Progressive Writers Bloc

The International Flat Earth Society

By Uncle Bill Warner

Have you have heard of the Flat Earth Society? They refuse to accept the scientific evidence that they are inhabiting a sphere, and offer evidence of their own that the earth is really shaped like a pentagonal pancake. "Its flat where I live!" What happens to planes and ships that are lost? They just went off the edge and disappeared. It is an obvious, albeit clever, put on.

There are a lot of distortions of the truth that have been making the rounds for years that are not so obvious. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda, is purported to have said, "If you repeat a big lie often enough, people will come to believe it." Now if you accept the big lie theory, how do you enlighten people who, when presented with evidence that what they have come to believe by hearing it over and over is spurious?

Eric Hoffer in his book "The True Believer" made a good case for a certain kind of personality (which we might call a fanatic) who will continue to believe something even after there is overwhelming evidence that it is a falsehood or, even more dangerous, a half-truth. Believing fulfills a need with them, and in their minds attacking a false belief is the same as attacking them personally. I'm sure you know someone like this. "Don't confuse me with the facts!"

There are, however, less obvious hoaxes out there which can cause a lot of mischief among us. These are usually concocted to advance political agendas, and are everywhere these days on the Internet: faked-up photos show John Kerry and Jane Fonda together, Tom Daschle with his left hand over his heart saying the pledge, or maybe just a faked-up snapshot of an iceberg supposedly taken by a diver. You can't really believe your eyes anymore, even if you are from Missouri.

Then there are all of the hoaxes involving Hillary Clinton snubbing Gold Star Mothers, Congressmen not paying into Social Security, Jane Fonda passing confidential notes from prisoners to their North Vietnamese captors, Target stores funding Gay and Lesbian Causes, or Captain Kangaroo saving Lee Marvin's life on Mount Suribachi. Check out these and many others at, which gives the background on hundreds of dubious stories and either labels them true, false, or not proven one way or the other. It is hard to find the truth these days, but a good rule of thumb is "If it looks like BS, sounds like BS, and smells like BS, it may well be BS." Look it up on Snopes. If their research does not jibe with your faith, it won't make any difference, now will it?

Hoaxes which have achieved world-class success are often planted stories that have made the rounds many times, like US 7th Cavalry soldiers throwing Indian children into the air and catching them on their bayonets (revived in the 30's, but with Japanese soldiers and Chinese babies). Many people even today still believe the politically-motivated claim that Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Repeat a lie often enough and it passes into the realm of "folk knowledge."

During the first Gulf war, many people believed President Bush when he told our servicemen the story that Iraqi soldiers invading Kuwait pulled 312 premature babies from the incubators and threw them on the floor to die. Even after the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the U.S., the source of this hoax, admitted it was all made up, and that she had been in Washington DC at the time she was supposed to have witnessed it, some people continue to this day to believe the discredited story! What started as a hoax, for a number of true believers, is "fact."

There are people who still believe Iraq today has weapons of mass destruction, well-hidden of course, because they have heard it repeated so often by the media and the President. During the Vietnam War, the folks trying to discredit the peace movement circulated a story about how anti-war demonstrators were spitting on returning servicemen, even though there was never a shred of evidence to support the story. A lot of people still believe this hoax because they WANT to believe it to help justify their feelings about the peace movement. And then there are all the myths about the Jews planted by the Nazis in the 30's and 40's.

I think that anti-hoax sites like Snopes provide a great service, as it makes it easy to check out stories that push credibility to the limit. The true believers, of course, will always believe, despite any evidence to the contrary. The many people who have not yet become emotionally attached to the modern urban legends (hoaxes) will be able to check out their doubts easily. Pull up on your browser for some really interesting examinations of what so many of us think we know for sure as "fact". Be skeptical. And try not to sail off the edge of the earth....

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