Sunday, September 12, 2010

Some conspiracy narratives

Last evening, I watched a programme on the Discovery network, called Science and Conspiracy, which subjected the various claims that the September 11 attacks were the result of a “false flag” or “inside job” conspiracy, to experimental scrutiny. One of the allegations is that the U.S. Defence department headquarters in Washington — known universally as the Pentagon — was not struck by an airplane, but instead, was attacked by a missile. Heretofore, my understanding of this “theory”, was that the damage to the building was not significant enough to have been hit by a jet airplane travelling at several hundred miles an hour. However, at least according to three “9/11 truth movement” members interviewed for the show, the accusation is instead that the destruction to the Pentagon was too much to have been caused by an airplane. The programme showed a re-enactment both a strike by a winged aircraft, and a missile, which demonstrated that the damage to the building was consistent with... well, with what actually happened, an airplane striking the building.

Of course, the truth-movement “experts” on hand (which included two architects, as well as the director of Loose Change, a 9/11 conspiracy film) always found a reason to reject the findings. What I found significant was that, when presented with the experimental evidence, their statements were a great deal more equivocal than they usually are, in regard to the “evidence” for conspiracy. Thus, one of the architects, in speaking about the damage to the Pentagon facade, as seen in photographs just minutes after the airplane hit, said “you can’t tell one way or the other whether it was hit by an airplane...”. The Loose Change filmmaker, even admitted that many who were nearby the Pentagon on September 11, witnessed an airplane approaching the building, “but we can’t be sure from these statements, that the airplane actually hit the building...”

Naturally, when these experts, and others interviewed for the movie, were asked to provide their own scenario for what really happened on 9/11, they all deferred to the line that, “Well, we can’t know the truth until a government body is given full subpoena power, including the power to jail officials, to investigate the events of September 11.” This didn’t stop one of the architects from claiming that he and his colleagues have “proven that this was a false flag operation...”, meaning that it was actually carried out by U.S. government, who in turn blamed Arab terrorists for the attacks.

In any case, the “inside job” scenario that I am most familiar with, and which was presented on the Science and Conspiracy show, proceeds like this: each of the four airplanes supposedly commandeered as missiles on September 11, ‘01, were instead intercepted by U.S. military aircraft; remote-controlled jets rendered to appear like civilian aircraft, were substituted for them, while the actual aircraft were escorted to a secret military base; the remote-controlled jets were then crashed into the World Trade Centre towers, and the Pentagon (although wait, what happened to the missile that was supposed to crash into the latter structure?); but because the collision of the airplanes was not sufficient in itself to cause the collapse of the twin towers, explosive charges installed in the beams of the World Trade Centre previously, were detonated, thus causing both the towers to fall; meanwhile, back at that secret military base, the passengers from the three planes that were later said to have crashed into the towers and the Pentagon, were herded onto the remaining aircraft, which took off again, and was then shot down over the Pennsylvania countryside (presumably, this aircraft was remote-controlled too; or piloted by U.S. military pilots who didn’t know they were to be shot down, or...); the phone calls placed by the flight-attendants to their employers, and the passengers to their loved ones, aboard the doomed flights (as well as transmissions made by the terrorist pilots), were faked.

All of this is, of course, ludicrous on its face. Given the fact that such an operation would require (as the Discovery-network programme pointed out) the participation of thousands of people, there no point even in stating that no evidence exists to support any of this — no evidence of other aircraft in the sky; no evidence of the real aircraft being intercepted by military aircraft; no evidence that phone calls were faked; no evidence that anyone wired the World Trade Centre towers with explosives prior to the 9/11 attacks; no evidence of a missile attacking the Pentagon, and so on (in contrast, of course, to the literal mountain of evidence which supports, well, what actually happened that day). It is just a story told by conspiracy-narrators to justify their own belief that somehow, the “official story” isn’t the correct one.

This is key. Another word for “conspiracy” is “plot”, and “plot” is also another word for “story.” Conspiracy narratives (I must stress again that the 9/11 “inside job” allegations never rise to the level of theory) seek to give shape to messy reality, providing an “arc” for events, instead of the randomness of reality. It is simply that reality, when conveyed in story form, is too incredible to be believed, which is why movies, programmes and novels that are “based on a true story”, always change the details to make them more believable. Paradoxically, conspiracy narratives almost always render events far more complicated than they actually are. Such narratives render actual events into mythology (the word “myth” coming from the Greek for “story”).

The Science and Conspiracy show interviewed David Aaronovitch, a British journalist and author of Voodoo Histories, a copy of which I now have on hold at the public library, which examines conspiracy “theories”. Aaronovitch refers to the narrative function of allegations of conspiracy in regard to the September 11 attacks, and also makes an analogy with a previous event that I had not heard before. Immediately after 9/11, the attacks on New York city and Washington were compared to Pearl Harbour, just short of sixty years before.

The September 11 terrorist assaults were more nefarious, than Pearl Harbour, in fact, for being more deadly (almost three thousand killed, versus two-thousand), and for involving primarily civilian instead of military targets. However, the parallel goes further in respect to the fact that, following Pearl Harbour, anti-war forces went so far as to alleged that the Roosevelt government conspired to allow the Japanese attack to proceed, just to get the U.S. into World War II (not to my knowledge, though, was the U.S. military accused of running a “false-flag” operation involving American forces attacking an American military base, though a “soft” 9/11 conspiracy narrative has it that the Bush government had foreknowledge of the attacks, but let them go ahead in order to get the country involved in a war in the Middle Eastern, ostensibly in turn to seize the area’s oil wealth). The main difference was that, in the case of Pearl Harbour, the anti-war movement was on the political right, while the 9/11 “inside job/let-it-happen” folks are on the left (though some rightists have joined up with them).

The idea that Roosevelt knew about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, and allowed it to go ahead to get the U.S. into World War II, endured long after the end of the war, and indeed, in spite of any evidence supporting the allegation. In my childhood, when I went with my parents visit my grandmother each week for Sunday dinner, I would flip through a book they owned entitled I Remember, Do You? This work of nostalgia included old photographs of the U.S. from the 1920s to the nineteen-fifteens, with a short text describing major trends and events of the era (such as the stock-market crash and Depression, World War II, the Eisenhower administration, and so on). One of the longer passages was titled (if I recall correctly) “Pearl Harbor: The Surprise Attack That Wasn’t a Surprise”, and went on to detail all the allegations that were made after Pearl Harbour that the Roosevelt government knew exactly what was about to occur on December 7, 1941, and let it go ahead anyway. I Remember, Do You? was published during the 1970s.

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