There's an old saying that history is written by the victorious — but that doesn't mean later generations have to believe it. There have always been whispered suspicions — or in some cases, broadly proclaimed suppositions — challenging the generally accepted "truth" about major events like the deaths of the rich and famous or facts about wars or other significant events. Some of these theoretical histories — like the assassination of JFK — have created virtual cottage industries around alternate versions of the story. Most of us just like a good mystery, regardless of the truth.
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Here are five conspiracy theories that have stood the test of time.
1. The attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec.7, 1941
Official statement: The United States was completely surprised by the attack.
Alternate theory: Almost from the time of the attacks, it was questioned how the U.S. could not have known about the attack in advance. Several Japanese secret codes had already been cracked, making a completely covert planning of the event by the Japanese unlikely. A passenger ship going from San Francisco to Hawaii shortly before the attack is known to have reported suspicious radio signals, so why didn't the more sophisticated military equipment detect the same? The Japanese later proclaimed that no radio transmissions were used to coordinate the attack, but the puzzling signals received by the luxury liner have never been explained.
Other conspiracy theorists have cited opinions ranging from FDR's eagerness to enter World War II to the 1994 declassification of an official Navy memo dated months before the attack that outlined several ways to provoke an attack by Japan. That, according to the memo, would be cause for the U.S. to enter the war.
2. The creation of the New Testament
Official statement: For a multitude of Christians throughout the world, the New Testament is believed to be the factual account of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
Alternate theory: Over the centuries, numerous alternate interpretations of the accuracy of the events chronicled in the New Testament have been proposed. Author Dan Brown took some of those theories to the bestseller list with his novel "The Da Vinci Code." Fingers are pointed at the Vatican and secret societies for withholding concrete information about everything from the dating of the Shroud of Turin to Jesus' alleged survival of his crucifixion.
3. The deaths of many friends and acquaintances of former President Bill Clinton
Alternate theory: In 1993, a group called the American Justice Federation questioned (by way of a published list) the deaths of 34 people with varying degrees of closeness to Clinton who died, as official accounts attest, from suicide or accidents or unsolved murders. The federation declared this to be a high and suspicious number of deaths surrounding one person. The insinuation is that Clinton had people who were liabilities to his political career assassinated.
4. The October 1943 disappearance of the naval destroyer the USS Eldridge
The USS Eldridge sometime around 1944. The ship is alleged to have been a part of a 'cloaking' technology experiment gone awry. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons)
Official statement: This never happened.
Alternate theory: A top-secret experiment known as the Philadelphia Experiment caused the Eldridge to "disappear" from every type of detection devices. This would make, in case of war, a guarantee of complete surprise of attack on U.S. enemies. Some conspiracy theorists claim that the experiment was so successful that the Eldridge actually teleported from Philadelphia to a seaside location in Virginia. The development of this startling technology was not pursued, however, due to the grievous harm and horrendous deaths caused to the ship's crew by the event.
5. The harmless broadcast of television programming
Official statement: What the viewer sees is the entirety of what is broadcast.
Alternate theory: Some theorists claim that the government has instigated a system whereby subliminal images of standard and biological warfare are somehow linked to outside terrorism and then transmitted along with the regular broadcast. This will ensure the government's ability, with the peoples' support, to go to war for any "true" reason they put forth in the future.
Other conspiracy theories involve HIV/AIDS (created by a secret branch of the U.S. government), the addition of fluoride into public water systems (actually instigated by chemical manufacturers to mask the disposal of hazardous waste), and the British royal family (who are actually reptilian outer-space aliens trying to control humans).
It's just human nature to suspect all statements or situations. There's little doubt that new theories regarding everything from the identity of Jack the Ripper to the cause of Marilyn Monroe's death to the reality of the Apollo moon landings will be put forth and debated in the future.