I'm no naive starry-eyed optimist. I do believe that human beings have an almost unlimited capacity for evil and lying. But really, really huge conspiracies, like the idea that the Apollo Program was faked or that 9/11 was an inside job, aren't plausible to me.
The most effective way to counter people who insist the moon landings were faked is not to answer every niggling little question they raise. It's to step back and point out the great big unlikelihood at the center of their conspiracy theory. Namely: if the moon landings were a hoax, think of all the people who were in on it. Think of all those guys in Mission Control, most of them engineers, most of whom cared passionately about their work and had no obsessive political agenda. Think of the 42 years that have passed since Apollo 11. That's a lot of time for deathbed confessions. That's a lot of time for anonymous whistleblowers.
No doubt that there are a lot of secrets in the world that we will never know about. I bet there are prominent people in history that we only think died of natural causes or accidents, but were actually murdered. But in general, I'm not one for the conspiracy theorist way of thinking.
Anyway. Osama bin Laden.
Until one week ago I thought there was a pretty good chance he was already dead and had been for some time. Not in a "OMG The US Government is LYING to you sheeple" sort of way, but more like a couple of al-Qaeda goons living in mountain caves had seen him die, but figured The Cause would be better off if the world thought he was still alive. Or his severed head was wrapped in a plastic bag shoved way in the back of Pervez Musharraf's freezer. Or something.
Seems I was wrong.
Now, it's pretty obvious that for the next couple of decades we're going to be treated to theories that this is all a ploy to boost American prestige, or get Obama re-elected, or something.
Here's what I say to those theories.
Let's imagine the consequences if bin Laden's death were faked, and knowledge of the deception were to become public. It wouldn't just be the end of Obama's political career. You know that now-famous photo of the White House Situation Room during the raid on bin Laden's compound? If bin Laden's death were faked and we found out, it would mean a career-ending scandal for each and every person in that room.
More than that, it would severely damage the Democratic Party, far more than Watergate damaged the Republicans. It would destroy the credibility of the U.S. military. It would immeasurably hurt the U.S.'s standing abroad, more than anything George W. Bush ever did.
You might think that the U.S. government and military-industrial complex has the capability to pretend to kill bin Laden and then keep the knowledge that it was a hoax secret forever. And maybe they do. There are probably astonishing secret plots from centuries ago that historians will never, ever learn about, although they probably involved fewer people than the raid to kill bin Laden.
But what if they're not able to keep the hoax under wraps? History is also full of secret plots that got exposed, with disastrous consequences for the plotters. How could Obama & Co. know that they would get lucky and their hoax would stay intact forever, or at least for for the remainder of the lives of everyone involved?
To put it another way, if the White House faked Osama bin Laden's death, then much of the Executive Branch and a huge chunk of the upper echelons of the U.S. military are guilty of recklessness so vast it borders on collective madness.
I don't necessarily believe that what comes out of Barack Obama's mouth is always the unvarnished truth. Doesn't matter that I voted for him once and will probably do so again. (It's better not to feel you can trust politicians whom you vote for; that way, you don't have to deal with either the disappointment or the cognitive dissonance that would inevitably follow.)
But what is easier to believe?
That Osama bin Laden was killed by American troops in the early hours of May 2?
Or that a fairly large group of both Democrats and Republicans, not to mention a couple of career soldiers, decided to stake their own credibility and that of the United States on a gamble that they could keep a secret forever and ever, without even a single person screwing it up?