Today is the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I’d forgotten until I turned on the radio to find there’d been a false-alarm, Coast Guard operation on the Potomac River with reports of shots fired. Given political revelations in Tom Ridge’s memoir of his time heading das Amt von Sicherheit von Heimat, there’s that little flicker of doubt: “Is somebody jerking my chain?”
And that raises the ugly specter of conspiracy: black-flag operations, thermite in the towers, how fast can a twelve hundred-foot tall building fall, how hot is does jet fuel burn, etc. You know there was incompetence. FBI agent Coleen Rowley has written that the agency ignored information from its Minneapolis office the month before the attacks, concerning Zacarias Mousaoui, the so-called “twentieth hijacker.” President Chad-Boy’s famously dismissed an agent who believed an attack was imminent with the comment, “Okay, you’ve covered your ass.” Subsequently the Bush Administration made hay by stampeding the virgin American public into a suspect war in Afghanistan, and an out-and-out blitzkreig in Iraq. More insidiously, the government used the attacks as a pretext for warrantless wiretaps, peaks at citizen e-mails, ignoring habeas corpus, and violations of non-citizens’ various Creator-endowed, unalienable rights. A stand-up comic whose name I’ve forgotten put it plainly in a routine in which subordinates awaken then-Attorney General John Ashcroft with the news of the attacks. Ashcroft rubs his hands and exclaims, “Alright!”
It’s been decades since I cracked a math or physics book, and it would be easy for either conspiracy theorists or deniers to fool me, but I don’t believe any part of the American government was complicit with the attackers. I don’t believe that the jets that crashed into either the Twin Towers or the Pentagon had help on the ground. Jihadist and neo-con villainies were both real, but separate.
Regarding delays in reacting to news of the hijackers and their plans -- or in digesting earlier intelligence -- I think it was incredulity not complicity that stayed administration and military hands. There was a crisis of imagination in the face of disaster. Responsible people could neither believe what was happening, think of what to do, nor bring themselves to scramble the jets that would shoot hundreds of Americans out of the sky.
If someone couldn’t believe that the airliners could do the damage to the buildings, and engineers explained falsely how they could have, the error would have become part of the American engineering curriculum. There are thousands of engineers today who didn’t have their driver’s licenses on September 11, 2001, and thousands more minted every year. We can’t afford to have them building skyscrapers with falsified notions of how buildings work, and their educations and careers would be experiments for testing the corrupted curriculum. Young American-educated engineers would also have the opportunity to compare notes with uncorrupted engineers from other parts of the world.
Theorists versus Debunkers