What is the Report from Iron Mountain?

In 1967, Dial Press published a book called Report from Iron Mountain: On the Possibility and Desirability of Peace. It remains one of the most controversial works of all time. Who wrote the Report from Iron Mountain? What does it say? And most importantly…is it real?

What is the Report from Iron Mountain?

The Report from Iron Mountain purports to be the findings of a 15-man Special Study Group. It hints that it was commissioned in 1963 by the Department of Defense and was produced by the Hudson Institute, which is located at the base of Iron Mountain in New York. The purpose of the supposed top-secret study was “…to determine, accurately and realistically, the nature of the problems that would confront the United States if and when a condition of ‘permanent peace’ should arrive, and to draft a program for dealing with this contingency.”

The Report from Iron Mountain states that from a historical perspective, war has been the only reliable way for a government to perpetuate itself. Fear of an enemy will cause civilians to accept government intrusion into their lives. Also, war creates loyalty for political leaders. But during times of peace, people begin to turn against taxes and intrusion.

“The war system not only has been essential to the existence of nations as independent political entities, but has been equally indispensable to their stable internal political structure. Without it, no government has ever been able to obtain acquiescence in its ‘legitimacy,’ or right to rule its society. The possibility of war provides the sense of external necessity without which no government can long remain in power. The historical record reveals one instance after another where the failure of a regime to maintain the credibility of a war threat led to its dissolution, by the forces of private interest, of reactions to social injustice, or of other disintegrative elements.” ~ Report from Iron Mountain

The Report from Iron Mountain sought to find a credible substitute for war and considered several ideas such as an alien invasion. However, aliens were ultimately discarded for an “environmental-pollution model.” In passages that are eerily prescient of the current global warming debate, the Report proposes that people would be willing to accept a lower standard of living, higher taxes, and increased governmental intrusion in order to “save Mother Earth.”

Was the Report from Iron Mountain Real?

As you can imagine, the Report from Iron Mountain sent giant waves rippling throughout the world back in 1967. It became a New York Times bestseller and was translated into fifteen languages. Its authenticity quickly came under question, a debate that continues to this day.

On one hand, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it’s an authentic document. In 1967, the U.S. News and World report claimed that the report was real and that it had confirmation to that effect. In 1976, John Kenneth Galbraith (under a pseudonym) wrote in the Washington Post that he had been invited to participate in the Special Study Group.

“As I would put my personal repute behind the authenticity of this document, so would I testify to the validity of its conclusions. My reservation relates only to the wisdom of releasing it to an obviously unconditioned public.” ~ John Kenneth Galbraith

On the other hand, Leonard Lewin, who wrote the original introduction to the book, came forward in 1972 and claimed to be the author. He said that it was meant to be a satire. Supposedly, he got the idea from a New York Timesarticle that discussed how a “peace scare” led to a stock-market sell-off.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, who wrote the Report? In all likelihood, Lewin was indeed the author. In 1990, Liberty Lobby published its own edition, claiming that the study was in the public domain since it was a U.S. government document. Lewin sued for copyright infringement and received an undisclosed settlement.

The bigger question regards its authenticity. Most scholars consider it a hoax. Still, numerous groups continue to believe that the Report from Iron Mountain is genuine and that Lewin only called it a hoax on orders from the United States government. Others would say that whether its authentic or not misses the point. What really matters is that the ideas presented in the document are no longer just ideas…they are rapidly becoming a reality.

Is Treasure Hunting Immoral?

On June 8, 2007 author Robert Kurson wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, arguing the merits of treasure hunting. It was the latest salvo in a war that stretches back for decades. Was Kurson right? Or are his critics correct that treasure hunting is immoral and that it, along with the black market antiquities trade, should be criminalized?

The Chaos Book Club

Today marks Day 4 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

Treasure Hunting versus Archaeology

Now, Robert Kurson is a legendary figure in the shipwreck world. He spent seven years of his life researching and excavating the mysterious U-869, a Nazi U-boat which sank about sixty miles off the coast of New Jersey. In a 2007 op-ed for the New York Times, he gave a decent overview of both sides of the debate in question. First, the archaeological side…

“[Archaeologists] claim that because the professional treasure hunter’s first priority is to sell what he finds, artifacts will be rushed from shipwreck to market without being carefully preserved or photographed and cataloged to record their historic value. They charge that even if the treasure hunter cared to preserve and catalog his discoveries, he couldn’t, because he is not properly trained to do such subtle and delicate work.” ~ Robert Kurson

And then the treasure hunter side…

“The treasure hunter’s livelihood depends on keeping his discoveries in pristine condition. He knows that coins and gold and pottery must be handled with exquisite care in order to bring the highest possible price. He must use a surgeon’s touch with every artifact, because even that last lonely vase has value if it is deftly handled. The roughest and toughest of these treasure hunters have some of the gentlest hands in the world.” ~ Robert Kurson

Is Treasure Hunting Immoral?

The Archaeology vs. Treasure Hunting debate is a bitter one. A cursory search on the internet reveals scores of articles (mostly written by archaeologists) on the topic. A particularly stinging attack on treasure hunters is offered by Texas A&M’s Ship Reconstruction Laboratory. Here’s a sample…

“1. Can treasure hunters do archaeology with high standards?

No. The aim of treasure hunting is profit and treasure hunting companies depend on investor’s money. In a normal competitive environment investors prefer companies that yield better returns on their investments. It is an indisputable fact that careful excavations are more expensive than the quick salvage of artifacts with market value, and companies that try to follow good archaeological standards will not survive long in any informed market.”

The above argument seems powerful at first. But upon closer inspection, it’s shown to be fatally flawed. I don’t doubt that “careful excavations” are more expensive than treasure hunts. But this doesn’t necessarily imply they produce better work. In general, non-profit operations pay far less attention to the cost side of the equation than profit-seeking ones. So, this might really be nothing more than better cost management on the treasure hunting side.

Another popular argument levied by archaeologists is that they are working for the public good. They believe that artifacts should be analyzed for historical purposes and stored in museums rather than sold off to wealthy collectors. While it sounds noble, this is hardly the case in real life. For example, a 2001 BBC article discusses a strange situation at the Crimean Eastern Institute:

“The cramped offices of the Crimea’s Eastern Institute are crammed with the archaeologists’ legal finds – each item painstakingly cleaned and catalogued. Bizarrely, the precious gold and silver belt buckles and jewellery are stored in cigarette packets or old medicine boxes. There is no money here for anything else, even though the antiquities themselves are worth tens of thousands of dollars.” ~ Battle to Save Crimea’s Treasures – BBC News

These artifacts aren’t being researched nor are they being put on public display. And this isn’t unique to Crimea. Similar scenarios take place across the globe.

Still, the archaeological position remains consistent. Treasure hunting is an immoral activity and should be treated as such. Thus, archaeologists have sought the assistance of governments in order to quell the activities of hunters.

Privatizing Archaeology?

Is there a way to solve this endless debate? One particularly innovative suggestion comes courtesy of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. In his article, “In Defense of Tomb Robbing,” Adam Young suggests that one solution is to, in essence, “privatize archaeology.” He argues that this would force today’s treasure hunters to acquire greater excavation skills in order to sell artifacts to “museums, universities, and private collectors.” In other words, if “archaeological entrepreneurs” were able to sell their wares freely, they would have greater incentive to do better work in order to fulfill the demands of their customers (i.e. museums). Also, in the absence of antiquities laws, private owners would be more likely to share their artifacts with researchers, especially since subsequent research might increase the value of the artifact in question.

Young further points out that governmental action may be having the opposite of its intended effect. By criminalizing ownership of certain artifacts and employing police to chase down treasure hunters, governments “have attracted exactly those individuals who are the most reckless and unskilled and who concentrate on those artifacts that are the most valuable — to the detriment of historical and scientific research.”

Interestingly enough, his points can be seen today. Shipwreck hunting is, in most cases, legal. This has given rise to companies like Odyssey Marine Exploration, a for-profit corporation that salvages deep sea wrecks. Unlike black market treasure hunters, Odyssey is a highly professional organization. It employs distinguished archaeologists, performs meticulous studies, and even publishes books and reports on its findings.

Some archaeologists say this is not enough. They point to Filipe Castro, who excavated a merchant ship off the coast of Portugal. Castro has “published two scientific books and 26 articles on the wreck, and has completed six archaeological reports.” Perhaps they are right (or perhaps Castro is guilty of severe over-analysis). But regardless, Odyssey has clearly found value in conducting its own scientific research.

Treasure Hunting, Archaeology, & Chaos

The Treasure Hunting vs. Archaeology debate is one I doubt will ever end. Although Odyssey does more scholarly work than any treasure hunting company in history, they are still scorned by the vast majority of archaeologists. Personally, I find the debate fascinating and it served as inspiration for the creation of my hero, Cy Reed.

“I looked at Diane. The rows of seats were like a gulf between us, a gulf that grew with every word she said to the audience. She stood on the respectable side of exploration, shoulder-to-shoulder with archaeologists, scientists and other academics. I used to stand with her. But these days, I increasingly found myself on the other side, in solidarity with the treasure hunters, the smugglers, and the black market dealers.” ~ David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David Meyer

Cy Reed is a former urban archaeologist who used to work in Manhattan. Due to a terrible tragedy, he decided to uproot his life and becomes a nomad, working as a treasure hunter. At the beginning of the book, he returns to Manhattan in order to search for a missing friend. He is forced to attempt to reconcile the two sides of his soul: the archaeologist and the treasure hunter. Needless to say, this inner conflict drives much of his actions.

That’s it for today. Make sure you come back tomorrow when we’ll delve into a piece of strange history…namely, a highly controversial Allied World War II project known as Operation Paperclip. I hope to see you then!

 

Chaos Book Club

The Student Loan Conspiracy?

As I write this, protestors are gathered around the United States as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. While they appear to lack a common platform, one of their primary concerns seems to be the enormous and growing debt load incurred by many students while attending college. Why is that load so enormous in the first place? Is there a Student Loan Conspiracy at work?

What is the Student Loan Conspiracy?

In 2009, the average college graduate had student loans totaling $24,000, up 6% from 2008. For postgraduate students, this figure rises substantially. Coupled with the challenging economic environment and the difficult job market, this has created a generation of heavily indebted students with few means to pay back their loans. Political circles have erupted with discussions of a “student loan crisis.” Heck, even professors are questioning the situation.

“Thirty years ago, college was a wise, modest investment. Now, it’s a lifetime lock-in, an albatross you can’t escape.” ~ Professor Fabio Rojas, Indiana University

All of this might be forgivable if students were getting good value for their money. However, the facts say otherwise. According to Richard Arum’s and Josipa Roksa’s book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, 45% of U.S. college students show “no significant gains in learning” after two years in college. 36% of students show no such gains after four years of college. That might be because today’s students spend “50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago.” And the things that are learned aren’t necessarily helpful. There tends to be a gigantic mismatch between the skills acquired in college and the skills that students need and use after college.

How did we get into this situation? Why are high school graduates spending money they don’t have in order to obtain a college degree that in all likelihood, involves little to no self-improvement?

The Origins of the Student Loan Conspiracy?

The origins of the Student Loan Conspiracy can be traced back to 1944. Prior to World War II, higher education was a small, private, and rather expensive industry. Its services were of little value to most individuals and thus, were only utilized by about 10% of high school graduates. This all changed in 1944 when Congress passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. This Act, more commonly known as the G.I. Bill, gave educational subsidies to former veterans. More importantly, it marked the beginning of a “crony capitalism” relationship between college universities and the U.S. government.

With a precedent in place, it was only a matter of time before the U.S. government expanded its intervention in college education. In 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Higher Education Act of 1965 into law. It established several student loan and grant programs intended to make college more affordable. The increase of subsidies were a boon to the education industry and lifted enrollments. Unfortunately, this also had an unintended consequence. As subsidies increased, colleges realized they could raise tuition prices in response. And as they continued to raise prices, the government continued to increase subsidies, leading to an as-of-yet endless spiraling of education costs. As a result, since 1978, “the price of tuition at U.S. colleges has increased over 900 percent, 650 points above inflation.” Unfortunately, I was unable to find figures going back to 1965 but I imagine that the numbers would show a similar trend.

The Second Piece of the Student Loan Conspiracy Puzzle?

But that merely explains the origin of student debt in America. It doesn’t explain why so many people are willing to incur it. After all, its not like higher education is a necessity for most people.

“…the United States has become the most rigidly credentialized society in the world. A B.A. is required for jobs that by no stretch of the imagination need two years of full-time training, let alone four.” ~ James Engell & Anthony Dangerfield, Saving Higher Education in the Age of Money

This second piece of the puzzle can be traced to a 1971 Supreme Court case known as Griggs v. Duke Power. Up until that time, many companies used aptitude tests as a tool to screen potential employees. However, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Warren Burger (pictured above), changed that when it issued its opinion on Griggs.

“…in 1971 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling (Griggs v. Duke Power) saying that if companies use aptitude testing to screen potential employees, they must be prepared to show that their tests are precisely calibrated to the needs of the job. Otherwise, they will be guilty of employment discrimination if their tests screen out minority workers who might have been able to do the work. Rather than face discrimination suits by the federal government, most employers started using a less precise but legally safe method of screening applicants—college degrees.” ~ George C. Leef, Why on Earth Do We Have a Student Loan Crisis?

So, the Supreme Court basically forced companies to stop using aptitude tests for screening purposes. However, that didn’t end the need for screening. Firms still needed a way to whittle down ever-growing pools of applicants. Thus, companies started to make the “possession of a college degree a requirement for applicants – even for jobs that could easily be learned by anyone with a decent high school education.” And just like that, the cheap, quick, and focused aptitude tests were replaced by ultra-expensive, ultra time-consuming, and ultra-unfocused college degrees.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

In 1940, just 10% of high school graduates went to college. By 1970, that number was at 40%. And by the 1990s, it had risen to 70%. That’s because a college degree has become little more than a “signaling game.” By attending college, students “signal” to potential employers that they’re smart, hard-working, and easily trained. The ability to send that signal to employers, which was once accomplished via aptitude tests, is the sole reason that most students attend college in the first place.

The Student Loan Conspiracy isn’t a deliberate one. I don’t think any of the politicians or judges who created the current situation ever envisioned the full impact of their decisions. But unintended consequences can be harsh. The result is that many students who wish to work at regular jobs have no other choice but to waste four years of their lives at college. They end up studying subjects with little relevance to their futures and accumulating tens of thousands of dollars of debt for the privilege.

If politicians are serious about reducing student loan burdens (and this seems doubtful at best), they might consider removing themselves from the educational process. By re-legalizing aptitude tests, they can give employers a far cheaper and less time-consuming way of screening for employees. And if they remove themselves from the student loan business, colleges will be forced to slow tuition growth. Only then will the Student Loan Conspiracy finally, at long last, come to an end.

President Lincoln’s Greatest Nemesis?

If you were to ask the typical American about President Abraham Lincoln’s greatest enemy, he or she would most likely answer with Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America. But recent scholarship suggests that Lincoln faced a far more hated enemy much closer to home…Judge Roger Taney, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. In 1861, Lincoln’s hatred of Taney nearly exploded into a Constitutional crisis of epic proportions.

Judge Roger Taney versus President Lincoln?

On May 25, 1861, a Confederate sympathizer named John Merryman was arrested and charged with treason. He petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, a judicial order forcing the Union Army to appear before a judge and justify his imprisonment. Judge Roger Taney granted the writ.

But General George Cadwalader refused, stating that he was under no obligation to do so since President Lincoln had ordered the suspension of habeas corpus. This led to the famous Ex parte Merryman ruling, in which Judge Taney stated that only Congress had the power to suspend habeas corpus.

“And if the President of the United States may suspend the writ, then the Constitution of the United States has conferred upon him more regal and absolute power over the liberty of the citizen than the people of England have thought it safe to entrust to the Crown–a power which the Queen of England cannot exercise at this day, and which could not have been lawfully exercised by the sovereign even in the reign of Charles the First.” ~ Judge Taney, Ex parte Merryman

President Lincoln orders Roger Taney’s Arrest?

The judgment was an embarrassing repudiation to President Lincoln and Confederate sympathizers seized upon it as an example of Lincoln’s tyranny. In either May or June 1861, President Lincoln’s anger inspired him to call for the arrest of Judge Roger Taney.

“After due consideration the administration determined upon the arrest of the Chief Justice. A warrant or order was issued for his arrest. Then arose the question of service. Who should make the arrest and where should the imprisonment be? This was done by the President with instructions to use his own discretion about making the arrest unless he should receive further orders from him.” ~ Ward Hill Lamon

According to his own words, Ward Hill Lamon, who was a friend and bodyguard to President Lincoln as well as a United States Marshall, was given the warrant and ordered to arrest Roger Taney. Strangely though, the warrant was never served.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Nobody knows for sure why Lamon never followed through with the arrest. President Lincoln certainly wasn’t above arresting his political opponents, as the cases of Clement Vallandigham and Judge Merrick have shown. But we do know that the two men continued their bitter feud over Lincoln’s efforts to curtail civil liberties for several additional years.

I should point out that Lamon is the sole primary source for this story. Interestingly enough, most current Lincoln scholars consider it ridiculous. They dismiss Lamon as an alcoholic and point to the fact that he didn’t include the story in any of his published books (which, by the way, are highly treasured by these same scholars). Still, there is some corroborating evidence. Records indicate that Roger Taney himself as well as a colleague named Judge Curtis were aware of the near-imprisonment.

We may never know for certain how close President Lincoln came to arresting Judge Roger Taney. But we can all be thankful that he didn’t follow through on it. The ramifications might have been disastrous.

“It would have destroyed the separation of powers; destroyed the place of the Supreme Court in the Constitutional scheme of government. It would have made the executive power supreme, over all others, and put the President, the military, and the executive branch of government, in total control of American society. The Constitution would have been at an end.” ~ Charles Adams

The Double Eagle Scandal

In May 1933, the U.S. Mint printed the very last Saint-Gaudens double eagle. These $20 gold coins were never officially released to the public. A few managed to avoid destruction and the U.S. government has spent more than 60 years and untold millions of dollars tracking them down. Why is the 1933 double eagle the most controversial coin in history?

President Roosevelt Seizes America’s Gold

On April 5, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102 which, in effect, forced American citizens to turn in “all gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates” to the Federal Reserve. On January 30, 1934, Congress followed up that Order with the United States Gold Reserve Act, which allowed the President to seize the Federal Reserve’s newly-acquired gold supply. The federal government built Fort Knox in 1936 in order to store its newfound treasure.

The U.S. Government Declares War on the 1933 Double Eagles

Suddenly, gold coins became a thing of the past. The director of the Philadelphia Mint ordered the recently pressed 1933 double eagles to be melted down into gold bars and sent off to Fort Knox, a task which would take several years to complete. Only two of the coins were slated to survive. They were sent to the Smithsonian for safekeeping.

But, double eagles began to pop up. One coin made its way into the hands of Egypt’s King Farouk. Another one was offered via auction. The Secret Service quickly decided that someone had stolen the double eagles from the Philadelphia Mint. They actually debated the “advisability of trying to get [the] coin back from King Farouk.” However, since World War II was in progress and Egypt was an important American ally, they decided not to risk infuriating him. However, they did seize the other coin, an act which launched a decades-long war against private ownership of the 1933 double eagles.

“The government has been fanatical about seizing and destroying these coins. They’re famous because the government has been seizing them since the 1940s.” ~ Robert W. Hoge, American Numismatic Society

The 1933 Double Eagle becomes the Most Expensive Coin in History

The Secret Service traced the coins to a Philadelphia-based jeweler named Israel Switt. Switt claimed that he didn’t have any records pertaining to the eagles. However, he did state that they weren’t purchased from a Mint employee. The Justice Department disagreed but was unable to press charges due to the statute of limitations.

For the moment, the investigation was at an impasse. But after King Farouk was overthrown, his double eagle found its way into the hands of a coin dealer named Stephen Fenton. Fenton attempted to sell the coin in 1996 but the end buyer betrayed him. Secret Service agents rushed the room and seized the double eagle.

Incredibly, Fenton was charged with “conspiring to convert to his own use and attempt to sell property of the United States.” No one seemed to care that FDR’s ridiculous and unconstitutional Executive Order had been repealed in 1974 by President Ford. And the fact that there was no proof the coins were stolen in the first place didn’t seem to strike anyone as strange.

Fortunately, the charges were quickly dropped. And eventually, Fenton and the Justice Department agreed to auction off the coin and split the proceeds. After an extended publicity campaign, it sold for a grand total of $7.6 million, making it the most expensive coin in history until the 2010 sale of a 1794 silver dollar. The anonymous buyer lent it to the American Numismatic Society, which in turn lent it to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The Double Eagle Double-Cross?

The story of the 1933 double eagle should’ve ended with that auction. But there was still another chapter to come. In 2004, Israel Switt’s only child Joan Langbord along with her son Roy discovered ten 1933 double eagles in a safety deposit box. She took the coins to the U.S. Mint for authentication. The Mint agreed but ended up pulling a fast one. It refused to return the property and instead told the media that it had “recovered” ten additional coins.

The Langbord family sued. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero claimed that any 1933 double eagles that left the Mint did so illegally. The Langbord family argued that most of the Philadelphia Mint records, which were ill-kept, had been destroyed in 1978. Also, no surviving witnesses remained. Finally, they identified a “window of opportunity” where Israel Switt could’ve obtained the coins in a legal manner.Shockingly, the jury sided with the government. While the Langbord’s are expected to appeal the verdict, the story has come to an end, at least for now. And government representatives are quite pleased with their success.

“People of the United States of America have been vindicated.” ~ Jacqueline Romero, Assistant U.S. Attorney

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The government spent more than six decades vigorously pursuing these coins. They confiscated private property. They treated citizens very differently, allowing Fenton to profit from his coin while not giving the same courtesy to the Langbords. And they paid untold millions of tax dollars throughout the investigation as well as during the court case. That leaves me with one question…Do you feel vindicated?

Who was the Greatest President?

While conservatives and liberals disagree on many issues, they tend to share some common ground when it comes to ranking U.S. presidents. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt receive the top honor in most polls. However, a recent book argues that none of these Presidents deserves to be ranked #1. Its choice is…John Tyler?

Who was John Tyler?

John Tyler was the 10th President of the United States. He was known as “His Accidency,” on account of the fact that he took over after William Henry Harrison’s untimely death. Most of his cabinet resigned during his term and his own party expelled him from its membership. According to Wikipedia, an aggregate of various scholarly polls rate Tyler as one of the worst presidents of all time. Heck, even the extremely controversial George W. Bush outranks him. Who would possibly consider President John Tyler #1?

Reevaluating the Presidency of John Tyler?

In his book, Recarving Rushmore, Ivan Eland argues that the reason most historians overlook John Tyler is because of flawed ranking systems. He points out four particular biases exhibited by historians:

  1. Effectiveness: Scholars tend to focus on a president’s ability to enact an agenda without considering the positive or negative results from that agenda.
  2. Charisma: Historians place undue emphasis on exciting personalities at the expense of dull ones.
  3. Service during a Crisis: Many historians will only rank a president highly if he served during a great war or financial crisis, giving little credit to those who avoided war or kept crises from happening in the first place.
  4. Activism: Presidents who did a lot are ranked higher than those who preferred minimal government.

Eland takes a unique approach to evaluating presidents. Instead of ranking them on the usual stuff, he ranks them on how well they achieved peace, prosperity, and liberty. Presidents earn points for avoiding “wars of choice,” pursuing economic freedom, and respecting individual freedoms as well as limits on presidential powers.

His analysis leads to some interesting conclusions that differ wildly from most polls. George Washington is still fairly high at #7. But he ranks Abraham Lincoln (#29) and FDR (#31) far lower than any historian I’ve ever read. His top five are John Tyler, Grover Cleveland, Martin Van Buren, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Chester A. Arthur. These presidents are barely remembered by most Americans today which, in a way, is the point. Their terms were boring, thanks to their decisions to avoid wars and pursue policies that led to economic success as well as personal freedom.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So what about John Tyler? Well, he ended the Second Seminole War and exhibited restrained responses to an internal rebellion and a border dispute with Canada. He also vetoed his own party’s wishes to enact high tariffs and create a national bank, which ultimately cost him a second term. His record on preserving individual liberty is considered “very good.”

Eland’s book is a decidedly libertarian look at American presidents. Conservatives and liberals alike will find much to debate within its pages. However, while some may disagree with his criteria or his rankings, his study is an important one. It forces us to take a whole new look at how we judge presidents and whether the ones we choose to remember are really deserving of that honor.

Is Fort Knox Empty?

A few weeks ago, CNBC announced that Ron Paul, the esteemed congressman from Texas, hoped to audit the supply and purity of the thousands of tons of gold stored in Fort Knox.  Of course, Paul’s wish makes one minor assumption…that there’s actually still gold in Fort Knox.

The Origin of Fort Knox?

The strange tale of Fort Knox, also known as the United States Bullion Depository, begins in 1933.  On April 5 of that year, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102 which, in effect, forced American citizens to turn in “all gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates” to the Federal Reserve.  The federal government built Fort Knox in 1936 in order to store its newfound treasure.

Citizens received $20.67 for each troy ounce of gold they turned over to the government.  Subsequently, President Roosevelt offered other nations the opportunity to buy or sell gold at $35.00 per ounce, an inflationary measure designed to end the rising Great Depression.  It didn’t work.  However, with most other assets undergoing deflation, the higher gold price attracted massive amounts of sellers from around the world.  As such, by 1949 Fort Knox held nearly 70% of the entire world’s known gold supply.

The End of the Gold Standard?

During the 1950’s, the tide began to swing the other way.  The U.S. continued to transact gold at $35 per ounce.  However, due to the declining value of the U.S. dollar, other nations were now buyers rather than sellers.  The sell-off lasted until August 15, 1971 when President Richard Nixon “closed the gold window.”  By ending the last remaining links between the U.S. dollar and gold, he also ended the need for a bullion depository.  Thus, Fort Knox became little more than a glorified, high-security warehouse.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, that brings us to the main question.  What, if anything, is still in the facility?  According to official records, Fort Knox holds 4,578 metric tons of gold bullion, or roughly 2.5% of the entire world’s known gold supply.  At the present spot price, that works out to $225 billion dollars.

However, that amount comes with an asterisk.  You see, no visitors have actually been inside the facility since September 1974.  And an official audit has not been performed since January 1953.  Even worse, that audit was flawed in numerous ways.  It lasted only seven days and tested just a small fraction of the gold.  With so much wealth and secrecy rolled into one location, it’s not surprising that Fort Knox has given rise to a flood of conspiracy theories.  The most popular theory is that the vault is empty or perhaps, filled with fake gold bars.

Personally, I doubt that Paul’s efforts will prove successful, at least in the near-term.  But one can always hope.  If he does manage to crack the facility’s cloak of secrecy, we will finally know the answer to one of the greatest mysteries of American history.  Does Fort Knox truly hold 4,578 metric tons of gold?  More?  Less?  Or is it just an empty warehouse?  And if it’s empty, more questions arise.  Questions that could prove just as difficult to answer.  Questions such as…

Who took the gold?  And what did they do with it?

Controversial Treasure Unearthed in Kerala

Yesterday, the BBC reported that a gigantic treasure, worth in excess of $500 million, is being unearthed in Kerala, a state in southern India.  The treasure, accumulated centuries ago, was stored in six secret underground vaults beneath the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple.

The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Treasure?

The Kallaras, or granite chambers, were sealed up in the 1860s to protect the treasure from the British Raj.  Two of these chambers have remained unopened since that time.  The other four were last opened in the 1950s.

The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple itself was constructed in the 1500s by the kingdom of Travancore.  The Travancore Maharajahs dedicated themselves, the temple, and its wealth to Padmanabhaswamy, “an aspect of the Hindu God Vishnu in eternal sleep.”  Since that time, their descendants have controlled the temple along with the treasure.  However, a recent court case allowed the state government to seize control of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple and its wealth, supposedly to protect the treasure from theft.

Despite numerous Hindu protests and court appeals from the family, India’s Supreme Court ordered the vaults to be opened.  It also appointed a seven-person committee to inventory and assess the treasure.  According to the Business Standard, the recovered treasure includes:

  • Three sets of golden crowns of the kings of Travancore
  • Kulasekhrara Perumal crown
  • Precious stones including pearls, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires
  • Heaps of gold shaped like paddy
  • Around 1,000 Sarappoli chains, the longest of which is eighteen feet long.  Four of these weigh around 2kg each. Total weight of these is more than a quintal
  • Long ropes of gold like the traditional coir rope of Kerala
  • Diamonds
  • Hundreds of golden coins kept in bags and wooden boxes
  • Pendants and a large number of golden batons
  • Around 100,000 gold and silver coins
  • Golden waistbands studded with diamonds, each weighing 2kg
  • Gold and silver bars weighing 1-2kg each
  • Gold and silver utensils, crowns, golden umbrellas and pots

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

What a haul!  It’s exciting to see these treasures, some of which date back centuries, come to light.  But I’m deeply troubled about the way in which it happened.  Essentially, the Supreme Court declared that private property belonging to a religious temple was a national treasure and then used that as an excuse to seize possession of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple.

I sincerely hope that the treasure of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple adds to our understanding of the kingdom of Travancore.  Still, I wish that Kerala’s government and the Supreme Court had gone about this in a far different manner.