COMMENTARY | News has broken that Scotland Yard is investigating a claim that the British military killed Princess Diana. Sadly, this tale only serves to show why conspiracy theories never die, often masking real life events that need to be investigated.
Good Morning America reported that at a second court martial of a Sgt. Danny Nightingale for illegal gun possession, a letter emerged “from a former soldier’s estranged in-laws that makes the claim that the SAS (Special air Service) was behind Princess Diana’s death,” according to the Daily Mirror.
The Falsifiability Flaw: One of the key ingredients in a conspiracy theory comes from a Sherlock Holmes quote “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” That line from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the conspiracy theorist’s bible in a nutshell, because it is just so hard to eliminate the impossibility of a conspiracy. It conveniently puts the burden of proof on anyone questioning the conspiracy theory. As weapons inspectors in Iraq discovered, it is difficult to disprove the non-event.
The second line is also telling, because it accepts the conspiracy theory’s improbability, and adds that it “must be the truth,” which is why it is so tough to dissuade the theory’s defenders. That’s why conspiracy theory supporters can claim that Connecticut kids were never killed, or were offed by Israeli Mossad agents and not see a problem with their logic.
The Motive Flaw: As sad as this sounds, there’s actually more of a motive (gun control) for the school shootings conspiracy theorists than the one involving Princess Diana. There’s not a single good motive for the British military to kill the former member of the royal family.
That hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists from cooking one up. The most popular one seems to be that they wanted to stop her from marrying Dodi al Fayed. Why would that be a problem? The conspiracy theorists think she might have converted to Islam.
Keep in mind that we view Muslims differently before 9/11 than afterwards. Even then, it is hard to believe that the British military would risk its entire reputation and even existence to stop someone without a claim to the throne from possibly converting to Islam (even if she didn’t show any inclination to dress or play the part). It’s like saying President Kennedy had Marilyn Monroe killed because she wouldn’t convert to Catholicism.
The Evidence Flaw: Any deviation or flaw in an official report is treated as proof of the conspiracy theory’s truth. And if there is no evidence, it simply demonstrates that the conspiracy must be real, because those in power eliminated all traces that would confirm the theory. If every document on JFK’s assassination was released and showed no second gunmen, which conspiracy theorist would conclude that the case was closed?
The Distraction Flaw: The most insidious element of conspiracy theories isn’t the mistrust they sow, though that’s a big problem. It is that they distract us from some real mysteries that need solving. Chasing Kennedy’s fictional killer kept Americans from investigating more pressing political and economic problems. Continuing the fruitless search for an alternate theory to Princess Diana’s death keeps the British from investigating what happened during their own financial meltdown six years ago, and determining whether it will happen again.
The only conspiracy theory worth subscribing to hypothesizes whether or not such theories are planted to distract from more urgent concerns.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.