Apropos of Nothing

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Donald Trump at a rally in Laconia, NH, photographed by Michael Vadon, July 2015.

A common tool of modern political deception is a “false flag” operation, where a government carries out an attack on its own people and then falsely blames it on some oppositional force, thus justifying swift reprisal. Last week, the Trump administration was accused of flying several false flags, citing false terrorist activity in Bowling Green and Sweden intended to justify executive orders on immigration. Public Radio International reports:

Bowling Green, Atlanta and now...Sweden?

US President Donald Trump was speaking to supporters on Saturday when he apparently referred to the Scandinavian country as the site of a terror incident—the latest example of his administration naming a non-existent attack.

“You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible,” he said in an energetic stream-of-consciousness speech, defending his order last month that blocked refugees and travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States.

c. 1517

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli, by Santi di Tito, c. 16th century. 

Niccolò Machiavelli is the historical avatar of political expediency, and his insights were hard-won. In Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli examined historical evidence of political best practices from the Ab Urbe Condita, a monumental history of ancient Rome by Titus Livy. He found that the practice of fraud as a pretext to warlike behavior might be fair, but it isn’t easy:

Many attempts of this sort have been made, both by the Romans and by others, but few successfully, because the least hindrance disarranges the plan of action, and because such hindrances are very likely to occur.

For either the plot is discovered before it can be carried out, as it readily may, whether from treachery on the part of those to whom it has been communicated, or from the difficulties which attend its inception, the preliminary arrangements having to be made with the enemy and with persons with whom it is not permitted, save under some pretext or other, to hold intercourse; or if it be not discovered while it is being contrived, a thousand difficulties will still be met with in its execution.