Mars Earth NASAThere’s no shortage of candidates for the cause of the mass extinctions of prehistory. But experts have found flaws in every one.

Asteroid impact at Chicxulub, Yucatan clearly played a role in the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 66,000,000 years ago, though scientists point to the serious disruptions that had begun hundreds of thousands of years before with the basalt flows of the Deccan Traps.1 Giant basalt lava flows that poisoned the atmosphere and oceans played a role in four or perhaps all five major extinctions. But other enormous basalt flows have not caused extinctions, nor did they cause the tsunamis associated with various extinctions.2  Researchers have suggested many other mechanisms, but there’s no consensus at all.

Lurking in the background, however, is a quite plausible cause, one that would have possessed the power to set off the volcanic activity, air pollution, mass wasting, sea level shifts, loss of oxygen in oceans, climate changes, and other phenomena associated with the extinctions.

The Martian Theory Continue reading »

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9112001terrorismThe apparent misdeeds and cover-ups of the administration of George W. Bush related to the terrorist attacks of 2001 remain in historical limbo.  Neither presidents, nor the Congress, nor the media have gotten to the bottom of these tragic events.  (The 9/11 Commission Report, while providing hundreds of useful details, did not ask fundamental questions and so must be considered in effect a cover-up.)  As a result, the American public has not come to closure on the 9/11 attacks or on the anthrax mailings of 2001, nor is there a shared understanding of such a critical issue as the real reasons that the US attacked Iraq in 2003.

These failures have left the field open to wild speculations regarding these events, generally termed “conspiracy theories”, though this term obscures the crucial distinction between elaborate prospective plots involving many actors (silly in the context of an open society) and retrospective cover-ups that government officials who have made embarrassing mistakes are all too prone to engage in (very realistic and plausible).  However, it is also true that simple prospective plots involving two or three individuals can occur.

Failure to reach a full, shared understanding of major events that led to unending wars and occupations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia as well as to the undermining of civil liberties has helped to alienate Americans from their government and media, a  triumph for America’s enemies.  So we must make every effort to establish a clear common interpretation of what actually happened.

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There are two sides to every story. Judges rightly admonish juries to check out both sides before coming to a conclusion. Our entire system of adversarial justice is built on this principle. But under surveillance by FBI in the 2001 anthrax mailings case, U.S. Army scientist Bruce Ivins committed suicide. So only one side got to tell its version of the story.

Upon closing the case on February 19, 2010, FBI issued an Amerithrax Investigative Summary that concludes that Ivins was the anthrax mailer. The Summary contains serious errors as well as minor ones. It also omits crucial information. So, to ensure a fair outcome, we need to look at it through the eyes of a defense attorney, to make sure that the American people can check out both sides of the story before coming to a conclusion. Continue reading »

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The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 set off a nationwide surge of protests over police brutality against African-Americans.  Derek Chauvin, the police officer who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, has been charged with murder in the second degree.  Worldwide attention to Floyd’s death has focused on racial disparities in the United States as well as on the specific issue of racist police brutality.

But we must consider a different possible motive for the killing. Continue reading »

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American history contains two outstanding wrongs committed against groups of us:  the killing, displacement, and mistreatment of Native Americans and the subjection of African Americans to slavery and ongoing discrimination.  Various thinkers have suggested kinds of reparations for these acts; but views differ sharply on whether reparations are justified, who should pay them, who should receive them, and what form they should take.  Instead of serving to heal our country, reparations have become one more divisive issue.

Yet reparations offer an alluring vision:  via a concrete but also symbolic national gesture, we could take a major step toward healing wounds, overcoming the past, and moving together into the future.  They could counteract the negativity of partisan politics and lead to a happier multiethnic and multiracial society.  So we need to think through how to bring Americans to comprehend and support a plan for reparations that will help us flourish as a united people.

Fortunately, a related issue affords us a precious opportunity Continue reading »

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Every nation has divisive issues.  While most are perennials, over time new issues gain salience as others fade.  At times of rising political and social tensions, such as the US since 1990, divisive issues multiply and take on a sharper edge.

If we wish to cope with these issues or even resolve some of them, it is useful to have a shared understanding of what they are Continue reading »

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The 9/11/2001 attacks ushered in an era of endless wars, fear of terrorism, antipathy to immigrants, and domestic surveillance.  Arguably the most important issue regarding 9/11 is the doings of senior government officials in the run-up to the attacks.  Yet both the media and the 9/11 Commission report have refused to discuss it.  This refusal must raise the suspicion that there was indeed wrongdoing, while some evidence can be found in the open literature of what that wrongdoing was (opportunistic facilitation of the al Qaeda attacks by hardline members of the Israel Lobby seeking a U.S. intervention against Israel’s enemies). Continue reading »

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Historian and former State Department intelligence analyst Kenneth J. Dillon interprets the 2001 anthrax mailings case.  He explains why domestic Mailer theories were mistaken and why we should think that al Qaeda operative Abderraouf Jdey was the real Anthrax Mailer as well as the shoebomber of American Airlines Flight #587 on November 12, 2001.  In all likelihood, US Army scientist Dr. Bruce Ivins was the Innocent Preparer of the anthrax.  Then al Qaeda stole it.  See also Was Abderraouf Jdey the Anthrax Mailer?

  Who Was the Anthrax Mailer?

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In World War I Imperial Germany faced the daunting task of fighting Great Britain, France, and Russia at the same time.  Mindful of the unfairness inherent in passing judgment in hindsight, we can usefully ask whether Germany might have won the war even against these odds had it not made too many serious mistakes.  “What if?” history of this sort can help us understand better what actually happened, and it can provide precautionary lessons for the future.  Here is a list of key German mistakes, omitting errors at the battlefield level, in this colossal human tragedy. Continue reading »

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Hitler and Generals

By all accounts, Nazi Germany made serious errors in waging the Second World War that kept it from achieving much greater success, though whether it could have won the War remains open to doubt, given the American effort to develop nuclear weapons.  Also, Japanese mistakes need to be taken into consideration.  At any rate, asking “What if” questions about German strategy can help us better understand what actually happened.

Here is a list of key German mistakes that can guide our thinking about the many lessons we can learn from this greatest of wars (not included are significant errors at the battlefield level such as at Dunkirk and Stalingrad).  Of course, this list assumes that Germany’s decision to go to war in the first place and with the goals it had for doing so made sense.  I thank my students for their contributions to the list.1

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japanwwiiWhen Japan went to war against the United States in 1941, its chances of winning were slim, indeed.  But it is worth asking what steps Japan might have taken, or what mistakes it might have avoided, to increase the likelihood of greater success and possibly even victory. Continue reading »

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Carroll Quigley (1910-1977) was a noted historian, polymath, and theorist of the evolution of civilizations.

Born and raised in Boston, Quigley planned to pursue a career in biochemistry. But he soon shifted to history, to which he brought an analytical, scientific approach and a questing spirit. After receiving a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D in history from Harvard University,1 he taught at Princeton and Harvard. In 1941 Quigley joined the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where he came to teach a highly regarded course, “Development of Civilization”. Continue reading »

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