How long have humans been lying? (Don't ask us, we'll probably lie.) There have been so many massive lies throughout history that it's impossible to keep up with them all. Here are a few whoppers of notoriety:
- Wartime propaganda. A common lie weaved throughout history is the lie that precedes an unprovoked act of aggression. The Nazis made use of this tactic before the German invasion of Poland. A series of mock attacks on various German border stations set the stage for a "defensive" swarming into Polish territory.
- Sex scandals. Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy covered up his extramarital affairs, and plenty of other politicians have done the same. U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, a devout segregationist for much of his political career, fathered a child when he was 22 with an African-American woman who worked for his family. In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton announced to the world, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," referring to White House intern Monica Lewinsky, with whom he had sexual relations.
- Lies in the media. Reporter Jayson Blair's tenure at the New York Times goes down in infamy. In 2003, the 27-year-old admitted he fabricated dozens of stories, made up quotes and filed reports from cities around the nation when he was actually still in New York.
- Spies' lies. In 1986, CIA analyst Aldrich Ames had just started betraying his country by selling classified information to the Soviets when he learned he was scheduled to take a routine lie detector test. Nervous, Ames contacted his Soviet handlers for advice, figuring (rightly so) that if anyone knew how to beat an American lie detector test, it would be the Soviets. The answer the Soviets gave Ames seemed alarmingly simple, but Ames knew his value to the Soviets was so high that they wouldn't give him a flippant response.
For more HowStuffWorks articles on lying, from how fMRI works to the history behind propaganda, take a look at the links on the next page.