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10 Controversial Theories Behind Wartime Tragedies

by Jo Rodriguez
fact checked by Jamie Frater

War often brings out the worst in humanity. Tragedy befalls countless people, military and civilian alike, so it can be tempting to start looking for reasons why. While some explanations are widely accepted, others have become controversial and remain hotly debated.

10Iran Tricked The United States Into Invading Iraq

To date, the Iraq War has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Coalition soldiers. Some estimates of Iraqi casualties are as high as half a million as well. With the emergence of insurgent factions such as ISIS, there seems to be no end to the violence in the region.

Many point to the ill-advised decision of the United States to go to war against Iraq. While the official explanation for the invasion was for the purpose of finding weapons of mass destruction, speculation regarding a hunt for oil and gold have proven to be quite popular. Some have blamed Ahmed Chalabi, formerly dubbed “The George Washington of Iraq,” for urging the United States to oust his mortal enemy, Saddam Hussein, and supplying falsified information about Iraq’s nuclear program. They claim that Chalabi might have been in cahoots with another target of hawkish elements in the United States: Iran.

Others claim that Iran might have been behind it all, and Chalabi and other defectors may have unwittingly been used by Iran to further its agenda. One such Iraqi defector was believed to have prioritized the interests of Iran over America, and several documents concerning Iraq’s nuclear program were determined by experts to be forgeries. They were initially written in Farsi by an Iranian scientist before being translated to Arabic.

9The Indo-Pakistani War Of 1971 Was A Global Conspiracy

Between March and December 1971, around 2–3 million civilians were killed in Bangladesh (known as East Pakistan at the time) during its War of Liberation against Pakistan. When Pakistani armed forces rolled in, they slaughtered millions and displaced even more. These atrocities went unchecked until India fought back on the side of Bangladesh, forcing Pakistan to surrender and recognize the tiny nation’s independence.

A fellow at the University of Oxford named Sarmila Bose, however, has claimed that many of of the atrocities committed by Pakistan have been exaggerated. In her book, she also claimed that many facts about the war have been distorted and that some in the Bangladeshi camp were equally guilty. She defends her research from those who she says see it as a “betrayal” by stating that they are simply “uncomfortable with the truth.”

According to another report, children in Pakistan are being taught “hocus pocus” during their formative years. Much of what is taught in school about the war are conspiracy theories, with no mention of the atrocities committed by the Pakistani military. Some textbooks contain excerpts about a fictional group of 10 million Hindus living in East Pakistan who were said to be spying on behalf of India to strengthen its economic position in the region. Other lessons tell students about a “global conspiracy” between India, Russia, and the United States to gang up on Pakistan.

8The Casualties Of The Yugoslav Wars Were Highly Exaggerated


Photo credit: Michael Buker

The Srebrenica Massacre of July 1995 saw the cruel slaughter of over 7,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys. Over 20,000 civilians were also displaced, leaving the hapless individuals to fend for themselves amid the chaos of the former Yugoslavia.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) concluded that the killings and expulsion of civilians was tantamount to genocide, and the United Nations accepted blame for its failure to protect the populace. Decades later, in 2010, the Serbian National Assembly apologized for failing to prevent the killings.

The tragedy was viewed in a different light by other individuals, however. Diana Johnstone, an American writer, publicly challenged the facts presented by the media, claiming that there was “no evidence whatsoever” of genocide. While her book was rejected by publishers in Sweden, an alarming number of supporters defend her work.

Ed Hermann, another academic, founded the Srebrenica Research Group, which aimed to whitewash the incident and contradict the findings of the UN and the ICTY. George Bogdanich, producer of a pro-Serb film, also aided in publishing a revisionist report on the events. These “findings” report the true figure of casualties as no more than 700.

7Lincoln Instigated The Civil War For Personal Gain

The curious idea that the Union initiated the Civil War—specifically, that President Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans maneuvered the nation into a catastrophe that lasted years and devastated the countryside for selfish reasons—has persisted to this day. This theory was mostly perpetuated by members of the Confederacy, who claimed that they simply defended themselves against the Union’s hostilities.

The resurgence of Lincoln’s popularity, especially his portrayal in the media as a calm soul in the face of obstinate political opposition and even a vampire hunter, glosses over some of “The Great Emancipator’s” more problematic qualities. We’ve previously reported that Lincoln regularly called black people “n—s” and allegedly planned to send them to Panama instead of releasing them to live in peace in the United States. Such unflattering and little-mentioned facts are often exploited to fuel the fire of this theory.

Another incident claimed as evidence of the theory was Lincoln’s plan to supply Fort Sumter. This act was initially viewed with trepidation by Congress, who believed that it would signal hostilities with the South. Lincoln went ahead with the charade anyway, even considering the mission a “success.” The war would thus become his coup de grace, furthering his political career.

Another theory states that the Civil War was less about philosophic reasons for preserving the Union and ending slavery and more about ensuring that the massive revenues the government received from the South kept flowing in. Proponents of this theory cite as evidence an incident prior to the commencement of hostilities in which Lincoln allegedly assured concerned parties that he supported slave-catchers and bandits who were sent to kill or capture runaway slaves.

6The Halifax Explosion Was An Act Of Sabotage

On December 6, 1917, the French munitions ship Mont Blanc collided with the Norwegian Imo in the port city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Mont Blanc burst into flame as it slid onto the harbor, and within minutes, the ship suddenly exploded. The thunderclap and fire instantly killed 1,800 people, injured an additional 9,000 (including over 200 who were permanently blinded), and destroyed 1,600 homes. The incident, called the Halifax Explosion, was studied years later to gauge the potency of atomic weapons.

Just three days after the grim event, an infamous theory spread among the surviving citizens and throughout Canada. Proponents believed that the Halifax Explosion was not an accident but an act of sabotage designed by the Central Powers to cause as much death and destruction as possible. A local newspaper fueled the controversy by reporting the arrests of 16 enemy civilians in an operation to round up all the German people in the city.

Doubt was also cast on the crew of the Mont Blanc, who bailed out of their ship instead of attempting to avert the disaster. Citizens believed at the time that this signified the lack of interest among French-Canadians to “share the burden” of the war effort.

5The Jews Caused The Armenian Genocide

We’ve previously discussed an outrageous conspiracy theory that the Jews were actually the chief architects of the Holocaust. Amazingly, the same theory also surfaced with regards to the Armenian Genocide.

The ethnic cleansing carried out by the Ottomans against the Armenians from 1915–1916 was largely forgotten during that time period, as the First World War had reached its pivotal point. About 1.75 million Armenians were deported, resulting in an estimated 600,000–1,500,000 deaths, in addition to mass killings and starvation.

The perpetrators appeared to be the Young Turks, a faction which sought to reform the decadent Ottoman Empire, but some have claimed that this faction was actually led by Jews. For instance, a 1929 book stated that the Young Turks were comprised of displaced Balkan Jews. Similarly, a Jewish man named Emmanuel Carasso was said to be a founding father of the movement. He allegedly set up a secret society, which included the top brass of the Young Turks, in his Masonic lodge in Greece.

Another theory postulates that the killings were a “fair price to pay” for control of the oil-rich provinces in the region. The Rothschilds had a keen interest in the oil fields of Baku in Russia, but they needed a way to transport these resources to the Suez. Over a million people needed to be deported and displaced to make way for these acquisitions.

The Ottomans welcomed conspiracy theories, and even supported one themselves, alleging the involvement of Armenian separatists in undermining its war effort. This belief actually reached Imperial German ears, who remained unimpressed.

4World War I Was An Illuminati Plot

It’s easy to blame catastrophes and disasters on secret organizations who plot for global domination. According to some historians and conspiracy theorists, World War I was among such catastrophes. The theory starts by preposterously claiming that the British royal family had ties to prominent Jewish businessmen. Indeed, some believe that Queen Victoria actually had children sired by a member of the Rothschild family.

After establishing that connection, the theory turns to the precarious situation in Europe. Germany had become a thriving nation and was perceived as a threat to the interests of the New World Order, they say. The ambitions of the Vaterland needed to be curbed, and one assassin’s bullet, combined with the entangled web of alliances, would do the job.

Finally, theorists point to the American entry into the turmoil. The sinking of the Lusitania, while not enough to provoke the United States into the war, still pushed the agenda of hawkish elements. Various well-connected families of bankers and economists, the theorists say, lobbied the civilian liner to carry munitions, and Winston Churchill may have known of this particular information. Churchill might have also known the whereabouts of German submarines patrolling the hostile seas and ordered the Lusitania’s escort to steam back to port, leaving over 1,000 people to a gloomy fate in the depths of the Atlantic.

Proponents of this theory claims that when all these factors are taken into account, the end of the war and the creation of the League of Nations was, in effect, the first step toward a one-world government.

3Jewish Capitalists And President Woodrow Wilson Kick-Started Every Russian Tragedy In The 20th Century

Every tragedy that befell Russia throughout the 20th century, from the wars and insurrections that followed the establishment of Communism to Stalin’s purges and intentional famine, were all believed by conspiracy theorists to have been the work of Jewish capitalists.

The theory goes back to one pivotal moment during the First World War: Lenin’s return to Russia aboard a sealed train from Germany on April 16, 1917. Among his traveling companions were his great love, Inessa Armand, and $10 million to fund the Bolshevik Revolution. Most have readily accepted that the plan was hatched by Germany in order to facilitate Russia’s surrender and thereby bring the bulk of its forces to the Western Front, but conspiracy theorists claim that the plot involved Jewish capitalists and politicians across Europe and the United States.

For instance, one author has asserted the dubious claim that President Woodrow Wilson aided Leon Trotsky, another Communist revolutionary, in entering Russia with an American passport. Other theorists have claimed that prominent British figures, such as Lord Alfred Milner, financed the revolution and that several wealthy families owned or controlled various industries within Russia, chiefly oil. The Rockefellers allegedly contributed $750 million in loans for oil-rich properties in the Caucasus. After coming to power, Lenin was said to have deposited large amounts of gold bullion in the private accounts of his wealthy benefactors.

2Hitler Actually Saved Europe From Communism


Photo credit: Spiridon Ion Cepleanu

During a conversation with Finnish Field Marshal Mannerheim, Adolf Hitler spoke of how aghast he was when he found out about the millions of men and the thousands of vehicles and armaments that Russia had amassed on its western borders. Hitler argued that such a huge number of troops surely meant that Russia intended to do more than put up a defense.

Vladimir Rezun, a Soviet intelligence officer who defected to Britain in 1978, wrote in several books that Hitler’s suspicions might have been correct. Under the pseudonym Viktor Suvorov, Rezun stated in his 1990 book Icebreaker and other follow-ups that from what he had learned during his time with the Spetsnaz and GRU, Stalin had indeed planned to strike Europe to “liberate” it with the brute force of Communism.

This was allegedly planned to take place in early 1941 but was significantly delayed for months. By the time it was scheduled to commence, Hitler already launched Operation Barbarossa, not as a means of attaining lebensraum (or “living space”) for Germany but to save the West by preemptively striking the Soviets before they could muster their forces.

Some alleged eyewitness accounts reinforced this belief, though they were never corroborated. One such account claims that the Wehrmacht found numerous storehouses, makeshift airfields, tanks, and even airborne Soviet troops. If true, this was surely excessive for a defensive war, and it would be hard to argue that Stalin was unaware of Germany’s plans.

While the belief in a planned Soviet invasion of Europe was not new, Rezun’s work gained him an unusual following and an enormous number of critics as well. Although historians have pointed out the many fallacies and inaccuracies in his work, his controversial theory remains popular in certain circles in Russia and Germany.

1The Rape Of Nanking Never Happened

On December 13, 1937, one of the ugliest massacres in history occurred in the city of Nanking in China. Part of the growing Sino-Japanese conflict, the Rape of Nanking, as it came to be known, saw the ruthless murder of around 200,000 civilians. Many were women and children, who were raped and mutilated. The atrocity committed by the Imperial Japanese Army shamed its commanders and politicians after the end of World War II, but revisionist theories persisted in the ensuing years.

In 1971, right-wing conservatives claimed that the entire fiasco never happened. Journals such as Every Gentlemen allowed these views to circulate among the public, while some books simply advocate the absolution of Japan. It was China, they say, who was to blame for committing these atrocities.

Japan’s Ministry of Education considered the book Nanking Incident an official history text on the time period. The book reduced the casualty estimates to around 38,000–42,000 unnecessary deaths, since the “killing of captured soldiers must not be considered a massacre.”

Ishihara Shintaro, former Governor of Tokyo and member of the Japanese Diet, stated in an interview in Playboy that the Nanking Massacre never happened. “It was all made up by the Chinese . . . it was a lie.” Of course, Ishihara had also called on the Japanese government to embrace the use of nuclear weapons.

The topic remains a sensitive issue in Japan. In February 2014, Naoki Hyakuta, a senior member of the broadcasting company NHK, caused outraged indignation among aggrieved parties and historians when he publicly denied that the massacre took place. However, the Japanese government determined that his statement did not violate broadcasting laws.

Jo is saddened knowing of the tragedies that befell countless people during war. He is even more upset at how others have tried their best to somehow find alternative and highly far-fetched theories. You can contact him via email.

fact checked by Jamie Frater