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The Top 10 Lies In History


A "lie" is defined as: deliberate choice to mislead a target without giving notification of intent to do so.  The important acts are that a lie is “act” that is “deliberate or intentional” and that it has the consequence of the target being “mislead.”

Almost all persons lie in their public and private lives.  Some lies are altruistic or protective in that their purpose is to protect another from damaged feeling.  An example may be the doctor who lies to a patient or the parent who lies to a child.  Other lies are social and minor such as the boss that asks: “how are you?” and the employee that responds “Fine” even though she is not. 

Lies by public officials may be for the purpose of national security or to accomplish a public policy.  But, sometimes the lies have consequences that are so great that they make this list.

Please distinguish actual lies from mistakes or poor judgment decisions.

Great Lies

1.  Hitler and Chamberlain: 

Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, pursued a policy of appeasement through the 1930s that was designed to avert another world war.  As Adolf Hitler rose to power, opportunities existed to challenge Hitler’s policies or to take military action to remove his government.  Instead, Chamberlain chose to disregard the threats of “Mein Kampf” and other Hitler pronouncements of aggression in an effort to maintain peace.

In 1938, Hitler and Chamberlain, met twice for the purpose of discussing reapportionment in Czechoslovakia of the Germans under Czech rule.  Hitler assured Chamberlain that war could be averted if the reapportionment occurred. 

In fact, Hitler had already mobilized the German Army for an attack on Czechoslovakia, but the Army would not be ready to attack for several weeks.  Hitler hopes that Chamberlain will prevent the Czechs from mobilizing and allow for a surprise attack by Germany. 

At the conclusion of the meeting, Chamberlain said of Hitler: “I got the impression that here was a man that could be relied upon when he had given his word.”   

Had the Czechs mobilized in time, would World War 2 have been different?

This lie was one of the most interesting in that both Chamberlain and Hitler were participants in a way.  Chamberlain was so invested in his policy of appeasement that he wanted to believe Hitler.  If he didn’t, or if he was wrong, this would be the end of his political career. 

It is said that Hitler told an aid after this meeting, that Chamberlains government would not last the week.


2.  Cuban Missile:  

In 1962, Nikita Khrushev assured John F. Kennedy that no offensive missiles would be placed in Cuba.

As events unfolded, Kennedy met with Soviet Foreign Minister, Andrei Khrushev has assured Kennedy that no offensive missiles would be placed in Cuba, concerning the threat of ballistic missiles being placed in Cuba.  Gromyko came to the White House to ask the US to lessen tensions that existed regarding Cuba, and to assure Kennedy that no missiles would be placed in Cuba.  Gromyko knew that the missiles were in route to Cuba, and needed more time to transport and conceal them.

Kennedy listened to Gromyko’s assurances as pictures of the missile sat on his deck a few feet away.  Two days earlier, U-2 photos discovered had the missiles.  Kennedy lied to Gromyko stating that nothing was wrong and Gromyko searched for any reaction.   Kennedy did not want the information known until military options were put in place. 

As both Kennedy and Gromyko lied, the consequence of detection was possible nuclear war.  This may be the highest consequence of lying to date.

3.  LBJ regarding Viet Nam:

 LBJ’s concealment of adverse information about the progress of the Viet Nam War was initially designed to show the strong support of American public opinion as a tool for negotiating peace.  Any statements to the contrary were suppressed and military leaders were instructed to report only the “good news.” 

LBJ reported to the nation on television concerning the war progress in a series of press conferences.

The charade came down during the Tet offensive exposing how untruthful the reports had been.  Robert Kennedy said the Tet offensive “shattered the mask of public illusion” and a few months later LBJ dropped out of the presidential race. 

Johnson’s deceit in misleading the electorate of information to make an informed political choice was compounded by the fact that many of his own advisors came to believe the lies.  The lies had been told so often that many came to believe them as true and self-deception resulted in poor military decisions.

The consequences were to an entire generation that disbelieved government.


4.  Chernobyl: 

In 1986, a nuclear accident occurred releasing a radiation cloud over Western Europe.  Three days after the accident the Soviet government admitted that the accident had killed 32.  Several weeks later Mikhail Gorbachev spoke publicly criticizing the Western reaction as unnecessary, and stating that the radiation was controlled

Communist party officials evacuated their families from the area, but everyone else was told to stay. 

Russian scientists now estimate that 10,000 may die from the Chernobyl accident and the effects of radiation.


 5.  Watergate: 

The public official most known for lying was Richard Nixon.  His resignation in 1972 was forced by events stemming from the break-in of Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate building by a group of burglars connected to Republicans.

While it was never determined with certainty that Nixon had directly ordered the break-in, Nixon’s lies were in the cover-up over the course of the next year.  Nixon’s assertions that he did not know about the burglaries unraveled in testimony from James McCord, John Dean and the discovery of tape recordings in the White House. 

The motive of the act of burglary was to gain an advantage for the upcoming election.  The lies were for the purpose of not risk disapproval by the American voters, and to obtain re-election.

It is difficult to state the consequences of these lies that resulted in the resignation and pardon of a President.


6.  Othello:

Although this play from 1603 is a work of fiction, the lie in question is perhaps the best known and most quoted in history.

Othello's ill-placed trust in the villain Iago, resulting in his growing suspicion in his wife Desdemona's infidelity with his lieutenant Cassio, led to the ultimate tragedy. Othello is commonly considered one of Shakespeare's great tragedies, and one of his finest works.

When Cassio takes hold of Desdemona's hand before the arrival of the Moor Othello, “Honest Iago” says, "With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a flys Cassio." [Act II, Scene I, Line 163.

Through some carefully thought-out words and actions, Iago is able to manipulate others to do things in a way that benefits him and moves him closer toward his goals. He is the main driving force in this play, pushing Othello, and, everyone else, towards their tragic end.

He uses the trust Othello puts in him to turn Othello eventually into a jealous man.  The tragedy unfolds.


7.  Bill Clinton and Monica: 

On January 21, 1998, a controversy was raised by the media and prominent Republicans over Clinton's relationship with a young White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, resulting in the Lewinsky scandal.

In a televised press conference, Clinton stated “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” 

Aug. 17, 1998: President Bill Clinton becomes the first sitting president to testify before a grand jury investigating his conduct. After the questioning at the White House is finished, Clinton goes on national TV to admit he had an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky. 

In a lame duck session after the 1998 elections, the Republican-controlled House voted to impeach Clinton for matters relating to the scandal.


8.  Edward Kennedy’s role in Chapaquiddick: 

Mary Jo Kopechne was killed in an accident in which Edward Kennedy was the driver after a party in 1969.  The car veered off of a bridge and landed upside down in the water late at night. 

 Kennedy was known as a heavy drinker at the time, had citations for reckless driving, an expired driver’s license and failed to report the accident for a period of 12 hours.

Kennedy’s statement was that that he was “in shock” and went back to his hotel room, then, the next morning: “When I fully realized what had happened this morning, I immediately contacted the police.”

The investigation determined that Mary Jo Kopechne was not killed by the accident, but instead suffocated, possibly hours later, when she was unable to exit the submerged car.   Speculation has centered on her life being saved by prompt action or reporting of the accident.

The investigation was filled with charges of ineptitude and lack of diligence, and the insinuations that the machinery of justice crumbled beneath the power and prestige of the Kennedy family.  Eventually, Kennedy plead guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and avoided manslaughter charges or any jail time.


9.  OJ Simpson: 

Simpson is infamous for having been tried for the murder of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994.

His assertions that he was not involved in the murders have never been proven as lies, but are commonly thought to be false.

He was acquitted in criminal court in 1995 after a lengthy, highly publicized trial (often called the "Trial of the Century" in America). In 1997, Simpson was found liable for their deaths in civil court, but to date has never paid the judgment.

The OJ Simpson trail emphasized the state of race relations in America while becoming one of the most publicized moments of history.


10.  Pete Rose concealing gambling:

Pete Rose denied that he had ever broken baseball’s cardinal rule by betting on baseball games.  Rose was alleged to have bet on games for the Cincinnati Reds that he managed and played for at the time.

In August 1989, three years after he retired as an active player, Rose agreed to permanent ineligibility from baseball.

After years of public denial, in 2004, he admitted to betting on, but not against, the Reds.

The consequences of this lie resulted in a loss of integrity for baseball.


Other Interesting Lies

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Yasser Arafat assertion that Fatah, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority were not terror organizations;  

Allies misleading the Germans regarding which beach would be invaded on D Day.  Germans were so certain that Calais was the target that they did not commit troops to Normandy;

Weapons of Mass Destruction: It is difficult to determine whether this was a lie, or whether false intelligence resulted in this conclusion.

Clarence Thomas or Anita Hill:  one of these two likely lied;

 Ben Johnson’s use of drugs and loss of medal;

Andrew North and Poindexter in Iran-Contra scandal;

Trojan Horse of Archimedes;

Santa Claus;

Columbus discovers new world.


Comments on “ideologies” is very important to the discussion.  The difficulty is that persons who believe the “ideologies” are not “lying,” but rather, are stating a “policy” that is incorrect.

By design, I have left out any faith based lies or lies regarding religion as I do not know if they fit the criteria of "intentional and deliberate" in that they may be believed by the maker.  For “faith based” decisions, the logical assumption may be made that either all, or none, of the actions that followed are “lies.”


 Reader Suggestions are in Blue:

-  Catholicism's Inquisition:

    Any religious misdeed must be considered for its "intention" versus its misinformed conviction.  My understanding of Christianity's institutions is filled with misdeeds; the Inquisition seems to be its worst.  I think the Pope et al used it for financial control and to consolidate power; they knew the underlying principle to be false.

-  Christianity's role of women as subservient to men was a lie perpetrated to canonize patriarchal control.  The literature may be interpreted in an equalitarian role; the church fathers wanted none of that.  Its no surprise that Islam keeps women subservient since both Judaism and Christianity developed in the Middle East.  Christianity changed as it spread across the globe interacting with matriarchal societies.

While the consequences of these public policy decision were enormous, the difficulty is in determining the person that made the lie, and whether they believed in what they said.  Logically, if the actions taken were based on “god’s will” then they are not lies.

-          A more comprehensive lie perpetrated by Western religions is that each one is the only way to salvation.  Nearly all of them state that God is the only one to know the heart of a man yet each one bastardizes that truth by saying the only way to salvation is through that particular belief system.  Eastern religions are somewhat more inclusive of different beliefs.    

The difficulty is in determining if any of these are “true” or “false.”

-          Its hard to know if racial inferiority can be considered a lie or a belief.  In our time its difficult to not consider it a lie since so much evidence points to the contrary.

This belief is likely wrong, was believed as true by those espousing the opinion.  

-  Iraq War is a barefaced lie!!!  The Bush team had started planning the war before they were in office and formalized it within the first month of taking office.  911 gave them the cover to wage it.

Based on assumptions without any backing evidence at this time.  

In recent history, Hitler's "Final Solution" is a most grotesque lie:  not that he proposed it as a means for financial control but the method used to convince people it wasn't happening.

Hitler was the most difficult analysis of any considered.  Part of the problem was that he outlined exactly what he intended to do in a book prior to doing it.  Finding the “lies” is somewhat difficult and separating the “abuse of power” from the “lies” is impossible. 

-  None of the expert marksmen that I've talked with think that Oswald could have pulled off that assassination alone.

I agree that this shot may be “improbable,” but not impossible.  The Warren Report may be inaccurate or just plain incorrect.  However, I do not have enough evidence, at this time, to conclude that the Report was a “lie” under the definition.

The biggest lie in history.  That Judas betrayed Jesus.  This lie set off the world's hatred for Jews.  Funny, the gospel of Judas has just been reconstructed in Switzerland ( written contemporaneously during the life of Judas and Jesus) and it actually indicates that Judas was Jesus' best friend, most loyal and the only one of the 12 assholes,  oops,  I mean apostle's to understand truth.  go figure...........

The facts of this event are in question, and fall under the religion problems stated above.  The consequences were great.







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