Follow The Strings

February 1, 2024
3 mins read

Get out your National Geographic map of the world and pin it to the wall; then get your colored string or thread, and a box of push pins or thumb pins.

We’ll start with an easy one, with only moderate conspiracy elements: New York to London. Benedict Arnold, who went from American Revolutionary general to traitor and exile in England, where he was, for the rest of his life, at once welcome for having nearly given the British Army control of the important Hudson River… and reviled for having been a traitor, even if it was to the benefit of the country where he spent his last years. Pin a string between New York City and London.

Another easy one: Idi Amin fled Uganda, after his dictatorship was overthrown, and eventually lived out his final years in Saudi Arabia. That means a string between Kampala and Jeddah.

But now let’s get to the conspiracy strings. John Wilkes Booth was supposedly captured, fatally wounded, in a burning barn in Virginia. But when Secretary of State Stanton saw the photo of Booth’s dead body, he said nothing, just wept. Was it because he knew it wasn’t the real Booth, but another Southerner, a Confederate spy, who somewhat resembled him?

As we’ll see later, it’s not always good to be a body double. Movie actors have them, in part to film long shots, to stand in while lights are adjusted, and to appear briefly in public.

British General Montgomery, in WW Two, is known to have had one or more doubles, so German spies would think he was in one place when he was in another. Likewise, Churchill, and probably others… including Vladimir Putin: short Russians somewhat resembling him have had plastic surgery, speech lessons, and blue contact lenses, and appeared, aloof, on balconies and other places where he’d not be closely examined.

Hitler, too, had at least one body double, who may have been sad, at the last moment, to have had the fun of dressing up and being saluted many times in many places. Pin a string in Berlin, and run it to Mato Grosso, Brazil, which Hitler, known until his 1962 death there as “the old German,” reached via Argentina and Paraguay.

The US Congress accepted Executive Order 12333, which states that no person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination. This, often ignored, means that the American government is content to kill foot soldiers -and, as collateral damage, civilians- but not the dictators who are, or seem to be, menacing the US or its leaders.

And so, overthrown rulers can seem safe in their exiles, as, having been overthrown, not voted out, they remain, as some prominent losers still contend, the legal ruler.

A moustache removed or grown, hair color changed, new names, whatever it takes for semi-anonymity. And so long as they keep quiet, or at least don’t plot too obviously, they can remain in their safe havens.

Booth, Lincoln’s assassin, was spirited to Texas by the Confederate sympathizers who’d helped him execute the plot, and a fellow who somewhat resembled him was placed in the barn. The bullet didn’t kill him immediately, and he may have said, rather than “Useless, useless,” or “I’m just a patsy!” But Booth, moustacheless, followed his father’s affection for strong drink, and, after an unhappy marriage in Tennessee, moved to Texas, where he worked as a bartender… who could quote Shakespeare by heart. However, when in his cups, he would hint at his true identity, and the rich, important Southerners who’d saved him, killed him. So his string goes from Washington, D.C., not to Port Royal, Virginia, but to Granbury, Texas.

Conspiracies are fun, aren’t they? You can’t trust anyone about anything.

“They” run everything, don’t they. And we get overwhelmed with contradictory “facts.

And so, don’t believe anything, but believe everything. This could be the paradoxical punishment God gave us because Adam and Eve ate fruit from the forbidden Tree Of Knowledge. “You want to know, do you?” God asked. “Well, try this: I condemn you to believe, with equal fervor and sincerity, mutually contradictory ideas, which you’ll call facts.”

And now, with instant international communications possible, taking the form of podcasts seemingly verifying every point of view, we all go mad the more we know. Naivety is happiness. The more one knows, the less one knows; or the more one believes, the less one can believe.

You can cover the map with pins and strings, running from where he or she was last seen, as definitely as possible; and where they might not be; or the string can hang limp from one pin… or to two or more “destinations.”

And so, what really happened to… pick your missing villain or even hero?

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