A few weeks ago, I received a comment from Daniel Edd Bland III, a passionate and voluble member of the 9/11 Truth Community (click here for the original post and subsequent exchange). I received a follow-up from him today, which reads, in part:
Thanks for responding. How do you feel about this guy’s qualifications?
Have you ever watched the documentary, “9/11: Press for Truth”? I do not understand how anyone could watch this documentary, argue against the victim’s families, and still consider themseleves a Patriotic American Citizen. The evidence has been served up on a silver platter, and I promise you that I will see to it that the truth gets exposed. I do appreciate and respect the fact that you did not delete my previous comment. You are obviously more of a Patriot than any of the mainstream media.
I joined the US Army in a combat arms MOS just three months after 9/11. I believed that defending my family, friends, and fellow countrymen from those who attacked us was a cause worth dying for. My beliefs have not changed. I raised my right hand and swore to defend this country against all enemies, foreign or DOMESTIC. Now that I know beyond any doubt that Osama bin Laden and 19 cavemen did not bring down the towers, I will continue upholding my oath by pursuing the TRUE perpetrators until I take my last breath.
I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but Yeats’s words in “The Second Coming” seem strangely apt when it comes to 9/11 Truth: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Which isn’t to say that all 9/11 Truthers are “bad.” Many of them–Daniel Ed Bland III, for one–are absolutely sincere and well-intentioned. Part of the reason I try to avoid getting into arguments with them, even though I utterly disagree with their premises, is because I don’t want to seem to be impugning their intelligence or their characters. By “the worst” I’m referring to their critical methodologies–to their emotionally-colored, conspiratorial, often magically deterministic views of the world.
I’ve written elsewhere on this blog (click here) about David Ray Griffin, whose qualifications as a liberal theologian are sterling, whose political leanings are not dissimilar to my own, but whose writings about 9/11 I find tendentious in the extreme. 9/11–the sheer shock of it, the deaths, the sense of violation–still rouses incredible emotions. The wars that followed, and seven years of Bush/Cheney policies promoted by waving the bloody flag, have left us more polarized as a society than we’ve been since at least the 1960s.
To read some of the reviews of CULTS, CONSPIRACIES, AND SECRET SOCIETIES, you’d think that I reflexively deny the existence of any and all conspiracies. In fact, my perspective is much more nuanced. For example, I’m no great believer in the Warren Commission. My mind may be far from first-rate but, to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, I’m able to hold two seemingly contradictory ideas in it at the same time. Though I regard the Warren Commission’s conclusions with skepticism and suspect that there were individuals and entities in the government who did their best to cover up embarrassing facts, I grant scant credence to most of the conspiracy theories about the assassination as well. Though I am far from being a 9/11 Truther, I believe that the Bush/Cheney administration lied to us, repeatedly and brazenly. They tried to hide the evidence of their neglect and incompetence in the weeks and months leading up to the attacks, and they exploited them afterwards to promote a war that an unholy alliance of interests (Israel-minded neo-conservatives; profit-hungry oilmen; Rumsfeld, who wanted to showcase his new military model; evangelicals looking to hasten the End times; expatriate Iraqis who believed it would return them to power) were certain would be a cake walk. But I have seen no credible evidence at all that Bush, Cheney or anyone else in the American government abetted or planned the attacks themselves.
I was maybe a quarter of a mile away from the North Tower that morning; the jet was over mid-town when I saw it and I didn’t take my eyes off it until it disappeared in the fireball. But an hour and a half later, when I was back in Brooklyn and someone told me that the tower had just collapsed (and indeed, there’d been all kinds of rumblings outside and the sky was noticeably darker), I insisted that they were mistaken. “It couldn’t have fallen,” I said. “The damage was all at the top.” I was practically there, but I didn’t know what I was talking about. No big surprise–as any lawyer can tell you, eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. The next afternoon, I met a hard-hat on the Brooklyn Bridge who’d been working on the Pile. “Was it a bomb?” I asked him. “I don’t know,” he answered, “But I’ll tell you this: Yesterday this country was caught sitting on the crapper, with its pants around its ankles.” He didn’t know anything either, but it’s hard to argue with what he said.
As for Steven E. Jones, yes, he is a well-regarded physicist, but he’s not a structural engineer. I’ve read articles by structural engineers that completely demolish the notion that the buildings collapsed at “free fall acceleration.” I’m not able to follow their math, and I suspect that most members of the 9/11 Truth Community aren’t either. But what motivation would their authors have to lie? From what I’ve read about the trace quantities of chemicals associated with thermites that Jones detected on debris collected from Ground Zero, that evidence is far from definitive as well–there are more proximate and innocuous sources for those chemicals than incendiary bombs (many of them are present in freon and paint and computer equipment). I could point to websites like debunking911.com or AE911Truth.INFO or 911Myths, but true believers–most of whom are arguing from emotion, not evidence–would simply point me to advocacy websites of their own.
No, I can’t claim that I’ve personally assessed the physical evidence, that I’ve conducted independent forensics tests of my own and run mathematical analyses–I’m not qualified to do so. My tool of choice is Occam’s Razor, the notion, also known as the Principle of Parsimony, named after the English Scholastic William of Occam: Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate, or, in English, “Plurality should not be assumed unnecessarily.” In other words, the most econonmical explanation is probably the best. This blog counts up all the people who would have had to be involved in a conspiracy in which the government deliberately blew up those buildings, then manipulated fake hijackers (or suicide operatives, or airplane holograms) into crashing jets into them and then corrupted thousands of engineers and scientists and law enforcement authorities and insurance inspectors and construction workers and firefighters and victims’ families to rubberstamp the official story. I linked to it a month ago, which was what started this whole exchange. It’s much easier for me to imagine a small but well-funded group of Arabs with box cutters pulling this off than half a million silent collaborators, almost none of whom have anything to gain–and whose number includes almost every structural engineer in the world (Richard Gage, the founder of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth is NOT a structural engineer).
As for the movie, no I didn’t watch it, but I know it was well-reviewed, and I salute the Jersey Girls for their courage and assiduousness. I don’t believe that all of the political or public safety issues that 9/11 raises have been remotely resolved (consider NORAD’s and the FAA’s torpid response to NWA’s rogue Flight 188 last week, if you don’t believe that sufficiently-committed hijackers could knock down another American building). I’m completely in favor of airing everything that can be aired in the full glare of the press.
But I don’t think it serves truth or justice to misuse science, to pretend that people who died didn’t die, that jets didn’t crash or that members of the Bush administration–which Lord knows is culpable for so many things–knowingly pulled any triggers.