The nineteen martyrs of 9/11 were never charged let alone convicted of a crime. This is because – so as not to squander precious prosecutorial resources – we tend not to indict dead people.
But now let’s suppose the Truthers are right. Since these nineteen young men didn’t do it, they’re probably not dead. Or if they are, it’s because they were killed as part of the cover-up. In either case, nothing that gets turned up about 9/11 can have any effect on those nineteen young men, because either they’re dead or they’re happily ensconced in some not-to-be-a-witness protection program. I’m picturing them in a charming turn-of-the-century Victorian in a small town in upstate Vermont, with a giant oak out front and a generous vegetable garden in back. The neighbors, being unfamiliar with the sound of Arabic, just assume they’re from Bangladesh. “Who knew?!” they all say. “They all seem so nice.”
All right, so let’s suppose, as do the 9/11 Truthers, that they didn’t do it. Of course if they can’t tell us who did, they don’t have a very interesting story. They’d be a bit like the revisionists. “Yes, there are six million missing persons reports, and we don’t claim to have closed the file on any of them. But the one thing we do know is that none of them were gassed.” Helpful, I suppose. But not very.
So let’s suppose we’d just discovered who did do it. Let’s suppose further, given that it’s still only been sixteen years, that the guilty parties, or at least most of them, are not dead. What would have to happen for there to be any consequences – any consequences at all – for these devilishly clever dastardly fellows? Or for anyone else for that matter?
Well first, who is this ‘we’ who’ve just made this discovery? Whoever we are, we’d have to share this revelation with someone with both the wherewithal and the willingness to affect those consequences. Presumably some district attorney or other.
Most Truthers have this one covered. “It’s not that the authorities won’t believe us. It’s that either they were all in on it from the get-go or else they’ve been warned off by, you know, those men in the black Suburbans.”
To be fair, that a hypothesis is non-falsifiable like this doesn’t show that it’s false. It’s just that non-falsifiable hypotheses can be multiplied until the cows come home. And then there’re just too many of them for any one of them to be very interesting.
So to make it more interesting, let’s suppose our district attorney has the requisite chutzpah to do his job. Even so, he would have to be confident he could persuade a jury to convict. If it did, then certainly some heads would roll. But how far up the conspiratorial ladder those heads might be is hard to say. I’m guessing you might get a couple of colonels, or maybe a senator. But hey, boys will be boys! A stern talking to will certainly be in order. But beyond that, probably just time to move on.
So what we have so far is nothing very momentous. No matter how high up they go, those involved were by definition rogue actors. So sixteen years ago the government of Israel did something roguish. Or the government of the United States did. Or maybe it was the Koch brothers. Or maybe it was the second gunman on the grassy knoll who’d been coaxed out of retirement. Whatever the case might be, what exactly would anyone like to do about it?
If it was the Israelis, should the U.S. now nuke Tel Aviv?
No, because Israel has nuclear weapons of its own.
All right then, surely the least it should do is break off diplomatic relations.
And leave thousands of pimply-faced Jewish-American teenagers doing their Aliyah without consular services? I think not.
All right then, suppose it was the American government itself. Would this be the first time it’s been caught committing atrocities on its own soil? No, it’s targeted its indigenous peoples, people of colour, trade unionists, commies …
But never before white-skinned chartered accountants!
Point taken. Except it’s probably not a point any Truther would want to be heard taking. From Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound the Truther lives on land made available to him by state-sponsored genocide. And yet it’s only when the beneficiaries of this genocide get a little comeuppance that he gets his dander up. Not great PR. So best not to be too vocal about “what [you didn’t] ask your country [to] do for you.”
Look. Governments kill people, often people of another country, but sometimes their own. Without the threat of violence both abroad and at home – and the occasional Clausewitzian following-through on that threat – it’s hard to imagine how any government could govern. And so if it’s unmanly to whine when the people one’s government has been killing in another country manage to get a few licks in in return, how much more unmanly is it to whine if, to gets its people pumped for a little bloodshed abroad, it sheds a little of it at home?
And in fact, contrary to what the Truther hopes, voters have pretty short memories. And even when they don’t, they can be very understanding, even when they don’t really take the trouble to understand. Were the American people outraged over the premie-ward lie of 1991? Were there calls for impeachment in 2003 when it became clear that the Bush administration had cooked the intel on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction? No? Why not? Because when the truth would just take the wind out of their sails, people need to be lied to and want to be lied to.
So the bottom line is this. A lot has happened over the past sixteen years. Even if any of what’s happened could be reversed, sixteen years on no one’s going to have the slightest inclination to do so. Unless, that is, they were already so inclined; and so inclined quite independently of 9/11. Netanyahu would still be bulldozing Palestinian homes to make way for yet another Jewish settlement. American soldiers would still be in Iraq because, well, it had always been on the Bush dynasty’s bucket list. The Trump administration would still be pushing for its ban on Moslems entering the country. And social justice warriors, both on the left and on the right, would still be peenging about how the Koch brothers and the rest of the point-zero-zero-one-percent are hijacking American democracy. So the official line on 9/11 would simply be adjusted to read, ”Okay, but just because those Ay-rabs weren’t involved this time doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like to have been.”
If any of this be doubted, draw the distinction, if you can, between September 11, 2001 and November 22, 1963. Suppose the second gunman on the grassy knoll had just made his deathbed confession. Suppose it was the mafia, or the Cubans, or the CIA, or Lyndon Johnson. What would any of us say, other than either “Told you so!” or “Now whodathunkit?!”?
The difference between 16 years after the fact and 54 is 38, as is the difference between 1 and 39. But we’re not just talking numbers. We’re talking about the interval in years before justice delayed becomes justice denied. If the Truthers could have made their case by September 2002, things might have gone differently. But to have made the case if and when they ever do – and as time goes on that if-and-when becomes increasingly unlikely – will be about as earth-shattering as when Pluto lost its place as the ninth planet. To a so-what not a whole lot of what.
I’m told that Egyptologists are becoming increasingly doubtful that there ever was an Exodus. But they’d be embarrassed to assign themselves the moniker ‘Exodus-Truthers’. Truthers fancy themselves serious historians. But by pointing out, “It couldn’t have been this way!” without adding, “So it must have been that!”, one is no more doing historical revisionism than she’d be doing a Kuhnian paradigm shift by saying, “The speed of light can’t be that!”, without adding “So it must be this!”
Building 7 is to the official story what the magic bullet was to the Warren Commission. Fair enough. But you can’t just make up whatever story you like, like the theist’s God of the Gaps. The God of the Gaps doesn’t explain anything. It’s a bedtime story. Children like bedtime stories. And apparently so do adults.
I like the official bedtime story, because it makes heroes of the underdog. Perhaps you don’t like it because in your mind it makes villains of them. So instead you make villains of those you already regard as villainous. It was the Jews, say some of you. It was the point-zero-zero-one-percent, say others. Who was it really? I don’t know, and neither do you. But other than in the service of this independently motivated vilifying, what difference would it make?
And this, I think, is why Truthers – be their ‘truth’ about the Holocaust or the Kennedy assassination or 9/11 or global warming – are so kneejerkedly treated with such suspicion. No one’s ever going to do anything about the Holocaust, or the Kennedy assassination, or 9/11, or global warming. So getting at the ‘truth’ of these things is not about making more informed public policy decisions. It’s about proselytizing the Truther’s particular vitriol, be it against Jews or the CIA or the neocons or the Koch brothers.
At one time we Jews celebrated Easter by drinking the blood of Christian babies. Now we collapse skyscrapers. At one time the federal government controlled the America people by fluoridating the water supply. Now it kills a few Americans so the rest of the country will demand that it kill a whole lot more o’ them thar Ay-rabs. At one time the point-zero-zero-one-percent were content to sponsor conservative think tanks. Now, apparently, they fund false flag terrorist attacks so they can keep the money coming in via all the security companies they own.
Is any of this true? Probably not. Well, except for that bit about how we celebrate Easter. But the problem with ridiculing Truthers this way is that, on pain of begging the question, it cuts both ways. In what sense are any of the official stories about the Holocaust, or the Kennedy Assassination, or 9/11, or global warming, not themselves Trutherisms? Trutherisms that just happened to have caught on.
So apart from those half dozen people in the world who actually know who did it – know in the robust sense of having justified true belief – there’s a discomforting symmetry – is there not? – between the stories that’ve caught on and those that haven’t. Or at least haven’t yet. So though I mock my 9/11-Truther colleagues – and yes I do mock them mercilessly – I keep a little intellectual humility in reserve just in case I have to eat some crow.
Why am I so cautious? Because when the premie-ward story came out after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, I remember saying to myself, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kuwaiti government-in-exile hired some Madison Avenue PR firm to come up with something like this to get the American people to support going to war.” Well, I was wrong. I was wrong because I was surprised when it turned out I was dead right.
As they say, the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. The Truthers think he does. I have no opinion on the matter, one way or the other. My point here, however, has been that if all the Devil’s going to do is lie about a few things that don’t matter, then we really needn’t get our tail feathers in a knot about him. So for those of us who don’t have a pre-existing grievance against Jews or the Bushes or the point-zero-zero-one-percent, we should move on to things that do matter, even if only a little. Like what? Well, like whether the toilet paper should come from the front of the roll or the back, or in an egg cup which goes up, the big end or the little end? The answers, by the way, are the former and the latter respectively.