Conspiracies and facts

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Russell Wangersky’s column on conspiracy theories in the Jan. 5 Telegram effectively highlighted the irrationality of the 1949 conspiracy theorists. Much could be said about their baseless combination of partial fact, fiction and fancy used to cloud historic truth, but for now, I will provide some background to the origins of the theory.

In 1945, Peter Cashin, on his radio show “The Voice of Liberty,” was first to introduce the Confederation conspiracy theory. England was indeed hiding something from Newfoundlanders, but it had nothing to do with depriving them of a free vote.

In the 1980s, journalist Bren Walsh, convinced a conspiracy occurred, researched British documents and came up with zilch. Yet that did not stop him from writing a conspiracy book. The fact fewer votes were cast in the second referendum than in the first was fuel for similar theorists. It was used to argue that the British destroyed votes to rig the election despite the fact Britain had no involvement in the balloting.

Author Harold Horwood pointed out that such rubbish could only originate from someone with no knowledge of Newfoundland history. Horwood noted what was obvious to outport Newfoundlanders — that in the second referendum, many fishermen were participating in the Labrador and the Banks fishery and did not get to vote.

In researching “1949 Twilight Before the Dawn,” I found that records were consistent with Horwood’s argument. In 20 of the 25 districts made up predominantly of fishermen, the vote dropped in the last referendum. Unlike Jim Halley, Horwood, an authentic insider, wrote: “There is not a shred of evidence that Canada or Great Britain were parties to any kind of underhanded or secret dealing in the matter. On the contrary, the more closely the documentary evidence is examined, the clearer it becomes that the issue was truly in doubt up to the last moment, and that few people in the Canadian Government had any more than a mild interest in the matter.”

Still in doubt? Look up Ed Roberts’ review of “Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders” in The Telegram of Dec. 16, or read “1949 Twilight Before the Dawn,” or any academic study of the subject.

Better still, if you have the time, go read the source documents edited by Paul Bridell available at the A.C. Hunter Library.

Those who value the truth in history will want to know the facts — others will cling to the conspiracy theory irrespective of truth.

Jack Fitzgerald

St. John’s

Organizations: A.C. Hunter Library

Geographic location: Great Britain, England, Newfoundland Canada

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Recent comments

  • Colin Burke
    January 19, 2013 - 16:39

    Why is it, exactly, that the rich and powerful never conspire to further their own interests, to the detriment of the ordinary man? Is it lack of cunning or excess of honesty? For, in strict logic, these are the only two reasons of which I can conceive for their not conspiring like billy-o.

  • Jay
    January 18, 2013 - 14:31

    FINTIP, Excellent response. I read the review of this book by Ed Roberts, and was totally underwhelmed. Other than some petty remarks and corrections of minutiae, he added nothing to this debate. You've already clearly noted his bias. As for Harold Horwood, wasn't he the right hand man in charge of propoganda during the early years of confederation? One can easily question his credibility as well. And Jack, we all know about history. In the words of Napoleon, it's nothing but "a set of lies agreed upon."

  • crista
    January 18, 2013 - 14:11

    what you got to look at is you can believe what you want to believe and you can believe what you think are facts you can believe what you think are conspiracies and what is being said hear is if you do not have truths and the proofs why do you call a dictionary a dictionary why is government a government.IT IS WRITTEN why do you call the HOLY BIBLE, HOLY BIBLE!!!! WHY DO YOU CALL DOCUMENT DOCUMENTS????

  • Fintip
    January 18, 2013 - 13:19

    With all due respects to your research and writing skills, this is among the most feeble refutations of the '1949 conspiracy theory' I have read to date. Rather than address the nub of the issue (which I wholly admit is not feasible in the confines of a newspaper column), you have chosen instead to enumerate and contrast the people of ‘character’ on your side with the malcontents who spew 'rubbish' on the other. As I acknowledged previously in response to Mr. Wangersky's bizarre column on this subject, there is no 'smoking gun' - nor would I expect to find one in a crime scene so carefully purged by the perpetrators. That said I believe we have the elements of motive, means and opportunity. Furthermore it would be silly to ignore the context of the geo-political environment, the ethical standards of government, and the perception of gravity that attached to this issue in the period leading up to confederation. In other words, if it walks like a duck…. which gets us to the heart of this issue. This is not an academic treatise on the fall of the Roman empire (as scholars like Fitzgerald might like to frame it). Surprisingly the wounds of Newfoundland's forced march to confederation are still fresh for many in this province. Sixty years on, one might be expected them to have healed. Our post-confederate history however has been one in which our national government has missed few opportunities to rub salt in those wounds. My experience is that people line up on one side of this debate or the other, not on the basis of facts or logic, so much as the extent to which they still feel those wounds viscerally, even vicariously. Not having been born in this province, not having felt its repeated humiliations by the national government, not having experienced the privations that endured well beyond the point of expected relief, people like Wangersky are unable to empathize. Others like Roberts who were born to the province grew up as a one-percenter - enjoying opportunity, privilege and financial compensations that allow them to push aside the rational misgivings that undoubtedly take shape in the frontal lobe from time to time. Not to say that pro versus anti-confederatism breaks down cleanly along the lines of affluence - but it is a factor. Almost certainly however those who still harbour the scent of betrayal, collusion and conspiracy in their nostrils from 1949 are those who continue to question the wisdom and merit of confederation today. Indeed many in this group see the failure of successive governments in this province to act rationally on economic matters as a mark of desperation born of a fatally flawed terms of union (witness the Upper and Lower Churchill fiascos). For that reason, I suspect it will be another sixty years before Ottawa and London together agree to release the full record of this dubious transaction. By then all the conspiracy theorists will be gone - replaced by dispassionate academics for whom the truth – and an opportunity to publish it – will be the only motivation.

    • david
      January 19, 2013 - 10:53

      I do not usually bother with such lengthy posts......on this messageboard particularly, it is far too often a giveaway sign of the author's inability to make a coherent point. But this was very much worth the read. Well done and thanks.

    • david
      January 19, 2013 - 12:18

      Or....get rid of them, and just cash their paycheques yourself. Simpler.

  • Grassy Knoll
    January 18, 2013 - 12:09

    Conspiracy theories are always entertaining. The only "facts" that matter to these people are the ones they dream up in their heads.

  • Cyril Rogers
    January 18, 2013 - 11:02

    It may yet prove to be true that some kind of conspiracy existed, prior to the Confederation vote. However, it is becoming painfully evident that we don't need to point to the Canadian wolf as the only destroyer of our freedom and democracy. The past Danny decade and the current offshoot administration have done us no favours when it comes to democracy. I firmly believe they are exploiting their legislative majority and suppressing the truth about Muskrat I guess that makes me a conspiracy theorist of sorts.

  • Don II
    January 18, 2013 - 10:38

    While I respect their opinions as competent professionals, I cannot agree with Russell Wangersky or Jack Fitzgerald on this issue. It appears that the opinions of expert historians and media journalists with regard to the purported facts about the history of Newfoundland and Labrador do not take into account the variables, distortions and ulterior motives which impact on historical records pertaining to Newfoundland and Labrador. The academics and journalists are not infallible and may not possess all of the historical information and facts. It appears that there may be mistakes or undisclosed ulterior motives which may have been a factor in distorting or improperly interpreting the historical record of Newfoundland and Labrador. During my own research into various historical claims and myths regarding the history of Newfoundland and Labrador I discovered that historical documents have been edited, lost, suppressed, undiscovered or misinterpreted. The edited version or misinterpreted historical documents which leave out important sentences, words, descriptions or statements are regularly reprinted, republished and broadcasted. Incorrect interpretation of historical documents results in incorrect statements that can be promoted as historical fact for public consumption. Some historical documents have been edited, lost, misplaced, hidden or are undiscovered and kept from public access such as the Newfoundland Railway Company Range and Section maps which were made between1885 and 1900. Those maps showed the location and ownership information of private property which existed within a square mile around the Railway right of ways. When it comes to issues such as the treatment of the Beothuk, the Confederation referendums and the actual location of the Cupers Cove Plantation it appears that the historical records have been edited, distorted, misinterpreted, suppressed, undiscovered or hidden from public scrutiny. History related claims must be independently investigated and supported by fact, evidence and conclusive proof to the greatest extent possible. Those who espouse skepticism or who challenge the accuracy of "expert" opinions or the accepted version of "historical facts" are frequently dismissed, maligned or demeaned as "conspiracy theorists" whose opinions have no value. The passage of time may reveal the truth and may show that the so called "conspiracy theorists" are right. The fact that conclusive proof and evidence has not been discovered does not mean that it does not exist. A case in point are the recent revelations regarding athlete Lance Armstrong whom the media heavily promoted. Even the Courts ruled in his favor after he apparently perjured himself under oath during libel and slander lawsuit cases in which the people who were actually telling the truth lost to Armstrong in Court! With respect to the history of Confederation of Newfoundland with Canada, it appears that the whole truth has yet to emerge!