Watching BBC television’s ‘Waking the Dead‘ last night, with its tale of MI5 and British Government conspiracy and intrigue, was at once laughable and thought-provoking. The idea that MI5 were some dark and sinister force capable of achieving anything they wished is nullified in personal experience by living in Northern Ireland through fifteen years of the Troubles; the IRA could not be defeated, despite the years of changing security policy.
Yet conspiracy theories are always attractive, perhaps for no reason other than that they cannot be falsified. Evidence disproving them is simply discounted as part of the conspiracy, like the repeated attempts by the US Government to prove that no aliens landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 – you cannot prove a negative.
Conspiracies in current times are very difficult. Nothing now can really be kept from the media. The suppression of stories has become impossible, everything from the humble mobile phone in an individual’s pocket to the all embracing world wide web ensures that events can be around the world in seconds. Of course, just because a story is told does not mean that it is true, human beings are fallible both in their recall and in their interpretation of events.
Sometimes, the falsification of a conspiracy theory would be attractive. I have made repeated attempts to discount a story I remember (though, if it never existed, it is would be very difficult to find evidence to discount it!) There is a vivid memory of a news report in late August 1982 that the Irish military were contemplating intervening if the general election anticipated for that autumn proved indecisive.
There had already been inconclusive elections in June of 1981 and in February 1982 and the expected poll would have been the third time in which the country had voted in eighteen months. The government seemed mired in controversy and the opposition certainly perceived the election campaign they were to fight in terms of a crusade, but was there really a story about the army? Anyone familiar with the Irish army would have known that the suggestion was not credible, but, if there was such a story, where did it come from?
In the memory, the story is printed in The Observer, a British Sunday paper that circulates in Ireland, and I read it sitting on the grass close to the fort at Summer Cove outside of Kinsale in Co Cork. It would seem odd to have a clear recall of a story that never existed in the first place? Why imagine a story that one’s college education would have said couldn’t have been?
Maybe the story was no more than a piece of speculation by an English journalist who thought it fun to suggest that the Irish might have a coup, maybe it was never there. Perhaps I’m as delusional as the character in ‘Waking the Dead’,’ who dreamed of a dead soldier in full uniform climbing out of the bath, or perhaps someone knows something.
Or perhaps it’s all part of a conspiracy . . .