Monday, April 25, 2011

Why Conspiracies Make Good Fiction-The Top Five

To believe or not to believe, that is the question and one pondered by millions. Here are five of the top most hotly debated conspiracy theories.

5. The End of the World, December 2012--The ancient Mayan calendar (claimed as amazingly accurate) has an end date of 2012. Many researchers believe "something significant" will happen on this end-date, perhaps even a cosmic catastrophe. Plausibility Level: Low. If the Mayans had such prescience, why couldn't they prevent their own civilization from being destroyed? Spawned many books and movies about 2012, though.
4. The Third Secret--The Three Secrets of Fatima are three prophecies given by an apparition of the Virgin Mary to three shepherds in 1917. The secrets were said to be a vision of hell, the end of World War I, leading to World War II and the shooting of Pope John Paul II in 1981. However, much controversy erupted over the third secret, with some alleging the entire contents were not completely disclosed, and could contain information about the apocalypse. Plausibility Level: Low, but fascinating. Great fodder for a story. Novelist Steve Berry had a hit with this one.
3. Aliens at Roswell and Area 51--Were aliens really discovered after a crash in Roswell, New Mexico? Were their bodies taken to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio? Is alien technology being used to develop new weapons and aircraft at Area 51? Plausibility Level: Maybe. It's hard to believe we're alone in this vast universe. Besides, many respected scientists, politicians and military men have provided compelling evidence of UFO sightings. Think about all the movies and books written about this one! Try X-Files!
2. JFK Assassination (and RFK's)/Connection to Watergate--Was there a conspiracy to murder JFK in Dallas and was the assassination of his brother, Robert Kennedy, and the resignation of Richard Nixon connected? Some claim the disasters occurred because all three were involved with the plan to oust Castro from Cuba. Plausibility Level: Likely. Thousands of top-secret documents have revealed the existence of multiple plots to topple the Cuban leader. The subject of countless books, "The Legacy" by Stephen Frey; "Promises to Keep" by George Bernau, documentaries and movies, (JFK) and many TV mini-series, most recently "The Kennedys" on cable.
1. Shadow Government--The New World Order is the name for a global elite believed to be behind the events that have shaped history and current events. Secret societies such as the Bilderbergers and the Illuminati include the who's who of leaders in international politics, industry, and finance. Plausibility Level: Maybe. Powerful people can do powerful things. Most of the thriller writers, including David Baldacci and Dan Brown have used this concept to captivate millions.

Fun to speculate, even more fun to write about. The important thing is not to take any of them too seriously. After all, they're just theories.

Next week: The Top Ten Missing Treasures

Monday, April 18, 2011

Why Conspiracy Theories Make Good Fiction

Conspiracy theories, unsolved mysteries, the riddles of the universe, the end of the world, time travel, crystal skulls, vampires, the secrets of eternal life, UFO's. Great fodder for scores of movies and books. Sets the imagination soaring with thoughts of what if, if only…Things that puzzle us can be both amusing and entertaining. Questions no one has been able to answer intrigue us, obsess us. Why are we here? Where are we going?

Here are ten top conspiracy theories:
10. Apollo Moon Landings Faked by NASA--Believers think this landing never took place--photos altered, no stars in the photos, flag flapping in spite of the fact there's no wind on the moon. Plausibility Level: Low, hard to believe. But made a good movie. Remember "Capricorn One?" Though that was about a faked Mars landing.
9. Jesus' Bloodline-The idea that Jesus had children after marrying Mary Magdalene and that these children then emigrated to France, creating a dynasty known as the Merovingians. The secret is protected by the Priory of Sion. Plausibility: Who knows? Based on the non-fiction best-seller, "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", this theory has been around long before "The DaVinci Code" ever became a mega-thriller.
8. Princess Diana was Murdered--The car crash in 1997 made many wonder if the accident might have been "arranged" by MI5, the British Intelligence organization, because Diana planned to marry a Muslim, Dodi Fayed. Plausibility Level: Maybe. Sometimes there's more to these deaths in high places than meets the eye. She certainly was overshadowing the Royal Family with her activities. However, from many of the biographies I've read, she really had no plans to marry Dodi. Books and movies galore about this one.
7. Pearl Harbor was Allowed to Happen--President Roosevelt allegedly provoked the attack, had foreknowledge of it and covered up his failure to warn commanders in Hawaii. This was done in order to make the U.S. enter the war, since the American public and Congress had been against it. Plausibility Level: Maybe. Other governments had warned the US about the attack, since Japanese codes had been broken. (Even by the US). Plausibility Level: Maybe. It certainly jump started the economy and reversed the American public's thinking dramatically. And Hitler had to be defeated. The non-fiction book "Day of Deceit" and several History Channel documentaries covered this topic.
6. The Philadelphia Experiment: Time Travel--An alleged military experiment where the US destroyer escort, USS Eldridge, was rendered invisible in Philadelphia for a brief period, then mysteriously reappeared in Norfolk, Virginia, 200 miles away. Plausibility Level: Maybe. Based on a scientific application of Einstein's Unified Field Theory dealing with gravity and electromagnetic radiation, it was thought possible to bend light around an object to make it invisible. (Remember cloaking from "Star Trek?") Certainly invaluable for military use. Supposedly a botched experiment to make ships impervious to radar, though the log books and records for the time period in question are hard to find. The subject of many books, two movies, and documentaries. I love time travel books and wish it were possible.

Speculation is fun and fascinating and whether they're true or not , bizarre or believable, these theories really get the writer's mind going, asking that wonderful question: "What if?"

Next week: The Top Five Conspiracy Theories

Monday, April 11, 2011

Memories of the JFK Assassination or How to Learned to Love History

"The Kennedys" mini-series on REELZ channel concluded last night with the assassination of JFK. All in all, I thought the series was entertaining, well-acted, and reasonably accurate, drawing on well-respected JFK biographies. But I was disappointed that the assassination in Dallas was more or less glossed over, with Lee Harvey Oswald depicted as the only assassin. Also, there were factual errors. For example, Abraham Bolden, the first African-American secret service agent on the Kennedy detail, only served JFK in 1961. In the movie, Bolden was shown as still serving in 1963. Bolden was reassigned to duty in 1961 after he complained of racism. In November 1963, he learned of a plot to assassinate JFK in Chicago. JFK's visit was cancelled. When he tried to inform the Warren Commission in 1964 of the Chicago plot as well as misconduct (drinking on duty) by his fellow agents, he was arrested for allegedly taking a bribe and served a six year prison sentence. The principal witness later recanted and Bolden claims he was set up. No information about the Chicago plot was released to the public, probably because two Cuban nationals had been under surveillance. They were never captured. Please read "Echo from Dealey Plaza," Bolden's account of all this for more information. An excellent read. Anyway, "The Kennedys" was still a good show. It brought back my own memories of the assassination nearly forty-eight years ago:

12:30 p.m., November 22, 1963. Set for a long boring afternoon of history, social studies and geography with our equally boring homeroom teacher. 12:40 p.m. The teacher from across the hall enters, looking upset and leans against the wall whispering to my homeroom teacher. Something is wrong. They both look disgusted and my teacher says "Was she hurt?" I think he means our star gymnast, who was carted off in an ambulance after a bad fall earlier that week. Then my mind blanks. Years later, my friends remind me the teacher had told the class the President had been shot and had a TV wheeled into the room. The principal had allowed us to go home early. But I don't remember any of this. All I remember is not taking any of it seriously and goofing around with a girlfriend as we walked through the park in the rain. And it was raining when I crossed a busy street to get to my house. I remember the headlights shining on the dark pavement as I ran across. The porch light was lit and my father was already home, the old 1957 green Buick Riviera parked outside. When I sat in front of the black and white TV, the plane with the President's body was just returning to Washington, DC. It was five o'clock, Central Time. And my father said "You're watching history being made today." I didn't know what he was talking about. It only meant another death and I didn't want to be reminded of it because I had just lost two grandparents recently. I hated cemeteries and I hated death, picking weeds around the graves. It was so depressing. But the next day I watched. And the next day. And the funeral on Monday, when we had off from school. I was riveted and sad but I couldn't stop watching. And my memory of it raining Friday is correct because it did rain on Saturday, November 23, in Washington, DC, when visitors viewed the President's body. The rain that had been in Wisconsin the day before.

From then on, I was hooked, devouring every new book about the Kennedys and the assassination, becoming a skeptic like much of the population--two-thirds according to a 2004 poll--that didn't believe in a single assassin or the single bullet theory. What I don't understand is why two assassins were considered so dangerous? So two people concocted a scheme to murder the President. Why does the existence of only two people signify a sinister conspiracy? Unless there was more to it than that. Why was the government so insistent on covering up evidence of any additional participants and we know they did because they were afraid of possible links Oswald had to Castro and to Russia. Coming just after the Cuban Missile Crisis, this could easily have ignited World War III. And the Kennedy administration was allegedly planning a coup against Cuba set for December 1, 1963. (See "Ultimate Sacrifice" by Lamar Waldron, another excellent read). And why was Lee Harvey Oswald allowed back into the country so easily after defecting to our arch enemy, the Soviet Union? I remember thinking that even as a teenager. It defied common sense. Obviously these questions still stir controversy.

But in spite of the awful events, I became obsessed with history and tragedies and how they could have been prevented, whether it was the Titanic, the Hindenburg, the assassinations, September 11, or the rise of Hitler. I majored in political science and history in college. And it also helped me to develop my 'what if's?' when I write books. Like what if a Presidential candidate long thought dead (RFK) was still alive? ("Sworn to Secrecy") What if the assassination of the Secretary of State was all a mistake? ("A Question of Conspiracy") What if a foreign leader was killed on American soil? ("Time of the Eleven") And my treasure hunt books: "The Secret Sentinel" (Lost Confederate Gold), "The Montezuma Secret" (Montezuma's Lost Gold-One of the Top Five Missing Treasures). Amazing to think how a little twist of history could have changed the world. And when I visited Dallas and stood where Abraham Zapruder stood and afterwards met Robert Groden, a consultant on Oliver Stone's "JFK", he signed one of his books for me. And when I toured the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza, I wrote in the guest book that my love of history had come from the day my father had said…"You're watching history being made today."

Next week: "The Top Ten Conspiracy Theories-My Take"

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Kennedys and Romance

With the debut of "The Kennedy's" mini-series on the REELZ cable channel timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration, it's time to return to Camelot again. While this one does not reveal anything new, it's fun to visit, flaws and all. After all, no one's perfect. The Kennedy family did problems, some of their own making, some not. The period of the early 60's is always viewed with a sentimental eye, blotting out some of the more troublesome things--the struggles over integration and civil rights, the fights over Berlin and Cuba, the latter nearly escalating to nuclear war. Times were not as placid as we think looking back. And having just read "One Minute to Midnight," Michael Dobbs' gripping account of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I realized just how close we came to annihilation. If not for JFK's restraint and insistence on diplomatic solutions in defiance of his generals, none of us would be here today. Yet we do romanticize those times, largely because of the Kennedys' appeal. They represented youth and beauty, grace and style and yes, romance. Beautiful dresses, wonderful culture. They were special times, we believe, innocent times, an era before Vietnam, Watergate, and 9/11 terrorism. Even though, behind the scenes, things were not as perfect as we hoped, we wanted them to be. And still do.

Having lived through those years, but at a very young age, and studying about such mundane matters as the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Aswan dam, we seemed to be insulated from the crises in Berlin and Cuba, but not from the duck and cover drills we all took in stride. When one history teacher suggested a future war might occur in the Middle East, I thought it was nonsense, since everyone in that region was our ally. History can be unpredictable.

And frankly, I wasn't aware of the Kennedys' superstar appeal during their reign. That came later. Since then I've read and re-read every book about the Kennedys and the Kennedy assassinations, (both JFK's and Robert Kennedy's), seen every movie, documentary and mini-series multiple times. I've seen Jackie's dresses up close and personal at the Field Museum in Chicago, I've toured Dealey Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas. I've come to believe in the magic of those times, even though I know down deep they were far from perfect. I just want to believe. I've always been a cockeyed optimist and a romantic. And what's wrong with that?

Next week: Memories of the JFK Assassination