Friday, April 29, 2005

9/11 Revisited

I've been doing some reading of books relating to 9/11, which I can now review briefly for readers of our blog. (You're probably weary of seeing my last book review post up for so long anyway...and since most of our regular contributors are out of commission right now, it'll have to be me to change that!)

The first book is Craig Unger's House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties (New York, 2004). Despite the sensational title, this book is really a fairly mainstream summary of U.S. involvement in the Middle East since the 1970s, with extra focus on the Bush and Saud families. (Unger was one of Michael Moore's big sources for making Fahrenheit 9/11.) This book is about far more than just the Bush & Saud families, is really a first-rate summary of what we know about U.S. involvement in the making of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, among other things. I think it would be good citizenship reading for anyone in the U.S., regardless of political stance. Unger seems very scrupulous with his sources and is reluctant to make big leaps or speculations without hard evidence. Fact-challenged right-wingers (such as those who still believe Iraq had WMD, etc.) would probably view this book as way out there, but in reality it is pretty mainstream in that it sticks to what we can know with reasonable certainty.

The second book, on the other hand, is something else altogether. David Ray Griffin's The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (2005) follows up on his earlier book, The New Pearl Harbor, which argued that the Bush Administration may have been complicit in the 9/11 attacks or possibly even helped carry them out. Griffin does a good job of pointing out the flaws in the official 9/11 commission, and I must admit that I agree with his view (and the evidence he presents for it) that the Commission systematically failed to substantively or seriously address any of the allegations made by "conspiracy theorists." (Griffin himself rejects the label "conspiracy theorist", rightly arguing that the mainstream view also requires a belief in a conspiracy solely among a certain small group of Al-Qaeda operatives.) But where does this leave us? I must confess that I find myself torn between the mainstream view and Griffin's view. Probably the truth is somewhere in between...the series of events that transpired on 9/11 is, as Griffin argues, not convincingly explained by the conventional account. (Read the book for more evidence on this...) On the other hand, Griffin's alternative explanation also has some holes, such as the problem of collusion by so many U.S. governmental agents who must have known that something strange was going on. In all likelihood, something is being covered up, but what and how much is hard to say. We are dealing with a basic problem of citizen knowledge here. Anyone who has seen power up close knows that the official story told to the public about anything is almost always covering up some embarrassing (or possibly criminal) truths. But how can we figure out what is really going on? I, for one, choose to side with Griffin in his call for being open minded to alternative explanations, even if we grant them a low degree of probability at the start. The certainty with which many people reject even considering such alternatives flies in the face of critical inquiry in a democratic society. The 9/11 Commission was hardly equipped or inclined to really deal with the substantive issues lurking under the surface. The Bush Administration's collusion with 9/11, in my view, was probably a lot more passive and negligent than active and plotting, but the doubts of many Americans will never be put to rest without addressing the discrepancies and evidence for alternatives head on and honestly. (Note: I should also add that Griffin is a seminary professor, who from all firsthand accounts I've heard is a nice, sincere, and thoughtful person, not some kind of raving lunatic who lives in a fortified compound plotting against the government...)

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