I don’t think I will ever know whether or not the massacre of September 11th 2001 was carried out by, or with the knowledge of, the authorities. But I think the overwhelming balance of probability lies on the side of the view than the crime was the work of an Islamic extremist group, working against the US government, not for it. I explain why in this article.
The movement which argues that ‘9/11 was an inside job’ modestly dubs itself ‘the 9/11 truth movement’, so I will refer to its collection of explanations as ‘9/11 truth’.
This truth comes in two varieties
- Theories whose predictions have been falsified
- Pseudo-theories which do not make falsifiable predictions
An example of a 9/11 pseudo-theory is the explanation of the varied reactions of members of the Bush government to the attacks. Suppose there are two possible behaviors. One is what one would expect from someone who was surprised by the plane crashes, and one is not. 9/11 truth says that if the politician behaved as if he knew something, well, that shows he knew something. If he behaved the other way, he was covering something up. A ‘theory’ which predicts two incompatible consequences equally well is a pseudo-theory.
An example of a falsified 9/11 theory is the idea that the government organized the attacks as a pretext to invade Afghanistan. Shortly after September 11th, US forces set up shop in the north of Afghanistan. Conspiracy believers muttered about an oil pipeline. After much pleading from the Taliban government’s opponents, the US airforce bombed the Taliban, who ran away. The Northern Alliance advanced, and president Bush asked them not to take Kabul. They ignored him. After ten years, the USA has achieved nothing. The contrast between the US government’s purported diabolical brilliance, and its actual incompetence in Afghanistan, is falsification – unless you argue that the incompetence itself is fake, in which case you have a pseudo-theory.
If it is unlikely that the administration planned to occupy Afghanistan, were the 9/11 events a ‘false flag operation’ designed to produce a pretext for the occupation of Iraq in 2003? Three considerations make this unlikely.
- The official report (1) does not say that Iraq was involved in the hijackings.
- It was unnecessary for the official report to blame Iraq. The government simply said it, and the majority of Americans believed it.
- The USA had a better pretext for occupying Iraq back in 1991 – Saddam’s attack on Kuwait, followed by a US invasion, backed by most of the world.
This theory says, in effect, that in 2001, the administration thought
We failed to occupy Iraq when we had a chance. Let’s murder thousands of Americans and blame it on fifteen Saudis, a Lebanese, an Egyptian, and two guys from the UAE! That’ll give us a great excuse to invade Iraq in two years’ time
It’s true that many Americans can’t tell the difference between Saudis and Iraqis. Exactly. Because much of the US public is so ignorant, bellicose, and servile, the government didn’t need 9/11. Most Americans were peace-lovers in 1914 and 1941, but it was no longer true in 2001. Even if it were so, a lesser tragedy, in which Iraq appeared to be involved, would have done the trick. If the official report is a cover-up, as the truthers allege, why does it explicitly deny evidence of co-operation between the alleged perpetrators and Saddam’s regime (1, pages 61 and 66)?
Prior false flag incidents directly implicated nations the USA wanted to fight. The government at various times had Spain, Germany, and North Vietnam attack, or appear to attack, American ships, because it wanted to wage war against them.
If the authorities could carry out an operation of this size and complexity, they could have more easily effected a lesser incident, which made Saddam Hussein look responsible. But they didn’t. They didn’t need a false flag incident at all.
Real theories apply Occam’s razor, selecting the hypotheses with fewest assumptions. In contrast, pseudo-theories need to add ever more complex sub-pseudo-theories to prop them up. An economical explanation of the success of the hijackers is that they took advantage of the policy – staff and passengers should co-operate with hijackers. Previous hijackers had not crashed planes, but flown them to Cuba. The faithful averred that the military was ‘stood down’ on the day. Then it became apparent that the airforce is not normally ‘stood up’ for a hijacking anyway. Believers then claimed pilots were told there was to be a ‘practice run’ for a real hijacking.
The need for complexity is also evident in the truthers’ attempt to explain the collapse of the two towers and the neighboring World Trade Center Seven building. The latter was not hit by a plane, so, they reason, it must have been brought down by explosives planted beforehand. Further, these Einsteins figure, the way the twin towers fell down shows that aircraft fuel alone could not have been responsible.
In their sincere efforts to oppose war, Zionism and Islamophobia, some of the truthers try to implicate Israel. A recent article on deliberation.info claims “the only individuals arrested on 9/11 were Israeli Mossad agents that just so happened to specialize in explosives and electronic intercepts” (2). But this is circular: the ‘controlled demolition’ argument depends partly on the significance of the agents’ alleged specialities, and vice-versa.
Some of the devotees seem to be as sure that the Jewish state had something to do with September 11th, as they are of Israel’s actual, proven crimes. They want to make this theory central to Palestine solidarity – but it’s already weak, and that would make it weaker. They make much of the claim that a few Israeli citizens welcomed the attacks – the famous ‘dancing Israelis’ hypothesis – and ignore the continuing celebration of September 11th by some Muslims, which I’ve seen with my own eyes. When a French terrorist murdered several Jewish children recently, Gilad Atzmon speculated that maybe Israel was involved. Pointless, tasteless comments like this divert attention from his genuine insights, and alienate rational people.
It is assumed by many 9/11 truthers that Israel gained a lot from 9/11. How much support did the USA give to Israel before 9/11? Pretty close to unconditional. Was it necessary to carry out the biggest terrorist attack in American history, and blame it on Muslims, in order to head off an unwonted upsurge of American independence from Israel? It was not. Since 9/11, US subservience has continued, just like before. Another prediction bites the dust.
One of the reasons the 9/11 truth movement continues unchallenged is because more logical people regard its beliefs as too obviously unlikely to waste energy rebutting them. Moreover, the zeal with which truthers defend their faith, and their concerns about the motives of unbelievers, do not encourage contradiction. I don’t doubt the disciples’ good intentions, though, disturbingly, they doubt mine, and those of anyone who is deaf to their earnest exhortations. A draft of a documentary by ‘Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth’ asked psychologists to explain
why so many people, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, still cling to the official version of 9/11
The answer was ‘cognitive dissonance’ (2). It’s difficult to debate with people who use psychoanalysis to explain why you disagree with them. Like Freud’s pseudo-theory, it’s circular, reinforcing itself by explaining away attempts at falsification.
Where does one start? Why did the authorities ‘have to’ destroy three major office buildings in New York? Having arranged for planes to crash into two of them, did they know this would not actually destroy the buildings, so they ‘had to’ blow them up, because ‘they needed the spectacle’? I understand George Monbiot’s question – “why do I bother with these morons?” (3) – but I resist it. As with other religions, there are intelligent people who believe in the 9/11 articles of faith.
I also reject Alexander Cockburn’s claim on Counterpunch that ‘many’ of the truthers have ‘racist’ views. When Iran’s president claimed that ‘most’ Americans believe 9/11 was an inside job, his US counterpart dismissed the statement as ‘hateful’
These are not effective arguments against 9/11 truth.
JoAnn Wypijewski struck a better tone, also on Counterpunch (4). She explained the demoralizing effect of the 9/11 truth movement.
After that first September 11, though, New Yorkers did talk, and they talked about US foreign policy, and the place of America in the world across the past 50 years, and Israel-Palestine, and why the hell people ‘hate us’ so much.
But five years later, she regrets, these discussions have been replaced by 9/11 truth.
It was like religion, and profoundly sad,
Wypijewski remarks of her discussions with the devotees hanging around the hole where the World Trade Center used to be.
It’s sad because it’s demoralizing. It’s demoralizing because it makes the powerful sound almost invincible, rendering us helpless.
In spite of the efforts of some of the contributors to deliberation.info and elsewhere, it defies reason to blame all the crimes attributed to Sunni Muslim extremists, from September 11th, to the frequent murders of Shi’ite pilgrims in Iraq, via the London Underground bombings, and hundreds of others around the world, on Mossad, MI5 or the CIA. Of course, I know the Western governments are the biggest terrorists, and their crimes are recruiting sergeants for Islamic terrorism. But they don’t control it.