A Brief History
On April 1, 2018, we have just 2 words for you, April Fools! This time instead of publishing a satirical spoof containing false stories, we will list 10 times real people really got fooled, either as individuals or as a group.
1. US Public, War of the Worlds.
On October 30, 1938, CBS radio in the United States aired a for radio adaptation of the HG Wells 1898 science fiction story, The War of the Worlds, directed and narrated by Orson Welles. In spite of periodic reminders that the program was a work of fiction, “millions” of listeners that tuned in between those warning thought the invasion of the Earth by Martians was real! The panic that ensued is legendary, but perhaps exaggerated, as is the number of actual listeners. Still, the event remains one of the greatest public “fools” of all time. Running time of the show was only 60 minutes. (Honorable Mention: Piltdown Man, Cardiff Giant, PT Barnum’s Mermaid, Sasquatch and Nessie.)
2. Bernie Madoff’s Suckers.
Starting in 1991 (possibly as early as the 1970’s), Madoff constructed a “Ponzi” scheme of fraud, creating a pyramid of investors to create the illusion of a successful investment opportunity. With around $65 billion (actual losses about $18 billion) fleeced from over 4000 investors, Madoff perpetrated the biggest individual fraud in history. For some reason, people trusted Bernie Madoff, many perhaps because like them, Madoff is Jewish. Baseball great Sandy Koufax and Jewish activist Elie Wiesel number among his victims, as does clothing magnate Carl Shapiro ($400 million investment!) and investor Ira Rennert ($200 million thrown away). Many large international banks and investment firms were taken in by Madoff, for sums up to $7.5 billion apiece! Yeshiva University, a private but non-profit Jewish research university in New York was foolish enough to invest $140 million in Madoff’s rip-off. When will people learn the truth behind the old adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it is!” In 2009 Madoff’s treachery came home to roost when the crook was zapped with a jail sentence of 150 years behind bars!
3. Trump voters, “Mexico Will Pay for The Wall.”
The Wall. Cornerstone of Donald Trump’s defense against illegal aliens and an apparent key to making America Great Again. Trump initially claimed the Wall would cost only a couple of billion dollars, but his estimates continued to go up with time, to his latest “Less than $10 billion.” Plus, he claims the Wall will only have to cover about 1000 miles of the 2000 mile Southern border of the US, since “natural obstacles” and about 650 miles of preexisting fence will make up the rest. Not only is Trump finding it difficult to get financing for his pet project (the latest is to take the money from the increased military budget he got passed in 2018), his claim that “Mexico will pay for the Wall” is coming up a sure loser. Who was dumb enough to believe Mexico would actually pay for such a border wall? April Fools, that’s who!
4. Gullible Democrats, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…. Miss Lewinsky.”
Did anyone actually fall for this line from President Bill Clinton? Undoubtedly some did! In 1998 the sitting President of the United States, Bill “Slick Willie” Clinton was under fire when a special prosecutor investigation into a possible Clinton connection to a real estate fraud case (known as Whitewater) somehow branched off into the sex life of the President and allegations made by a woman, Paula Jones, who was heavily financed by Republican donors to continue her relentless case against Clinton. In an effort to expose the President as a sexual predator, rumors and allegations that he had had an affair with a 22 year old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, became a topic that Clinton, age 49, denied publicly and under oath. When it was revealed Lewinsky had disgustingly kept a semen stained dress as proof of their relationship, Clinton was impeached for perjury, for lying about the affair, although the Senate voted 50-50 for conviction, well short of the 67 votes needed to get a conviction.
5. Soon to be sorry British Citizens, Neville Chamberlain “peace for our time.”
Chamberlain was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1938 when a resurgent Germany led by despot Adolf Hitler was rattling swords and aggressively pursuing territorial claims in violation of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Britain and others had stood by helplessly as Germany rearmed, and in what is often seen as selling out Czechoslovakia in the Munich Agreement, allowed Hitler and Germany to annex the Sudetenland over the objections of the Czech government. Chamberlain triumphantly crowed about his diplomatic “achievement” as providing “Peace for our time” and foolishly thought he could trust Hitler’s claim to have no further territorial designs. Of course, Chamberlain was completely taken in, and has gone down in history as one of the most gullible politicians of all time. By 1939, Hitler invaded Poland and the world was once again at war. This particular instance of diplomatic naivety is so egregious that numerous books, plays, movies and other cultural references have repeatedly decried the stupidity and gullibility behind that agreement
6. Lt. General Arthur Percival, Non-Defense of Singapore.
History is full of military decisions based on false information, and the biggest defeat in British History is one of those occasions. Percival was in charge of defending Singapore, known as “The Gibraltar of the Pacific” due to its heavy fortifications and importance to British military strength in the Pacific and Asia. The largest capitulation in British military history came in December of 1941/January of 1942 when the Japanese Army marched down the Malay Peninsula to Singapore island at the tip. Percival, despite orders to resist, surrendered a reported 138,000+ British and Colonial troops to a Japanese force of only 30,000, believing the Japanese to have a far stronger force. Some researchers claim the number of British troops is inflated by counting those lost in the campaign down the Malay Peninsula along with those actually taking part in the “defense” of Singapore,” thus making the “real” number of British troops that surrendered about 88,000+. Still, that represents a ridiculous capitulation when a defense was indeed feasible. Percival was bluffed and bullied by Japanese commander General Yamashita. April Fools!
7. Adolf Hitler falls for D-Day Disinformation.
Political victories prior to World War II and early military victories by the Germans in World War II led the German people and Hitler himself to believe that Hitler was a military genius. By June of 1944, the people and the Generals in the Army knew better, but Adolf Hitler still clung to the belief that only he had the brains to prevent Germany’s defeat. As American and British forces built up on the isle of Great Britain in preparation for the invasion of France (the D-Day landings), the Allies committed massive resources to a disinformation campaign to mislead Hitler and the Germans about the intended target of the invasion, leading the Germans and especially Hitler himself to believe the main attack would come at Calais instead of the actual target of Normandy. Fake radio transmissions portraying a fictional army under the command of General George S. Patton complete with inflatable tanks and trucks fooled German recon aircraft taking photos of the alleged invasion force across the Channel from Calais. When the real invasion came, German forces were not positioned correctly to meet the Allies and reinforcements were not moved quickly enough to foil the Allied invasion due to Hitler’s stubborn belief in the fiction that the “real” invasion would come at Calais.
8. “Smilin’ Bob” fools Enzyte Saps (Small penis = small brain).
Actually, Smilin’ Bob (yes, we know the above is just a generic smiley, but images of the actual Smilin’ Bob in the commercial are copyrighted, so…) is just the guy in the television commercial, the real culprit is Steven Warshak and his mother Harriet, both of whom were sentenced to jail for pushing the phony drug (“the once daily tablet for natural male enhancement”) on an optimistic but naïve public. A similar product, ExenZe has also earned its company attention from various state Attorneys General as well as customers who complain of bad side effects. The American Urological Association has clearly stated that none of these penis enhancing pills work and all are a scam. Did you fall for the scam? (Who would admit it???) (Dishonorable mention: To every weight loss “miracle” pill ever sold and every other penis or “male enhancement” pill on the market.)
9. Volkswagen tricks US EPA.
In 2015, the United States EPA issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act to Volkswagen Group, the massive German automaker (largest selling car company in the world that includes luxury brands such as Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti and Porsche). The offense Volkswagen ultimately owned up to was secretly programming the onboard computers of Turbocharged Direct Injection Diesel (TDI) cars to give false readings during exhaust emission checks, making the cars seem to be much cleaner burning than they really are. The computer trickery made the 11 million affected cars (half a million in the US market) appear to produce 1/40th of the Nitrous Oxide (NOx) that they actually produce. Customers foolish enough to believe anything an automaker says (really, it’s not their fault) were stuck with cars that could fail an emissions test. In 2017, VW pleaded guilty to a criminal fraud charge and paid a $2.8 Billion criminal fine and $1.5 Billion civil fine for the offending 2009-2014 built cars. Initially, VW executives claimed the false readings were mere “glitches” and no subterfuge had taken place. They lied. VW was forced to recall the cars for reprogramming, an inconvenience for the car owners. By way of “compensation” VW gave affected US VW owners a lousy $1000 credit toward the purchase of a new and supposedly fraud free VW product! Lawsuits ensued, and a buyback program was forced on VW, including compensation of $5100 to $9852 for VW owners that elected to have their cars “fixed.” As for the executives that perpetrated the scam, 6 are facing criminal proceedings in the US.
10. Lottery ticket buyers (Me too!).
The state run lotteries in the United States are strictly for the desperate and the mathematically challenged, or so an acquaintance kept telling me. Of course, he chipped in to the workplace pool when the Mega Millions or Power Ball jackpot got big! We are such suckers! My wife told me, “We need a financial plan.” I told her, “I have a plan!” She asked what it was and I told her, “Win the lottery.” She gently explained that the lottery was not a valid financial plan. Just kidding, I actually got reamed! Part of the scam the Governments of some states uses to get us to buy tickets is that the proceeds will “pay for education” (depends on the state), when in fact only a tiny percentage of the income goes to education, providing an even tinier percentage of education dollars (1% or less). While about 60% of lottery revenue (Mega Millions in this example) goes to prizes (which are taxed), another 15% goes to marketing and operations, and about 25% goes to participating states. Research indicates state governments usually use the lottery revenue for the legislated purposes, but that they pull a fast one by merely allocating less money from the general fund for education or whatever specified lottery enhanced budget, resulting in NO NET GAIN to the alleged program that is supposed to benefit from lottery revenue. The extra money in the General Fund is therefore discretionary and the pork barrel politicians have that much more to pad their pet pork projects. Even worse is the crowing about the size of the jackpots, when in fact those jackpots are not anything near what the winner takes home. For one thing, if you take the cash amount, they only give you that amount they deem necessary to reach the advertised jackpot if the money was invested over a 30 year period. (It used to be 20 years but changing the time frame to 30 years made the value of the jackpot even more considerably less than the advertised amount.) Then there are the income taxes on the winnings, which is kind of a scam in itself. A $400 million jackpot will garner only about $242 million for the winner, but much less if taken as a lump sum due to the investment over 30 years scheme, resulting in a payout of $135 million, unless the winner is in a high state income tax state, in which case the amount is even less! So, figure your actual winnings to be only about a third of the advertised amount, but all of your friends, relatives, and various sponges and scam artists that will pester you to death will be thinking of the larger figure instead of the actual amount. Because of these obvious Government perpetrated scams, I resolve to only buy a single Power Ball ticket and a single Mega-Millions ticket twice a week (oh, and they raised the price of each from $1 to $2). So there, see if you can fool me!
Question for students (and subscribers): What other notable “fools” can you think of? Name your favorites that you would include on this list in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Charles River Editors. The Munich Agreement of 1938: The History of the Peace Pact that Failed to Prevent World War II. CreateSpace, 2017.
Ewing, Jack. Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal. W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.
Kirtzman, Andrew. Betrayal: The Life and Lies of Bernie Madoff. Harper Perennial, 2010.
Lustig, Richard. Learn How To Increase Your Chances of Winning The Lottery. AuthorHouse, 2010.
Regan, Geoffrey. Great Military Blunders: History’s Worst Battlefield Decisions from Ancient Times to the Present Day. Andre Deutsch, 2012.
Wells, HG. The War of the Worlds. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.