Grand Strategy in the Age of Mass Destruction

The Emperor's New Clothes: A Study in Decline and Fall

Commentary for 28 December 2014

In the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes," by Hans Christian Andersen, we find only a fragment of a larger story which has received almost no attention until now. For those unfamiliar with "The Emperor's New Clothes," a brief summary is in order. "Once upon a time," wrote Andersen, "there lived a vain Emperor whose only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes." This infatuation quickly came to the attention of the Russian and Chinese intelligence services, who sent out two agents of influence named Ivanov and Wang, described by Andersen as "two scoundrels." These fellows convinced the Emperor that they had invented a new fabric, telling his Royal Highness that "it is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality." For a large sum of money (and access to state secrets) Ivanov and Wang agreed to make a special suit of clothes, fitted for the Emperor, using this new fabric.

"The Emperor thought he had spent his money quite well," wrote Andersen. "In addition to getting a new extraordinary suit, he would discover which of his subjects were ignorant and incompetent." Those who praised the Emperor's new clothes would signal their suitability for promotion. And so the day came when the clothes were ready and the Emperor decided on a royal procession. Vast crowds came to see the Emperor. Everyone remarked on the beauty and color of the new clothes -- with one outstanding exception. According to Andersen a child, "who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes reported," went up to the Emperor's carriage and said, "The Emperor is naked." This started a lively rumor, which the Emperor ignored. And there the story ends, officially. But in truth, this was only the beginning of a much larger story, which continues up to the present time.

When the Emperor reached his palace after the procession, he learned that the New York Times and Washington Post were about to run stories on his nakedness. He quickly called the publishers and told them, in no uncertain terms, that they would not be invited to official parties any longer if they printed such "rubbish." So the stories were quashed. Of course, a few sites on the Internet reported the nakedness of the Emperor, but these sites were denounced by members of Congress from both parties, who had already placed special orders with Ivanov and Wang. Even the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, concerned about a market meltdown, warned that rumors of a naked Emperor could devastate the economy.

Planned Parenthood, not to be left out of things, advocated the manufacture of condums with the new fabric. The National Institutes of Heath authorized a grant of several million dollars to study those unfortunates and misfits who were unable to see the Emperor's new clothes, and a new personality disorder was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fashion Appreciation Deficit Disorder (FADD). Leading Ivy League universities competed for billions in grants in order to study the properties of the new fabric. Thousands of researchers, academics and scientists were kept employed around the clock. A couple of scientists did object, claiming the fabric was nonexistent. But their funding was withdrawn and one of them actually changed his tune, admitting he had slandered the wonderful new fabric out of meanness. (He was afterwards lavishly funded.)

The stock market did, indeed, climb out of sight due to the fabric's many spin-offs. Some financial analysts began to say that a tremendous era of prosperity had arrived, based on the new fabric. Priests, rabbis and ministers started using the new clothing in place of more traditional vestments. Theologians even discussed whether or not this was the same material used to make Jesus Christ's robes. Liberals insisted that people who lacked compassion could not see the new fabric while conservatives claimed liberals only pretended to see it. Liberatarians said the new fabric should not be taxed, while socialists demanded the fabric be used in the making of clothes for the poor. Advocates of National Missile Defense claimed the wondrous new fabric could be used to stop missiles fired from rogue nations, and several climate change scientists claimed the new fabric could be used to reverse global warming.

There were still doubts about the fabric, however. An intelligence analyst went public with information that Ivanov and Wang were members of a foreign criminal organization. The analyst, of course, was fired from his job and ended up working as a janitor in an elementary school. As the fabric gained in prestige around the world, the Russian Duma requested an IMF loan so that atomic bomb factories could be converted into textile plants for the mass production of this marvelous new product.

Several hundred years later, historians commented on these curious events. They concluded that the Emperor's new clothes were obviously real and not imaginary. They also concluded that the child who couldn't see the clothes may have been retarded or insane. However, the historians also reported that the secret of this amazing fabric was lost to the world due to the barbarian invasions that overwhelmed the Empire a few years after the fabric appeared.