Never Paranoid Enough

“Trust no one.”  The landmark TV series The X-Files used that catchphrase in depicting a world riven with conspiracies that reach to the highest levels of the U.S. government.  Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, the fictional FBI agents who attempted to unravel these grand conspiracies, make the occasional appearance in Kathryn Olmsted’s Real Enemies.  Man has been plagued by secret plots since the serpent whispered to Eve in the Garden, but Real Enemies focuses on the period bounded by U.S. entry in the Great War and the Iraq war.

These years abound with genuine conspiracies, while the latter decades coincide with a revolution in public attitudes toward government and other institutions whereby the American public became more suspicious of powerful people in high places.  When President Kennedy’s motorcade entered Dealey Plaza in November 1963, most Americans  trusted the government most of the time.  By the time Richard Nixon left the White House in August 1974, that trust had declined precipitously.  Although cranks and paranoids imagined far more conspiracies than they could actually prove, Real Enemies illuminates numerous instances where “trust no one” is shown to be apt.

John F. Kennedy’s assassination represents the non plus ultra of 20th-century conspiracy theories.  Suspected conspirators included the military, the...

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