The Law of Parsimony, aka “Occam’s Razor,” suggests that the simplest explanation for an event is usually the correct one. If you shave away any extraneous assumptions about an occurrence, then what is left is usually the truth. But that is not necessarily the way conspiracy theories work, however. Either Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, or a plot unfolded to conceal his birthplace and install him as president.
Either vaccines are safe and effective, or hospitals and health organizations in the world are covering up the facts. That said, legitimate conspiracy theories generally have a basis in fact. Senators conspired to murder Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. Southern sympathizers conspired to assassinate Abraham Lincoln and members of his cabinet in 1865. There has been a conspiracy theory for every major news event since then. But why?
The seemingly farfetched nonsense of most conspiracy theories may be attempts by humans to make sense of confusing or threatening situations that have affected society in some large way. After a national trauma like a school shooting or after a manmade disaster (such as 9/11), people feel safer when they are able to attribute an underlying pattern to shocking events. A lone gunman? No, it was the Mafia or the CIA. Hijackers in planes? No, perhaps by the deep state.
People do not want to admit that just a single individual could have the power to drastically change the course of history. However, consider the case of Gavrilo Princip. He was in the right place at the right time on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s car stopped in front of a café where he was sitting. The assassination of Ferdinand started World War I and changed the course of the 20th century and beyond.
Out of World War I came the Russian Revolution, which thrust communism onto the world stage in 1917. Likewise, as a result of World War I, the Middle East became divided by European powers, and World War II was also a direct result of the first. From these events, communism spread to China, and China pushed it into Southeast Asia. Then followed the Korean War, and on the other side of the world, Cuba became overthrown by Castro. Events continued to cascade down through history in a chain of cause and effect, resulting in the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the perpetual unrest in the Middle East.
While it is impossible to say that the actions of Gavrilo Princip directly caused all of these events, it is easy to imagine that the 20th century and what has transpired so far in the 21st century might have looked very different had he not pulled the trigger on that fateful day in 1914. (And Princip actually was part of a conspiracy.) So, perhaps there is something more than fluff to some of today’s popular conspiracy theories after all. On that note, let’s take a look at three of them …
In the summer of 1947, a rancher discovered unidentifiable debris in his sheep pasture outside Roswell, New Mexico. Although officials from the local Air Force base asserted that it was a crashed weather balloon, many people believed that it was the remains of an extraterrestrial “flying saucer.” Although flying saucers, lights in the sky and UFOs have been reported for centuries, the crash at Roswell seemed to precipitate a rash of UFO sightings, rumors of secret government bases and persistent conspiracy theories about a government plot to hide the existence of alien visitors to Earth.
One morning around the middle of June, 1947, about 75 miles from the town of Roswell, New Mexico, a rancher named William Brazel found something unusual in his sheep pasture: a mess of metallic sticks held together with tape, chunks of plastic and foil reflectors, and scraps of a heavy, glossy paper-like material. Unable to identify the strange materials, Brazel called Roswell’s sheriff. The sheriff, in turn, called officials at the nearby Roswell Army Air Force base. Soldiers fanned out across Brazel’s field, gathering the mysterious debris and whisking it away in armored trucks, and Brigadier General Roger Ramey explained that it was merely a crashed weather balloon.
At that point, that seemed to be the end of it. The wreckage was moved to Carswell Air Force Base (near Fort Worth), and everything was brushed under the carpet. That is until 1978, when UFO researcher Stanton Friedman dusted off the case, and shortly thereafter, popular fascination over the “incident” exploded. Witnesses to the crash and their relatives described for Friedman a destroyed flying saucer that broke into two wreckage fields. Many of those witnesses saw aliens in the mangled craft and then transported to a top-secret site.
To anyone who had seen the debris, it was clear that whatever this thing was, it was no weather balloon. Some people believed―and still believe―that the crashed vehicle had not come from Earth at all. They argued that the debris in Brazel’s field must have come from an alien spaceship. On July 8, 1947, a press release was issued from the Roswell Army Air Field. This initial release acknowledged the crash and claimed that a “flying disc” had been recovered, leading to the famous Roswell Daily Record headline: “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region.”
And there were plenty of witnesses to offer testimony to stoke the flames. Friedman found Major Jesse Marcel, who said the real wreckage was switched at Carswell with actual weather balloon parts. Why were the “weather balloon” materials given such attention? Air Force personnel were at Brazel’s field within hours, and the wreckage was spirited away on a B29 and delivered by Colonel Thomas J. DuBose, who met the plane on the tarmac at Carswell and hand carried the remains in a sealed canvas mail pouch.
The problem with the Army’s weather balloon cover-up story is that prior to the discovery of the crash, civilians had reported sightings of flying discs in the area. That said, a problem with the Roswell UFO conspiracy theory is that there are very few credible witnesses; only seven people saw the crash’s wreckage, and of those, only five actually touched it. Since then, thanks to this incident’s popularity, pieces of “evidence” brought to light that are either false or outright hoaxes. For example, five years ago, two researchers believed they had pictures of aliens, but these turned out to be photos of a mummified child in a museum display.
As a result of growing interest in the Roswell incident, the Air Force came clean in 1994. They acknowledged that the crash in reality was Project Mogul, a nuclear weapons testing surveillance operation. The Air Force even addressed the reports of alien bodies by suggesting that they were just test dummies. Naturally, and as one might expect, conspiracy theorists discounted these statements as simply another layer of the cover up.
There are exactly 143 minutes of video footage from the Apollo moon landing. According to NASA, that footage was captured by a host of state-of-the-art camera equipment that recorded every aspect of this historic event. Since the idea of a human visit to the moon was too fantastic a concept to accept for some people who either could not believe it was possible or who could not cope with its implications, they instead tried to prove that it never happened―that it had all been faked.
The belief that it was a fraud started before even the moon landing itself had occurred. As soon as the first capsules had been launched, there were those who asserted that the images were fake. Why would the U.S. government go to all this trouble? John F. Kennedy had vowed to place an American on the moon by the end of the decade, and the stakes involved with the Space Race between us and the Soviets held far-reaching implications for national pride and defense. There was a lot of motivation for the U.S. to land first on the moon. If that weren’t possible, then making it appear as if we had would still have a profoundly positive effect upon the world’s perceptions of our superpower status. But if this is what happened, how did it happen?
The conspiracy theory started with one man, William Kaysing, who in his book We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle, suggested many of the mainstays of the moon-landing conspiracy theories. These include the waving flag on the moon, the inconsistent shadows in pictures even though there is only one source of light there (the sun), the lack of a blast zone where the Apollo lander came down onto the moon’s surface, seeming special-effects props such as fake rocks and wires used to suggest weightlessness, the lack of stars in the images and the most important part―who filmed Neil Armstrong’s first steps onto the moon?
Kaysing suggested that the astronauts, just before the rockets left Earth, were taken to a soundstage in Nevada where special effects were combined with expert movie making to produce the footage of the United States’ “greatest accomplishment.” Who in 1969 would have been capable of staging such a believable moon landing? Director Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey had wowed audiences just the year before the Apollo landing. Through its realistic portrayal of outer space settings and the moon. Why couldn’t NASA’s “faked” moon landing footage look just as authentic? A skilled director such as Kubrick had already done something similar for the cinema. This idea was so compelling that some conspiracy theorists wondered if the government had actually hired Kubrick himself.
Many conspiracy theorists believe this happened, and that the proof came years later when Kubrick adapted Stephen King’s The Shining to the silver screen.
If this conspiracy is true, then this film also could be a confessional for Kubrick. Jack Torrance, the father character in The Shining, is a writer who they hired to care for the declining Overlook Hotel through a harsh, long winter. If the Overlook Hotel represents America and the winter symbolizes the Cold War, then Torrance might function as an alter-ego for Kubrick who, by helping to fake the moon landings, served as a caretaker for America’s reputation at this time in world history.
There is more fodder for this conspiracy in the details of The Shining. Jack writes over and over again, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. However a few of the entries start with A11―as in Apollo 11. Danny, Jack’s psychic son, encounters the ghosts of dead twin girls in the hallway of the hotel. Danny also wears an Apollo 11 sweater in the movie. As Danny stands up in one scene, he seems to launch himself toward Room 237. Which happens to be the distance from Earth to the moon in thousands of miles. (King had originally written the room number as 217. Why else would Kubrick change it?).
Is there any truth to this reading of The Shining? After all, if we landed on the moon six times between 1969 and 1972, why haven’t we ever gone back?