What makes conspiracy theories so tiresome is that they lead nowhere. While their construction may provide great pleasure to their authors, even in the unlikely event that they are accurate, because the alleged perpetrators are always presented as the mysterious ,”They,” there is no one to indict, take to trial, and convict.
In the seventy years since the “saucer” crashed in the
Think back to the JFK assassination. CIA? Mafia? Or maybe it was LBJ. (One report asserted he was seen chuckling over the Kennedy coffin as it was carried on Air Force One!) Among the most inspected historical events, none of the named suspects (and there were a lot of them) besides Oswald was ever convicted. There was, of course, prosecuting attorney Jim Garrison who took Clay Shaw, a shadowy underworld figure to trial in 1967. Charged with Conspiracy to kill the President, the Not Guilty verdict put an end to this effort, and incidentally to Garrison’s career.
Now we come to all of the extant theories, directed at explaining the 9/11 attack. There are enough holes here by which can be flown a hijacked jet. The first, if not the biggest hole, is the simple question of gain resulting from scenarios different from the official explanation. Suppose the twin towers were subject to the two plane crashes, but never collapsed. Would any of the national policies adopted by the Bush Administration have been different? All who were above the floors impacted by the plane would have died whether the buildings collapsed or not. Between impact and collapse, many in the floors below, escaped. Certainly more died from the collapses, but the marginal value of increased casualties, real, economic, and psychological is certainly elusive.
To posit that the Pentagon was impacted by something (missile, a different plane) other than Flight 77, seems even sillier. Whatever hit the building, the hole was there. More importantly, if it was not caused by Flight 77, where did the plane, crew and passengers go? The Bermuda Triangle, perhaps?
For every question conspiracy theories appear to an answer, more are instantly generated. If your inclination is to construct such explanations, no matter what the nature of the event you are trying to explain, there is a gauntlet of questions you must run before you can expect to gain credibility:
Keeping the Secret
When you are planning an event that is going to go down in the history books, it takes, you don’t accomplish it with two or three others; in an event as complex as seen with 9/11, a large number of individuals would have to know of, agree to, and participate in the preparation of the attacks. Moreover, there had to be coordination of timing of the events with the 19 terrorists. Enlisting training and coordinating the efforts of this diverse group of individuals, while keeping the whole thing a secret, boggles the mind considering the numbers, and the complexity of the tasks and the skill required of the conspiracy leaders.
The biggest question of all is simply this: With the large number of people required to successfully implement this conspiracy, how is it that not a single person has talked in the six years that has elapsed since the event?
Along with tens of people who assisted in the 9/11 attacks, there was a non-trivial collection of explosives needed, along with whatever weapon is alleged to have made the large hole in the Pentagon wall. Whatever that was, it had to be acquired from somewhere. Unless you want to assume that all forensic investigators from the FBI and the ATF are either a part of the plot, or painfully incompetent, evidence of explosive residue would have been found in the weeks and months following the attack. Nothing could possibly have better rescued the forever damaged reputation of the bungling FBI, than being able to announce that there were identifiable domestic participants in this terrible act.
Whoever the mysterious leaders of this horrendous conspiracy, they had to have seen enormous value in adding to the destruction they already knew was coming. That value had to greatly outweigh the almost inexorable odds of getting caught. If you are going to spin the conspiracy story, you must, more than anything else, have to account for this difference in value and you must present a scenario by which the conspirators could have confidence that they would go undetected.
The Need for Alternative Explanations
Among all the issues related to the development of conspiracy theories, this one is for me, the most puzzling. Perhaps only the Kennedy assassination has received the attention of so many law enforcement agencies, and authors. Yes, there are always going to be some details which will escape total consistency, and will remain unanswered. The physical world in which we live contains uncertainties, anomalies, and unexplainable events. “Beyond a reasonable doubt,” means just that. There is always a possibility that the convicted criminal is in fact, not guilty. The stuff of which conspiracy theory is composed is a grey, foggy area of the just possible doubt. It is that tiny sliver of possibility between reasonable doubt and absolute certainty.
That sliver of the “just possible,” is simply not enough to propel us from proposal to action. No prosecutor has convened a Grand Jury to investigate these claims; there are no congressional investigations or hearings to give life to these fantasies. All that can be accomplished is to raise the anxiety level of the uninformed, and titillate the fantasies of the like-minded.
The only result from the publication of these fantasies is, frankly, negative. Our country is populated by a significant percentage of those who are at best, ignorant and gullible, and at worst, paranoid, in their readiness to accept some very bizarre and incredible explanations for events. When three Republican candidates for President express their outright disbelief in evolution, you know you are in trouble. The number of Americans who are convinced they have been subjects of alien abductions can be nothing less than frightening. How many individuals have had their identities stolen, directly resulting from the most rudimentary carelessness while online?
Dating back years before the availability of the Net, there still remains, in our culture, the apparently unshakeable belief that if something is in print, it has to be true. While reading of books has become a lost art, this same readiness to believe has transferred itself to the blogosphere. In a time when students and adults alike have great difficulty in discriminating between sense and nonsense, you do them no favor in publishing fantasy as truth.