Today we remember the victims of 9/11. I have nothing particularly eloquent to say. I’m sure you can find that elsewhere. Mark makes his annual point.
The attacks have had an effect beyond the number of Americans killed. Hundreds of thousands have been killed in wars that were a direct result of 9/11. Our civil liberties have been trampled. Politicians have a new way to manipulate people into keeping them in power.
We should mourn all of these things.
Perhaps a little perspective is in order after not forgetting yesterday. Wired tells us how likely we are to die from certain things. Falling down, hernias, etc. Oh, terrorism is on there, too. Second from the bottom. It was beaten by falling down, walking down the street, and driving off the road.
Granted, no one is ever going to fall down and kill in the six figures, which is quite possible with terrorism, but it’s worth realizing that terrorism shouldn’t necessarily be our number one concern.
(via Hit and Run)
Today’s the fifth anniversary of 9/11, as you undoubtedly know. I remember getting up for school and being told a plane had hit one of the WTC towers and we didn’t know how it happened. The second plane struck the other tower a short while later and terrorism became the explanation. We didn’t do much that day in school. I watched the towers collapse during my careers class.
I hadn’t been paying much attention to politics before that. I remember rooting for Bush in 2000 and thinking we were lucky Gore wasn’t President after the attacks. I know why I rooted for Bush (my parents), but I’m not entirely sure where I got the second sentiment. Somewhere in the media, I assume. After that I started paying more attention, partly due to the increased number of political discussions on a music message board I used to post on. The person driving those discussions happened to be something of a conspiracy theorist, so I was exposed to 9/11 conspiracy theories (and Pearl Harbor ones, which led to the only book I purchased and later threw away). I fell into believing those for a while, but I was never particularly dogmatic about it and I was never sucked into the anti-semitic right-wing side of those ideas (not that there isn’t an anti-semitic left-wing side). Still, that’s a pretty horrible thing to believe and I’m glad I was able to find the arguments and evidence that led me to repudiate them.
So I have mixed views toward 9/11 conspiracy theorists now. I don’t want to see them ridiculed and attacked as twisted people, because I’m sure there are people like me who were just misguided. On the other hand, some of the mendacious anti-semitic and anti-government views of proponents of such theories are clearly wrong and those people deserve all the scorn we can muster.
Such people are on the extremist fringe of political debate, however. What about more mainstream responses? Sadly, those haven’t been so great either. Atheists (I know, not really mainstream, but I’d say respectable) seem to have reacted against religion, as evidenced by books like The End of Faith (which I swear I’m going to read eventually). Others have reacted against Islam with clash of civilizations rhetoric. Meanwhile, the far left has characterized the attacks as a result of our foreign policy, prompting accusations of “blaming America first.” Such lefties have advocated almost everything short of complete isolation. The more mainstream response, however, is perhaps even worse. We blindly supported our leaders, who were just as scared as we were. We haven’t held anyone accountable for the overreaches in the PATRIOT Act. We abandoned restraint in the name of having a post-9/11 mindset, where visions of mushroom clouds overrule reason, in Iraq. We allowed people to be imprisoned without basic legal rights. We supported torture and rendition. We failed to stand up for the basic domestic security reforms necessary (9/11 commission recommendations, port security, etc), letting politicians tell us that invading other countries comes before basic common sense. All in the name of fear. We didn’t reevaluate our priorities in the face of a horrific event. We didn’t decide that we were neglecting important tasks. We allowed fear to rule and send us running into the arms of those who promised comfort and safety if we’d sacrifice some of our ideals.
Thankfully, none of this has come back to bite us – yet. Sure, our policies have had some terrible consequences (deaths and torture in our wars, curtailment of some our freedoms), but what they aim to prevent (another 9/11) hasn’t happened. Whether this is because of our regrettable responses (Iraq, PATRIOT Act), our better ones (Afghanistan), or nothing at all, we’re in danger of learning the wrong lesson. Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc is a popular logical fallacy. What happens if we’re hit again in the next couple years? How do we separate what was reasonable and proper from what was hysterical and illogical? Can we do that with the intense fear and anger we’ll be dealing with? I hope so. While honoring the people who lost their lives in the attacks is important, more important is determining how we move forward and taking stock of how we’ve done so far. That’s what I hope isn’t forgotten amongst the calls of “never forget.”
So, I was flipping channels a bit ago and went past C-SPAN. I was slightly surprised at what they have on. They have Alex Jones and a bunch of like minded people discussing 9/11. When I say discuss, I mean ranting about how 9/11 was an inside job. That’s what’s on C-SPAN.
So, what, is the next show a panel discussion on how the Holocaust is a Jewish conspiracy? Surely C-SPAN has some useful programming somewhere.
So, today’s 9/11. I really don’t have anything to say, as I’m not really good at that kind of thing. The best thing I can think of is to look at some conspiracy theories surrounding the event. The one I want to look at is this old one, discussing the relationship between bin Laden and the U.S.:
Distortion #1: The CIA only supported Afghan Islamist terrorists against Russia. That is, Washington simply chose some bad allies.
Reality: Does a parent ally with his child? Washington instigated the war in Afghanistan (2) and Washington deliberately created the violent Islamist movement, utilizing for this purpose the harsh Wahhibi version of Islam pushed by U.S. ally Saudi Arabia. Some say this was ‘just a bad mistake,’ but it involved debate in the highest circles and careful planning and vast sums of money and the intimate participation of the covert forces of the U.S. and junior partners. As late as this May, President Bush promised to send the Taliban another 43 million dollars. (2a)
Note that there’s nothing here. There’s no argument. The claim is in retrospect we chose some bad allies. There’s no question that at the time it was a calculated decision. It simply had unintended consequences. I don’t see the problem here. Maybe they should have known better, but you still have to wonder if there were other options at the time.
And of course, the idea that Bush sent money to the Taliban is ridiculous. The article is quoted in a footnote:
On $43 million aid: “The Bush administration has not been deterred [by talk of Taliban atrocities]. Last week it pledged another $ 43 million in assistance to Afghanistan, raising total aid this year to $ 124 million and making the United States the largest humanitarian donor to the country.” (‘The Washington Post,’ 25 May 2001)
The next sentence is:
All of the aid is being delivered through the United Nations and private groups such as CARE and Mercy Corps International.
Distortion # 2: “Bin Laden’s network” is the source of all terror.
True, I suppose. Of course, his arguments are ridiculous:
The Taliban fulfilled, or were supposed to fulfill, a key US strategy: to threaten the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia. The message was: cooperate with the US (especially, let the U.S. military take over your defense apparatus with U.S. advisers, arms, etc.) or the Taliban will get you. It is because the Taliban has proved inadequate for this task that the U.S. government is now moving to take Afghanistan into receivership.
No evidence for this is to be found, of course. As I just pointed out, his citation of the U.S. giving aid to the Taliban is distorted.
Distortion # 3: We are told bin Laden broke with the U.S. during the Gulf War.
Bin Laden was never really “with” us. There’s no evidence he ever received funding from the U.S. He wouldn’t deal with us and didn’t have to, because he had plenty of money of his own.
Reality: Who knows the truth? We’re dealing with covert forces here. If he did break, why have he and, more important, a whole army of Islamist terrorists been involved on the side of U.S.-backed (or U.S. created!) terrorists in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia?
Ignoring the “U.S.-backed” comment, they went because Muslims were fighting for independence, as they saw it. They do the same thing in Chechnya.
After some evidence-less rhetoric Israel says this:
Ambassador Michael Kozak announced that his government has a ‘Nicaraguan”-type policy towards Belarus. The Ambassador was referring to Washington’s creation and sponsorship of the Contra drug-gangsters (remember Iran/Contra?) whom Washington organized to terrorize Nicaragua during the 1980s. The goal was to destroy the left-nationalist Sandanista government. Kozak was himself a U.S. operative in that terror campaign, so his outrageous threat should be taken seriously. (3b)
The letter linked is barely a direct accusation. It mentions no specifics and the only evidence is individuals involved in Iran/Contra are being put in posts around the world. There’s also another problem: Kozak didn’t write that letter. The letter is from Mark Almond, who is pointing out that Kozak was involved in the Contra fiasco. Oops.
The U.S. attack on Belarus clearly violates international law – for instance, the Helsinki Final Act, which the U.S., by the way, signed. Perhaps Mr. Bush is unaware that the Helsinki Final Act exists. Perhaps his understanding of international law is: ‘We do what we want and you do what we want or we kill you.’ [An excerpt from the Helsinki Final Act is posted near the end of this discussion.]
Really going off on that Belarus thing, isn’t he? With no evidence, of course.
There’s really not much here, but it teaches a useful lesson about conspiracy theories, a lesson that should be repeated (hence why I’m making some not exactly unique observations). They can look convincing on the surface, but once you have a little knowledge and attempt to dig deeper, they unravel. The main point is this: it can be useful to point this out, rather than just ridiculing them. There certainly are some (how many is an open question) rational conspiracy theorists that are simply misinformed. We should consider just how effective condemnation and ridicule is. It’s definitely useful, but we shouldn’t forget that we can convince some people with rational debunkings.
Some idiot put up a flyer promoting Alex Jones’s work here in North Hedges. The first time I went by it I thought maybe he was coming here for a talk or something. I sort of doubt that would be allowed, but it’s not a pleasant thought. But, it was just a promotional thing, he’s not coming here.
If you don’t know who Alex Jones is, you can head over to Prison Planet or Info Wars. I don’t recommend spending much time there, unless you’re entertained by the sort of insane paranoia Jones offers. It’s essentially all the 9-11/police state conspiracies you’ve seen before, but without the blantant anti-semitism that normally comes from the extreme right. Actually, I don’t know whether you’d say Jones is right or left, but it doesn’t really matter. He does get an endorsement from Greg Palast, further showing Palast isn’t really worth listening to:
this guy is a national treasure, a light breaking through the electronic Berlin Wall of the US media establishment.
Granted, it’s a little more nuanced than that:
Jones is fearless and thoughtful. Do I agree with everything the man says? Heck, no. But then, he probably wouldn’t accept all my views either. This isn’t about opinions, this is about the dissemination of crucial news otherwise denied the American public by the mainstream media propaganda machinery.
He also calles Jones right wing, for what it’s worth. He seems mostly to be happy that Jones promoted some of his stories. Still, it certainly hurts what credibility Palast has.
Come to think of it, this is the second Jones flyer I’ve seen on campus, the other one being in Reid hall. Thankfully, I don’t think it’s there anymore.
I suppose I shouldn’t ignore this. I’m no good at inspired emotional writing, memorials, or the like. So here are some things I think appropriate to think about: