Just in case one's history textbook had a few extra pages ripped out, this may be a good time to recall just how far one's government is willing to go to start a war under false pretenses.
Below is a partial list
of some of the documented "false flag" events that were intended and/or
served to start a war in recent and not so recent history.
Otto von Bismarck waved a "red flag" in front of the "gallic bull"
by re-editing a telegram from the Prussian King so that it appeared as
though the King had insulted a French ambassador during a time of
extremely tense French-German international relations. The telegram is
known as the Ems Dispatch. It helped encourage the states to go to war.
In 1788, a head tailor of the Royal Swedish Opera received an order
to sew a number of Russian military uniforms that later were used in an
exchange of gunfire at Puumala, a Swedish outpost on the Russo-Swedish
border, on June 27, 1788. The staged attack, which caused an outrage
in Stockholm, was to convince the Riksdag of the Estates and to provide
the Swedish king Gustav III with an excuse to declare a "defensive"
war on Russia. This was important since the king did not have
constitutional right to start offensive war without agreement of the
estates who had already made clear that their acceptance would not be
Spanish–American War, i.e, the Sinking of the USS Maine
The sinking of the USS Maine on 15 February 1898 in Havana harbor
was initially thought to be caused by an external mine exploded under
the ship. This belief roused anti-Spanish sentiment in the United
States and helped catalyze the Spanish–American War later that same
year. In 1911 an extensive study was made of the wreck, and again an
external mine was believed to be the cause. In 1976 a team of naval
explosive experts re?examined the earlier evidence and concluded that
the likeliest cause of the sinking was an internal explosion caused by
spontaneous combustion of fuel coal stored in a bunker next to a
magazine holding more than 5 short tons (4.5 t) of powder charges for
the guns. Despite this analysis, some observers believe that the
explosion was caused by a U.S. agent for the purpose of angering the
U.S. populace and initiating the war which followed. Cuban politician
and former director of the national library Eliades Acosta claims that
"powerful economic interests" in the United States were probably
responsible not only for the sinking of the Maine but for the
assassination of three 19th-century U.S. presidents, beginning with
The Mukden incident in September 1931 involved Japanese officers
fabricating a pretext for annexing Manchuria by blowing up a section of
railway. In fact the explosion was so weak that the line was
unaffected. Six years later in 1937 they falsely claimed the kidnapping
of one of their soldiers in the Marco Polo Bridge Incident as an
excuse to invade China proper.
The Reichstag fire was an arson attack on the Reichstag building in
Berlin on 27 February 1933. The fire started in the Session Chamber,
and, by the time the police and firemen arrived, the main Chamber of
Deputies was engulfed in flames. Police searched the building and found
Marinus van der Lubbe, a young, Dutch council communist and unemployed
bricklayer who had recently arrived in Germany, ostensibly to carry
out political activities.
The fire was used as evidence by the Nazis that the Communists were
beginning a plot against the German government. Van der Lubbe and four
Communist leaders were subsequently arrested. Adolf Hitler, who was
sworn in as Chancellor of Germany four weeks before, on 30 January,
urged President Paul von Hindenburg to pass an emergency decree to
counter the "ruthless confrontation of the Communist Party of Germany".
With civil liberties suspended, the government instituted mass arrests
of Communists, including all of the Communist parliamentary delegates.
With their bitter rival Communists gone and their seats empty, the
National Socialist German Workers Party went from being a plurality
party to the majority; subsequent elections confirmed this position and
thus allowed Hitler to consolidate his power.
Historians disagree as to whether Van der Lubbe acted alone, as he
said, to protest the condition of the German working class, or whether
the arson was planned and ordered by the Nazis, then dominant in the
government themselves, as a false flag operation. The responsibility
for the Reichstag fire remains an ongoing topic of debate and research.
The Gleiwitz Incident
The Gleiwitz incident in 1939 involved Reinhard Heydrich fabricating
evidence of a Polish attack against Germany to mobilize German public
opinion for war, to establish casus belli, and to justify the war with
Poland. Alfred Naujocks was a key organiser of the operation under
orders from Heydrich. It led to the deaths of innocent Nazi
concentration camp victims who were dressed as German soldiers and then
shot by the Gestapo to make it seem that they had been shot by Polish
soldiers. This, along with other false flag operations in Operation
Himmler, would be used to mobilize support from the German population
for the start of World War II in Europe.
In 1939 the Red Army shelled Mainila, a Russian town near the
Finnish border. Soviet authorities blamed Finland for the attack and
used the incident as a pretext to start the Winter War four days later.
The Kassa attack in 1941 involved the city of Kassa, today Košice
(Slovakia), which was then part of Hungary, being bombed by three
unidentified planes of apparently Soviet origin. This attack became the
pretext for the government of Hungary to declare war on the Soviet
The replacement of Iran's Anglo-Persian Oil Company with five
American oil companies and the 1953 Iranian coup d'état was the
consequence of the U.S. and British-orchestrated false flag operation,
Operation Ajax. Operation Ajax used political intrigue, propaganda, and
agreements with Qashqai tribal leaders to depose the democratically
elected leader of Iran, Mohammed Mosaddeq. Information regarding the
CIA-sponsored coup d'etat has been largely declassified and is available in the CIA archives.
The planned, but never executed, 1962 Operation Northwoods plot by
the U.S. Department of Defense for a war with Cuba involved scenarios
such as fabricating the hijacking or shooting down of passenger and
military planes, sinking a U.S. ship in the vicinity of Cuba, burning
crops, sinking a boat filled with Cuban refugees, attacks by alleged
Cuban infiltrators inside the United States, and harassment of U.S.
aircraft and shipping and the destruction of aerial drones by aircraft
disguised as Cuban MiGs. These actions would be blamed on Cuba, and
would be a pretext for an invasion of Cuba and the overthrow of Fidel
Castro's communist government. It was authored by the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, but then rejected by President John F. Kennedy. The surprise
discovery of the documents relating to Operation Northwoods was a
result of the comprehensive search for records related to the
assassination of President John F. Kennedy by the Assassination Records
Review Board in the mid-1990s. Information about Operation Northwoods
was later publicized by James Bamford.
Gulf of Tonkin incident
The Gulf of Tonkin incident (or the USS Maddox incident) is the name
given to two separate confrontations involving North Vietnam and the
United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The first event
occurred on August 2, 1964, between the destroyer USS Maddox and three
North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats of the 135th Torpedo Squadron. The
second was originally claimed by the U.S. National Security Agency to
have occurred on August 4, 1964, as another sea battle, but instead may
have involved "Tonkin Ghosts" (false radar images) and not actual NVN
torpedo boat attacks.
The outcome of these two incidents was the passage by Congress of
the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B.
Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose
government was considered to be jeopardized by "communist aggression."
The resolution served as Johnson's legal justification for deploying
U.S. conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare against
In 2005, an internal National Security Agency historical study was declassified;
it concluded that the Maddox had engaged the North Vietnamese Navy on
August 2, but that there were no North Vietnamese Naval vessels present
during the incident of August 4. The Gulf of Tonkin incident has long
been accused of being a false flag operation, but this judgment remains
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