In 1990, author Jon Atack published what is still one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, A Piece of Blue Sky. Atack now has a new edition of the book out, and it reminded us what an encyclopedic resource he is. So join us as we rely on Jon’s expertise to sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet.
Jon, we’ve been hearing from readers who have been seeing a TV ad from Scientology that presents a lot of aggrandizing claims about L. Ron Hubbard. We were hoping you could go through the ad’s script and sift out what’s true and what’s not so true.
Let’s go through the ad, line by line…
He was the nation’s youngest Eagle Scout at the age of thirteen
JON: The Boy Scouts of America have no record of this and were not concerned with this distinction. Who was ‘the youngest’ was never known by them, so it could not have been known by Hubbard or anyone else. He does seem to have become an Eagle Scout at an early age, but I have grown suspicious of every document advanced. So, I would say that if he really did earn it so young, he would be one of only a handful who had done so at that time. If that is the truth, then it would have been good enough. But not for Hubbard, who always had to embellish.
And twice journeyed to Asia before the advent of commercial flight
That sounds right — two trips to China in the late twenties. You can check the date for international commercial flight. There must have been some people selling tickets some time before 1927. Again, a creditable truth is hyperbolised, making the boaster unreliable.
He attended America’s first class on nuclear physics
He attended an early class on ‘molecular and atomic physics’ in his brief stint at George Washington University. He was given an ‘F’ — a failing grade. And it isn’t ‘nuclear.’ That is there to latch onto the post-atomic bomb image. It was the sort of stuff you would do at High School these days. Brown McKee testified at the Clearwater Hearings, in 1982, after more than two decades in Scientology, that as a physicist, he knew that the physics was wrong, but was fascinated by the Buddhist ideas. As a Buddhist, I knew that the Buddhism was nonsense, but was fascinated by the supposedly scientific enquiry which derived from this semester on the atom and the molecule. He wouldn’t have been studying Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli, Fermi, Schroedinger and it is possible that even Einstein would not have been mentioned (the Copenhagen Interpretation of the nucleus was worked out in the late twenties but would not have earned a mention on the GWU course). I have never seen a reference to any of the investigators of the nucleus in Hubbard’s work. In fact, his notion of physics is circa 1938, Adventure Magazine. Indeed, readers of his science fiction tales complained to Astounding Science-Fiction about his implausible ideas.
And was a pioneer at the dawn of American aviation
‘Flash’ Hubbard the ‘barnstorming’ pilot. He had a license for gliders. Not quite the dawn of aviation, though. This is after World War I, when there were a lot of returning pilots and a lot of planes were being off loaded, as military forces stood down all over the world for a few brief years. I feel that I must add a caution, I have come to see Hubbard as physically cowardly, so it is surprising that he would risk being aloft in a rig of wire, canvas and glue. And he proved how easy it is to create documents (including the forged check he tried to pass in San Luis Obispo as a young man). There is a photo of Hubbard wearing a row of medals. When analysed, he proves to be wearing medals that he did not receive, or even claim to have received. Prop photos are so easily made. He made them all his life.
He led expeditions into then remote islands as a member of the famed Explorers Club
The Alaska Radio Experimental Expedition: This is what Blue Sky says: “In February 1940, Hubbard was accepted as a member of the Explorers’ Club of New York (though one Scientology account says 1936). According to his book Mission into Time, Hubbard was awarded the Explorers’ Club Flag in May 1940, for an expedition to Alaska aboard his ketch, the Magician. Hubbard called this trip the Alaskan Radio Experimental Expedition. Another Scientology account claims the expedition was undertaken for the US Government. Hubbard seems to have been trying out a new system of radio navigation developed by the Cape Cod Instrument Company. At least the Scientologists provide documentation to that effect. The ‘expedition’ seems to have consisted of Hubbard and his first wife, Polly, aboard the 32-foot Magician. Some film was sent gratuitously to the US Navy Hydrographic Office. As ever, we are faced with a germ of truth embedded in Hubbard’s exaggeration. The habit of a lifetime. In a letter sent to the Seattle Star in November 1940, Hubbard complained that his Alaskan trip had been greatly delayed by frequent failures of the boat’s motor. Repairs had been expensive, and Hubbard and his wife were stranded in Ketchikan while he tried to write and sell enough stories to bail them out. Eventually he borrowed $265 from the Bank of Alaska, a debt he blithely forgot as soon he departed. Hubbard was apparently an accomplished sailor, receiving a License to Master of Steam and Motor Vessels in December 1940, and a License to Master of Sail Vessels (any Ocean), in May 1941.”
And was a giant in the Golden Age of Pulp Fiction
He spent more than he earned, until the millions started to pour in from Scientology in the 1970s, so he barely earned a living, while others were already prospering. He was a contributor during that age, but does anyone rate him with Heinlein or Asimov? Stephen King has singled out Fear as a significant story. Typewriter in the Sky is a good yarn. I recommend The End is Not Yet. In Blue Sky there’s this: “In December, Hubbard’s pension was increased (to about a third of a living wage), and his first wife’s divorce from him became final; more than a year after his second marriage. Hubbard was not satisfied with the increase in his pension, and wrote to the Veterans Administration complaining about his poor physical condition, and saying that if he did not have to worry so much about money, he would be able to produce a novel which had been commissioned. That novel, The End is Not Yet, had already been published in Astounding Science-Fiction, in August 1947. It is about a nuclear physicist who overthrows a dictatorial system with the creation of a new philosophy. It has been suggested that the novel had some bearing upon the creation of the Scientology movement. Hubbard’s writing and the VA pension combined, apparently did not provide sufficient funds, and in August 1948, Hubbard was arrested in San Luis Obispo for a check fraud. He was released on probation. By January 1949 the Hubbards were in Savannah, Georgia. In a letter written to his agent that month, Hubbard said that a manuscript he was working on had more potential for promotion and sales than anything he had ever encountered. Hubbard was referring to a therapy system he was working on. In April, he wrote to several professional organizations, offering Dianetics to them. None was interested, so Hubbard had to find another outlet for Dianetics, which he very promptly did.”
He was a Master Mariner licensed to captain vessels on any ocean
I found no documentation to this effect.
And a United States naval officer who commanded corvettes during WWII
Mr. Justice Latey said this in a High Court ruling, in London, in 1984 (once more courtesty of Blue Sky): “To promote himself and the cult he has made these amongst other false claims: That he was a much decorated war hero. He was not. That he commanded a corvette squadron. He did not. That he was awarded the Purple Heart, a gallantry decoration for those wounded in action. He was not wounded and was not decorated. That he was crippled and blinded in the war and cured himself with Dianetic technique. He was not crippled and was not blinded. That he was sent by U.S. Naval Intelligence to break up a black magic ring in California. He was not. He was himself a member of that occult group and practiced ritual sexual magic in it. That he was a graduate of George Washington University and an atomic physicist. The facts are that he completed only one year of college and failed the one course on nuclear physics in which he enrolled. There is no dispute about any of this. The evidence is unchallenged….Hubbard has described himself as ‘Dr. Hubbard.’ The only doctorate he has held is a self-bestowed ‘doctorate’ in Scientology….Mr. Hubbard is a charlatan and worse as are his wife Mary Sue Hubbard … and the clique at the top privy to the Cult’s activities.”
Blue Sky itself has: “Hubbard’s claims about his Navy career form a major part of the superman image he tried to project. He and his followers have claimed he saw action in the Philippines upon the US entry into World War II. Hubbard was supposedly the first returned casualty from the ‘Far East,’ and was dispatched immediately to the command of an anti-submarine warfare vessel which served in the North Atlantic. He allegedly rose to command the ‘Fourth British Corvette’ squadron, and then saw service with amphibious forces in the Pacific, ending the War in Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, ‘crippled and blinded,’ the recipient of between 218 and 279 medals and palms. His exploits were, Hubbard claimed, the basis for a Hollywood movie starring Henry Fonda. As ever, there are inconsistencies between Hubbard’s own accounts.”
“A Scientology press release claims that Hubbard was ‘flown home in the late spring of 1942 in the Secretary of the Navy’s private plane as the first US returned casualty from the Far East.’ Another Scientology account adds that Hubbard ‘was relieved by fifteen officers of rank [no longer “junior officers”] and was rushed home to take part in the 1942 battle against German submarines as Commanding Officer of a Corvette serving in the North Atlantic.’ Yet another Scientology account says he ‘rose to command a squadron.’ In reality, after his return by ship to San Francisco at the end of March 1942, Hubbard was hospitalized for catarrhal fever, which he had contracted aboard ship. Being the ‘first U.S. returned casualty from the Far East’ seems to have consisted of having a bad cold.”
His landmark work on the human mind rode bestseller lists for 100 consecutive weeks
Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health sold 150,000 copies before its publisher, Art Ceppos, withdrew it from publication (he resigned from the board of the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation in October 1950 and published fellow former board member Dr Joseph Winter’s book, criticising Hubbard’s inconsistencies). So the book was not available from stock from that time on and the craze was already dying down, because most of those who had tried the technique had not found it effective. A lecture series given by Hubbard in October 1951 attracted only 51 students. Scientology remained small for over a decade, before media scare stories began to attract new recruits, in the 1960s. It should be easy to check the significant best seller lists for the time (and, indeed, the New York Times), but it sounds like more hokum, to me.
And he’s the most published and translated author of all time
More than the Biblical authors or Lao Tze? Or Rumi, for that matter. You’d need hard statistics for that, and they don’t have them, even if they wanted to show them. Eleven million Scientologists — a curiously static number for some years now, for the ‘fastest growing religion in the world’ — actually boils down to a membership of about 30,000. They count the Body Thetans, too, and with books, we know that boxes of Battlefield Earth arrived back at book stores with their price-labels already on every book, so fluffing sales figures comes naturally. Single pages are included as ‘publications,’ as are new editions. I remember Gibby at the book store at Saint Hill, who, back in the late 1970s, had the leftovers of just about every edition. Sometimes ten or more of the same book. New editions are just a way to induce buying — see Jenna Miscavige Hill’s heartbreaking book, where she says staff had to find $80 to buy a new printing of a volume of policy letters (on a wage of $25 a week, if she was lucky).
He is L. Ron Hubbard — founder of Scientology
Well, his paternal grandfather was called Wilson. His father was adopted by a family called Hubbard. Maybe, L. Ron Wilson?
THE BUNKER: We can’t believe you actually found something to question in that final line. You are really something, Atack.
Next week: We’re going space opera!
SMERSH Madness: Sowing the Seeds of World Domination!
As we announced on March 1, we’re joining bracket fever with a tournament like no other. It’s up to you to decide who should be named the new SMERSH, the traditional nemesis of Scientology. Cast your vote for who’s doing more to propel the church down its long slide into oblivion!
Continuing in the first round, we have a classic battle this morning…
John Sweeney has come to terms with the fact that he will forever be remembered for blowing his stack while filming a 2007 BBC Panorama special on Scientology. Luckily for us, that’s produced Sweeney’s entertaining new book, The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology.
Debbie Cook’s infamous New Year’s Eve e-mail started off 2012 with a temblor that is still shaking up the Church of Scientology. Nearly every person now leaving the church credits her lengthy indictment of Scientology leader David Miscavige with helping them see the light.
Yesterday’s result: L. Ron Hubbard defeated Steve Cannane by ONE VOTE, 239-238.
Posted by Tony Ortega on March 2, 2013 at 07:00