Conspiracy theories are hypotheses that represent a sequence of socially significant events, some historical phenomenon, or the course of history in general as a result of a conspiracy organized by a group of people that manage this process in personal, group, or other interests. The theory of global conspiracy excites the minds of millions of people all over the world from ancient times. People believe in the power of the alien or the collusion of doctors, covering thus their fears, inaction, and hope for the future.
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According to a conspiracy theory related to the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt was informed of the impending attack and had not warned military commanders in Hawaii in order to involve the country in World War II while the majority of Americans and, in particular, members of Congress were against entering the war in Europe (King 2012). It is argued that Roosevelt had been warned by the authorities of Great Britain, Australia, Peru, Korea, and the Soviet Union. However, the President did nothing to minimize the US government losses. In this connection, the core issue under discussion is why people believe in the above theory and even support it.
First, in order to analyze the question in-depth, it seems essential to point several crucial moments of this story. December 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft carrier crept to the Hawaiian Islands in the strike distance and hit at 7:55 AM (King 2012). Also, several planes carrying bombs, torpedoes, and depth bombs suddenly attacked the US Atlantic Fleet. The results were disruptive: 343 aircraft were destroyed, 2, 459 soldiers and civilians were killed, and 1, 282 people were injured. Within twenty-four hours after the attack, the United States declared war against Japan.
The conspiracy theory supporters consider that the US government was aware of the preparation of aggression. However, it should be noted that the vast majority of historians do not share a similar suspicion. Therefore, plenty of Americans have heard of this theory in the form of an open question. Most conspiracy theory arguments came from the Day of Deceit book by Robert Stinnett that was published in 2001. The book contains an innuendo over the previous 59 years.
Perhaps, the most suspicious is the fact of the absence of all three US aircraft carriers in the vicinity of Pearl Harbor during the attack. It is logical to assume that knowing about the possible attack, the President should bring the most valuable ships. The events that occurred a few hours before are less known to the public. At 6:42 AM, the four hours before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the midget submarine was discovered by the Japanese Navy (Stinnett 63).
Further, at 7:02, Opana Point, fleet post radar, found the approach of the Japanese aircraft. It was reported to Kermit Tyler, a commander of the post, who took the station operators for breakfast. This inaction is discussed with great suspicion by supporters of conspiracy theories.
Then, ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kimmel was ordered to deploy ships in the defensive formation. During the Japanese aviation attack, US ships were in Pearl Harbor, the sailors slept, and the planes are not dispersed, making them an easy target (Stinnett 72). Also, combined with the fact that the Americans deciphered Japanese diplomatic code called Purple, had some progress in breaking the JN-25 military code, and have access to the Japanese intelligence service, conspiracy theorists consider these events as allowing Japan attacking the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.
It should be emphasized that many other authors do not agree with Stinnett and, in particular, Henry Clausen, who published Pearl Harbor: the final conclusions in 1992. In 1944, the US Secretary of War ordered Clausen, a lawyer, to conduct an independent investigation of the events preceding the tragedy of Pearl Harbor (Clausen 25). The report was declassified before the date of publication of the book. Clausen found plenty of flaws, but nothing to talk about cold-bloodedly planned conspiracy. Roosevelt knew no more than the others. Historians and conspiracy theorists found the only one consensus: Admiral Kimmel was made a scapegoat for the tragedy at Pearl Harbor as almost everything that happened at Pearl Harbor was the result of his orders.
Let us discuss the factors that make people believe in the mentioned conspiracy theory. Sociologists and psychologists have found that conspiracy theories arise after the occurrence of alarm events: acts of terrorism, technological and natural disasters, the death of the famous figures of politics, or economic crises. Although it is impossible to uniquely reject or accept the conspiracy theory, many of them describe the actually existing or existed events. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that these conspirators are so coordinated and accurate. The development of the world is not a one-way process as there is plenty of factors and trends, and sometimes all it occurs deliberately and controllably. However, conspiratologists collect only the necessary arguments discarding those that contradict them.
One of the key causes of conspiracy theories is the secrecy inherent in the political and public activities. While this area of privacy of security services exists, there is the audience that will always have a reason to question the official version of some significant events. There are a number of factors, but probably one of the most significant in this case is that, paradoxically, this conspiracy theory gives people a sense of control (Kenrick par. 7).
A study of psychological phenomena revealed the following features: it is psychologically easier for a person to explain the events in bad faith or the will of individuals as well as their negative traits, not taking into account objective factors of the environment—natural, economic, social, or political. People hate randomness as they are afraid of disorder that can destroy the course of their lives. Speaking as a mechanism against the fear, it turns out that it is much easier to believe in conspiracy. When people have someone to blame, then it is not just a coincidence. Belief in this theory pushes people to control their lives better, explaining the surrounding events.
At the heart of this conspiracy theory, there is a need or a motive to believe in this theory, and it is a psychological trait of thinking that is different from the one based on the evidence. The most difficult thing related to conspiracy theories is that “they’re usually based on farfetched claims that are nearly impossible to disprove, or prove” (Shrira par. 3). In other words, the conspiracy theory is not susceptible to the evidence. If the theory rejects the evidence or gets another interpretation, it is called an airtight argument. First of all, any unusual event will be accompanied by a conspiracy theory. Whatever happens tomorrow, this will be linked to the conspiracy theory.
In this connection, it is crucial to the point that this conspiracy theory meets human needs. Stress, tension, and emotions caused by alarming and frightening events affect the productivity and lead to the formation of the individual needs, a person seeks to satisfy including:
- The need for security;
- The need for group support;
- The need to restore the emotional balance;
- The need for a rational explanation of the ongoing situation;
- The need to place their experiences;
- The need to be heard.
Another reason for believing in this conspiracy theory is stress. Stressful situations impair the ability to think analytically. If people experience a stressful event in their life, they are more prone to a certain type of thinking. Namely, they tend to recognize certain patterns and events which do not exist. Therefore, stressful events can sometimes help to strengthen conspiracy thinking. Thus, the theory itself is a response to the crisis that has happened and arose in connection with the experience.
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However, the continuous support of the theory is the intention to meet the above needs. Kenrick believes that “The human brain is designed for conspiracy theories” (par. 2). The human brain is a complicated mechanism that reacts according to evolutionary peculiarities. In particular, the ancestors of modern people had to worry about safety and response to any threats immediately. Likewise, people are prone to believe in strange, mysterious, and frightening events, even if there is no truthful evidence.
In its turn, the media also contributes to the expansion of this conspiracy theory. For example, in his article posted in The Telegraph, Goddard states that the attack was not a surprise as the US Navy was aware of it. He notes that “The information, contained in a declassified memorandum from the Office of Naval Intelligence, adds to the proof that Washington dismissed red flags signaling that mass bloodshed was looming, and the war was imminent” history is primarily driven by randomness 12 (Goddard para. 3).
This proves the fact that controversies around Pearl Harbor are never to stop as the topic is always among the most disputed ones. No matter how many journalists conduct investigations related to conspiracy theories, supporters are not to become fewer. Another media source tries to explain why people tend to believe in the mentioned theory from the perspectives of psychology. Zimmerman points out that “The American people reeled with a mind staggering mixture of surprise, awe, mystification, grief, humiliation, and, above all, cataclysmic fury” (par. 1). In other words, media might play both a positive and negative role in the conspiracy theory expansion.
Why do people believe in it? The conspiracy theory of an attack at Pearl Harbor creates the illusion of global manipulation. At the same time, it gives meaning to everything that happened as well as a sense of control. Even if the control in the hands of the villains, it is still better than to acknowledge that history is primarily driven by randomness. Another reason is that this theory of conspiracy is to simplify everything. Despite the apparent complexity, it gives an explanation that can be easily understood by people. The real reasons might be too complicated, too numerous for a clear explanation, or might even be incomprehensible to anyone.
Clausen, Henry C. Pearl Harbor: Final Judgement. New York, NY: Crown, 2001. Print.
Goddard, Jacqui. “Pearl Harbour Memo Shows US Warned of Japanese Attack.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. 2011. Web.
Kenrick, Douglas. “Why the Human Brain Is Designed to Distrust.” Psychology Today. N.p. 2011. Web.
King, Jamie. Conspiracy Theories: A Guide to the World’s Most Intriguing Mysteries. Chichester, UK: Summersdale, 2015. Print.
Shrira, Ilan. “Paranoia and the Roots of Conspiracy Theories.” Psychology Today. N.p.. 2008. Web.
Stinnett, Robert B. Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor. New York, NY: Free, 2001. Print.
Zimmerman, Dwight. “Pearl Harbor Conspiracy Theories Live On.” Defense Media Network. N.p. 2011. Web.