facts, ma’am,” as Joe Friday used to say), it seems there is no evidence to back up the belief that the reason women and girls didn’t play the violin or flute was because they would have to raise their arms and reveal their elbows. This statement has long been made by historic interpreters and volunteer docents at Colonial Williamsburg and other historic sites and is found in some CW podcasts.
The idea that elbows were indecent seems to have no foundation. Linda Baumgarten, curator of textiles and an expert on 18th-c. costume, expressed surprise and dismay that this was still being said by CW interpreters. “Almost all gowns of the 18th century typically did cover women’s elbows, because that was the fashionable silhouette…
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