Tag Archives: World War II

Birth of a Conspiracy Theory: There Is No Finland

A study of how a conspiracy theory as absurd as “There is no Finland” can even exist.

by Brian Dunning via Skeptoid

We’ve all heard a lot of really weird conspiracy theories about the world — the Flat Earth, the Hollow Earth, and the world’s governments all conspire to cover up the truth, for some reason. Some of these are so bizarre that they can only be jokes. None more so than the claim that Finland doesn’t exist. The idea here is that where we all think Finland is is actually just ocean, and that Japan and Russia conspired to persuade the world there’s a country there, to cover up the fact that Japan does unlimited fishing and whaling there with no international oversight. Today we’re going to study why a tale so trivially disproven as that can actually survive to become passionately believed by a small but vocal group of conspiracy theorists.


On any map, Finland borders Russia to its east, and its south and west borders are in the Baltic Sea. To its north, Finland connects to Sweden and Norway. Believers in the conspiracy theory have drawn a new map in which most of Finland is simply erased, extending the Baltic Sea all the way to the Russian border; and the northern third of Finland is simply renamed as more of Sweden, thus extending Sweden’s territory significantly. And thus is the Baltic Sea greatly expanded as well, giving those Japanese fishing boats plenty of space to do what they do, unpestered by fishing regulators.

How would such a thing come to be? According to the conspiracy theory, after World War II, Russia found itself short of food (and this is quite true). Japan was facing a related problem, in that they found they’d been overfishing and needed new waters. So they approached Russia with the idea of granting them secret fishing rights in the Baltic; and to hide it from the rest of the world, they’d mutually agree to tell everyone that much of the Baltic Sea was actually a landmass called Finland so there’s no need for anyone to try and regulate fishing there. Russia agreed, and together they built the Trans-Siberian Railway to facilitate the endeavour, and as a quid pro quo, Japan donated much of its catch to Russia.

Continue Reading (or listen) @ Skeptoid – – –

Hitler’s Antarctic Fortress Unmasked

Deconstructing a wild tale about a Nazi military base deep inside Antarctica.

by Brian Dunning via skeptoid

It’s a story that reads like a Captain America comic book: American firepower going after the Nazi super-villain in a remote fortress. Despite World War II having ended, Third Reich scientists were still soldiering on at their hidden lair, planning the doom of civilization. New Berchtesgaden was said to be a Nazi base in Antarctica, established in 1939. Then during World War II, the British launched at least one assault against it. In 1946 the Americans tried the same thing. It wasn’t until 1958 that three nuclear bombs finally destroyed New Berchtesgaden, putting a final end to the Nazi regime. It’s a story so wild that you can scarcely believe you haven’t heard of it before. But believe it you must; because as bizarre as it sounds, parts of this insane tale are actually true.

The story goes that in 1938, the Nazis sent a ship called the Schwabenland to Antarctica to set up a military base, on the orders of Admiral Dönitz. It landed at that sector of Antarctica called Queen Maud Land, and they named their area New Schwabia, after their ship. Deep in the interior of the continent, they established a permanent base and named it New Berchtesgaden, after the Bavarian town overlooked by the Kehlsteinhaus “Eagle’s Nest” retreat.

Nazi surveyors discovered a vast network of underground tunnels including a warm geothermal lake, and some say alien technology was found there. The Nazis used this resource to construct a large underground city, variously called New Berlin or Base 211.

Continue Reading or listen to the podcast at skeptoid – – –

Holocaust Denial

Why some people think the Holocaust never happened, and what to do about it.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Listen here or read transcript below

There are some events in history so profound and personal that they govern the courses of lives even generations later. History tells us that a tenth of the 60 million human beings killed in World War II were Jewish civilians who were murdered for no reaon other than being Jewish. Decades later, some promote an alternative view, a “revisioning” as they call it; a view that claims these people did not die, but that it is a myth created by the Jewish people themselves in order to win unearned sympathy. Today we’re going to take a look at Holocaust denial.

Auschwitz concentration camp

Auschwitz concentration camp

Let’s say an intelligent person decides to sit down at the computer and spend a few hours making an honest and thorough assessment of the evidence, to decide whether the Holocaust happened, and if it did, whether it was really as big as 6 million. I’ll tell you right now: by no means is that person necessarily more likely to conclude the Holocaust was real. For every piece of evidence one can find, thorough and well-reasoned counter arguments exist to contradict it, and are often easier to find. Complicating things further is that any given single piece of information, supporting either argument, can be fairly described as an out-of-context cherrypick. It’s dangerous to assume that the Internet provides a consensus perspective.

I quickly grew conscious of this as I was planning how to frame this episode. My initial idea was to lay out what we know, and how we know it. Pretty basic. However, I have plenty of experience with anti-Semitism, having done episodes on the Rothschild banking family, the Zionist conspiracy, and other topics sure to attract the bigots, so I’m well aware of how the comments are likely to go on this episode. If I were to merely describe the evidence, the comments would be overloaded with contradicting claims so specific and diverse that it’s virtually impossible to respond. So we will take a quick skim over some of that evidence, but my experience is that the more useful strategy in discussing this topic is to prepare the honest researcher for the broader task of being prepared for the incoming onslaught of pseudohistory, and be ready to recognize it for what it is.

Continue Reading @ Skeptoid – – –

Did the Nazis practice magic?

Via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube

After World War II, conspiracy theorists started making increasingly strange claims about the Nazi party: One of the strangest claims concerns magic.

The Queen Mary Is Not Haunted (But I Understand Why You Think She Is)

By John Champion via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

The RMS Queen Mary, a ship of enormous historical import, has been transformed into a roadside attraction whose owners profit off the allure of “ghosts.” Her glorious factual history has been brushed aside in a bid to pander to eager ghost-hunting tourists who aren’t thinking critically about the claims.


“For me, it is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

—Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World

I’ve had a fascination with classic ocean liners for most of my life. In particular, I have had a sincere awe for the RMS Queen Mary (QM) since I first stayed on board in the early 1980s—well after her retirement in 1967 and subsequent conversion into a hotel. She is a thing of beauty—a near-perfect expression of the industrial design aesthetics of the era (conceived in 1929, launched in 1934, maiden voyage in 1936). To say that we don’t make them like we used to is an insulting understatement.

Queen Mary ship swimming pool in the 1930s, “ground zero” for supposed paranormal activity. (Mirrorpix/Newscom)

Queen Mary ship swimming pool in the 1930s, “ground zero” for supposed paranormal activity. (Mirrorpix/Newscom)

Anytime in the last few years that I have even mentioned the Queen Mary, the immediate reaction from people within earshot is, “Ooh! I’ve heard that she’s really haunted!” My first reaction is a kind of amusement: how could one even tell the difference between something being really haunted as opposed to fakely haunted? My next reaction is usually a sigh of, “Here we go again,” and my final reaction more recently has been a kind of offense taken on behalf of the ship. I suppose that since an entire generation has passed since the Queen Mary was in service, the popular understanding of her has morphed into something a little weird and otherworldly rather than something that was a practical means of (elegant) travel. I write this article to express my own dismay but also to try to piece together why the QM has this persistent aura as the “haunted ship” and to make a plea to emphasize the real history of the ship as part of her future.

What Is a Haunting?

haunted queenmary_300pxI suppose the first thing to do is to make a concise case for the problem of claiming that anything is “haunted.” No, I do not believe in ghosts, and at the same time a truly skeptical position must concede that this is not an outright rejection of the possibility that ghosts might exist, only that they haven’t been discovered yet. The problem is that there is no agreement among ghost believers as to what they actually are. If I had to aggregate just from popular ghost-hunting stories, I could paint a picture that ghosts are: sound-producing, light-producing, simultaneously corporeal and noncorporeal representations of “energy” (Electric? Chemical? Nuclear? Magnetic?) that can manipulate elec­tronic devices, temperature, and phys­ical bodies—except for when they don’t. There are so many definitions and assumed qualities of ghosts that it is impossible to come up with a working definition. In science, I would call that a “hypothesis.” Once there is a hypothesis or a working model explaining the properties of ghosts, then one could go about controlled experimentation. No one is at that stage though—be­cause, again, ghosts have no known properties. So, no, the things that are claimed as “evidence” of ghosts (orbs in photos, mysterious sounds on a tape, a creaky door) can’t hold up as scientific evidence until a working hypothesis is established.

Furthermore, of course, anecdotes are not evidence. An anecdote is a personal story of a personal experience. It’s not a reliable way to make a judgment about the validity of a claim. Our minds are subject to bias, misunderstanding, mis­interpretation, and conflation. The more anecdotes that accumulate don’t lead to the credence that the claim is true; it’s simply more “noise.” Personal experience is usually the absolute worst way to make a judgment about the veracity of any claim.

So that’s a little taste of why I don’t buy it when people make the “ghost” claim, but there are far better sources to brush up on your scientific understanding, such as Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World, Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things, and 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True by Guy P. Harrison. While you’re at it, check out Brian Dunning’s excellent (and short!) dismantling of ghost claims in “Do Ghosts Exist?” on his blog at www.skepticblog.org/2012/08/30/do-ghosts-exist. There’s much more that can be said here, but I want to get back to the Queen Mary.

History

haunted_places_queen_mary_250pxThe Queen Mary was one of the crowning achievements of the art and industry of shipbuilding. She was created and sailed in an era after the Edwardian opulence of ships like the Titanic and Lusitania and just before the jet age had arrived. She’s a blend of old hand-craftsmanship with the speed and technology of modern industrial achievement. To put it in twenty-first-century terms, she was a marvel of art and design in the way that the space shuttle amazed onlookers thirty years ago or the 787 Dreamliner and Airbus 380 do today. She held the speed record for crossing the Atlantic for nearly two decades and carried more troops at a single time than any other vessel during World War II.

After an exceptional service history (and with the speed and economy of air travel relegating ocean travel to vacation cruising), the QM was set for retirement in Long Beach as a hotel/conference center/tourist attraction. Since 1967, tourists have visited her in dry dock and gotten a small taste of what travel was like when the “Queens” ruled the seas.

The infamous Watertight Door No. 13. where 18-year-old John Pedder was crushed to death. Photo: flickr

The infamous Watertight Door No. 13. where 18-year-old John Pedder was crushed to death.
Photo: flickr

Retirement, sadly, would be anything but peaceful. As soon as she pulled into port for the last time, the Queen Mary was subjected to numerous “renovations” and conversions that would forever mar her interior. Entire sections have been gutted, rooms and artifacts lost to history, artwork destroyed, and other blunders of huge proportion. The ship’s operations and ownership have changed hands numerous times in the years since, and she has struggled economically. In many respects, the experience has been “dumbed down” with subpar restaurants (with some notable exceptions), chintzy events, and history taking a backseat to exploitative tours—the most prominent and most egregious of which is the “ghost” tour.

In the early 2000s, the “Ghosts and Legends Tour” was installed. It makes use of some very interesting (and otherwise off limits) spaces of the ship. Fantastical tales of the paranormal are woven into the ship’s actual history and presented with a theatrical flair and some low-rent special effects. Tourists see the magnificent first-class pool area but not in any state resembling its days at sea. This version is fading, cracking and filled with fog. The real-life accident with the Curacao—in which 239 sailors perished—is played out for maudlin drama in a former mail hold that plays the part of the “bow.”

The Problem with the ‘Haunting’

On any night at the Queen Mary, groups of tourists who are interested can also take a guided tour from a “paranormal” expert guide. They bump around wav­ing electronics of dubious utility in the air hoping for some “evidence” of an apparition. They can explore otherwise off limits sections of the ship and really take their time exploring while asking each other, “Did you hear something?”

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The Secrets of MKULTRA

How true is it that the CIA conducted unethical mind control experiments on unwitting human subjects?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid

Read transcript below or listen here

It’s one of the most ominous terms in the history of modern governments and intelligence, nearly on a par with the names of Josef Mengele and Pol Pot. For 20 years from 1953 to 1973, the American Central Intelligence Agency funded and conducted tests on human subjects, both with and without their knowledge, in an effort to control minds and personalities for the purpose of espionage. CIA_gray_Logo_250pxMost notorious for administering the psychedelic drug LSD to people without their knowledge or consent, MKULTRA has since become a cornerstone of conspiracy theorists flaunting it almost gleefully as proof of the government’s misdeeds against its own private citizens. And the scary part is that it’s completely true.

The short version of the MKULTRA story is that the CIA spent a long time trying to control minds. After performing all kinds of dastardly and unethical testing, they found they couldn’t reliably achieve their goals, and terminated the program. That’s it. It’s important to keep it in context, both what it was and what it wasn’t. It’s evidence that the government tried something that didn’t work. It’s also evidence that the government has been proven willing to bend the rules; and by “bending the rules” I mean breaking laws and violating both civil rights and ethics at every level. But with this said, MKULTRA does not constitute evidence that similar projects continue today. Maybe they do, but logically, MKULTRA is not that proof.

So let’s look at how this all came about and what exactly happened. The cold war started basically as soon as the smoke cleared from World War II, and the Western bloc and the Communist bloc immediately became suspicious of one another. In 1949, the highest ranking Catholic archbishop in Communist Hungary, Cardinal József Mindszenty, was marched into court where he had been charged with treason for trying to undermine the Communist government. Mindszenty, who was innocent, mechanically confessed in court to a long list of crimes including stealing Hungary’s crown jewels, planning to depose the government, start World War III, and then seize power himself. The CIA watched this, noted his strange behavior while making the confessions, and concluded that he must have been brainwashed. They saw American prisoners of war in North Korea make anti-Amerian statements on camera. Clearly, some response was needed to this apparent Communist ability. They contrived to develop mind control techniques.

ElectroshockOne such project was called MKULTRA. MK meant the project was run by the CIA’s Technical Services Staff, and Ultra was a reference to the highest level of security. But although MKULTRA is the poster child, there were other similar projects. It had spawned from project ARTICHOKE, founded in 1951 to study hypnosis and morphine addiction. There was also MKSEARCH, MKOFTEN, project BLUEBIRD, a whole raft of related programs. The US military, separate from the CIA, also conducted its own research. Project CHATTER, part of the US Navy, ran from 1947 to 1953, when MKULTRA took over.

At the time, both psychology and psychopharmacology were in their infancies. We didn’t really know whether the CIA’s goals were achievable or not; whether it was or was not possible to exert a finely tuned influence on people’s minds. During the cold war’s golden era of espionage, this was a major national security question. The CIA had to know whether this was something they could do; because if it was, it was something the KGB could do right back at them. While nuclear physicists on both sides were building bigger and bigger hydrogen bombs, psychologists and chemists were working to fight the cold war on a much subtler front.

The CIA is not a scientific research organization, and so it needed to contract out the vast majority of this work. The CIA set up front groups, such as the Society for the Investigation for Human Ecology, to fund projects at universities and hospitals in such a way that nobody realized the CIA was involved. Some 86 such institutions are known to have received funding as part of MKULTRA. The vast majority of researchers were unaware that their programs were funded by the CIA, and accordingly, did their work as they normally would according to ethical standards of the day. Some researched forms of hypnosis, some did trials on a variety of drugs intended to work as truth serums, some did various psychiatric or psychological studies trying to learn what made people tick and how that tick might be manipulable. In fact, just about every bizarre experiment you might have read about probably was tried to some degree by some MKULTRA funded researcher. Granted the ethical standards of the 1950s and 1960s were not what they are today, but still there was very little intentional harm done by nearly all MKULTRA funded programs. Nevertheless, the exceptions were exceptional indeed.

HypnotizeAnimatedResearch done at McGill University by Dr. Donald Cameron took patients who came in with minor psychiatric complaints and subjected them to outrageous treatments. Some were given electroshock therapy at many times the normal voltage, some were given LSD, some were given other experimental or illegal drugs, all under the license granted by MKULTRA. Many reports state that some patients left with lifelong disabilities.

The Addiction Research Center at the Public Health Service Hospital in Lexington, KY was also secretly on the CIA’s payroll. Dr. Harris Isbell took patients who came in to seek treatment for drug addiction and gave them massive doses of LSD, heroin, methamphetamine, and psychedelic mushrooms. In one experiment he put seven patients on LSD for 77 days straight.

 I could fill a month of episodes giving such brief examples of the MKULTRA projects that are known. The main thing we know is that it didn’t work.

Nothing that came out of MKULTRA panned out as very useful from an espionage perspective; in short, the CIA was never able to achieve the type of mind control that it wanted, and so the program was eventually terminated (other related programs from other agencies continued for some time with similar results). Because of the secrecy and ethical violations, the CIA destroyed all the documents, with the exception of a few that have turned up here and there over the years from misplaced archives. What remains has all been declassified, and can now be freely downloaded.

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The Government is Not Poisoning You With ‘Chemtrails’

By Dave via IdiotWars: Cracking the Nuts of the Lunatic Fringe

chemtrail UFO culprit_300pxWhen I was a kid I spent a lot of time on planes flying from country to country and a fair amount of time looking at the sky from the ground, fascinated with the space program which was taking us to the moon and beyond. I never looked to the skies with fear or terror, but only saw it as a blank canvas for amazing possibilities.

One of the things I saw in those skies were lots of straight white lines, sometimes in pairs, usually very high up, which my father identified as contrails. He had been a navy flyer in World War II and had seen plenty of them up close and personal He explained that they are lines of frozen water vapor formed when the hot and humid exhaust from a plane’s engines encounters colder air high in the atmosphere and turns to ice crystals, essentially producing artificial clouds behind the plane.

That seemed like a pretty reasonable explanation for many years, but imagine my surprise to be informed that these trails of cloud were not, in fact, mere frozen water vapor, but were actually ‘chemtrails‘; not trails of condensation, but trails of chemicals nefariously released into our atmosphere by the government or by evil corporations or even by aliens for all sorts of arcane purposes, from testing biological weapons on the civilian population to reprogramming our perceptions with psychoactive chemicals to causing mass sterilization as part of a UN depopulation program.

chemcloud_200pxThe basic origin of the chemtrails conspiracy theory seems to be nothing more than people looking up in the sky and seeing contrails and speculating insanely with no actual basis in fact. It’s a particularly bewildering theory because we’ve had a factual, scientific and verifiable explanation for contrails for generations. To look beyond that explanation requires the kind of paranoid mindset that looks at commonplace things and manufactures nightmares out of nothing. It’s Agent Mulder announcing “I want to believe” and then finding what he wants to believe in whether it exists or not. The classic self-fulfilling prophecy with nothing real behind it.

The idea that contrails were actually something more nefarious is based on several bits of mistaken evidence. First, that contrails seem to last far longer than anyone would expect and that they are increasing in number. Second, that they sometimes form seemingly complex or regular patterns or display strange colors. Third, that some airplanes have mysterious tanks and apparatus in their wings. Couple these observations with a belief that the government is generally up to no good and you get such popular explanations for ‘chemtrails’ as that they are methods of dispersing chemicals over the entire surface of the country to drug the population for any purpose from mass inoculation to mind control, that they are some sort of weather modification program to either cause or prevent global warming, and that they are some method of communicating with aliens or terraforming the earth to be more compatible with alien lifeforms.

The behavior of contrails has been pretty thoroughly researched. They are generally found very high in the atmosphere where conditions can be extremely stable and where very low temperatures make it unlikely for ice crystals to melt quickly. Because they are ice crystals at high altitude they can produce a rainbow-like effect which would cause them to change color or appear sparkly when caught by the sun at the right angle. The increasing number of contrails is solely the result of . . .

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What Are the Marfa Lights | Marfa Texas

By Marc Lallanilla via LiveScience

marfa lights 947The Marfa Lights, mysterious glowing orbs that appear in the desert outside the West Texas town of Marfa, have mystified people for generations.

According to eyewitnesses, the Marfa Lights appear to be roughly the size of basketballs and are varyingly described as white, blue, yellow, red or other colors.

Reportedly, the Marfa Lights hover, merge, twinkle, split into two, flicker, float up into the air or dart quickly across Mitchell Flat (the area east of Marfa where they’re most commonly reported).

There seems to be no way to predict when the lights will appear; they’re seen in various weather conditions, but only a dozen or so nights a year. And nobody knows for sure what they are — or if they really even exist at all.

A closeup of the Marfa Lights

A closeup of the Marfa Lights

The Native Americans of the area thought the Marfa Lights were fallen stars, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The first mention of the lights comes from 1883, when cowhand Robert Reed Ellison claimed to have seen flickering lights one evening while driving a herd of cattle near Mitchell Flat. He assumed the lights were from Apache campfires.

Ellison was told by area settlers that they often saw the lights, too, but upon investigation, they found no ashes or other evidence of a campfire, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

During World War II, pilots from nearby Midland Army Air Field tried to locate the source of the mysterious lights, but were unable to discover anything.

A superior mirage

Lovers of the paranormal have attributed the Marfa Lights to everything from space aliens to the wandering ghosts of Spanish conquistadors.

marfa1_250pxAcademics, too, have tried to offer a scientific explanation for the enigmatic lights. A group of physics students from the University of Texas at Dallas concluded that headlights from vehicles on nearby U.S. Highway 67 could explain at least some of the reported sightings of the Marfa Lights.

Another possible explanation is the refraction of light caused by layers of air at different temperatures. This optical illusion, sometimes called a superior mirage or a “Fata Morgana,” according to Skeptoid.com, occurs when a layer of calm, warm air rests above a layer of cooler air.

A Fata Morgana is sometimes seen in the ocean, causing a ship to appear to float above the horizon. The temperature gradients needed to produce this optical effect are common in the West Texas desert.

Glowing gases

Still others speculate the Marfa Lights may be caused by . . .

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