by Austin Bay
February 16, 2005
It's must reading for Michael Moore: Popular Mechanics Magazine.
The monthly science and engineering digest's latest issue is also an example of great investigative journalism -- a "just the facts, ma'am" dragnet of expert analysis and succinct prose, putting hard cuffs on the most pernicious 9-11 conspiracy theories.
Popular Mechanics details, then debunks, 16 of the worst fever swamp fictions whose malignant emotional, intellectual and political acids compound 9-11's tragedy . (The online edition is available at www.popularmechanics.com.)
PM's editors use an effective technique for smacking down the fabrications: "hard evidence and a healthy dose of common sense." With former Sen. Pat Moynihan's quip as a guide ("Everyone is entitled to his own opinion. He is not entitled to his own facts."), the editors say they learned "that a few (9-11 conspiracy) theories are based on something as innocent as a reporting error on that chaotic day. Others are the byproducts of cynical imaginations that aim to inject suspicion and animosity into public debate. Only by confronting such poisonous claims with irrefutable facts can we understand what really happened on a day that is forever seared into world history."
Physics whips foolishness, but physics can be a tough sell. Competent engineering analysis doesn't shrink to TV sound bites. In two tight paragraphs, however, PM dispenses with one of the more heinous 9-11 lies: the claim that the Pentagon wasn't hit by an Al Qaeda-hijacked jet, but the U.S. military did the deed with an American missile. (This is the accusation of French provocateur Thierry Meyssan in his bestseller "The Big Lie.")
Here's the conspiracy theory's hook: The hole in the Pentagon was smaller than the plane's wingspan. The anti-American conspirator's conclusion: voila, an American missile. PM's experts point out the obvious: "A crashing jet doesn't punch a cartoon-like outline of itself into a reinforced concrete building." As the jet crashed, "one wing hit the ground; the other was sheared off by the force of the impact with the Pentagon's load-bearing columns. ... What was left of the plane flowed into the structure in a state closer to a liquid than a solid mass."
A decade ago, the conspiracy theorists had black "U.N." helicopters patrolling the Pacific Northwest. Nevada's Area 51 was either a space alien landing strip or a storehouse for wrecked alien space ships. For the most part, the paleo-right and their militia brethren saw those mirages. Now, the decadent Left, with Michael Moore as the poster boy, seems to produce the more malicious conspiracies.
Anti-Americanism -- of the ilk that the United States is the root source of Earth's worst depredations -- is the common thread linking their Gordian knots of plots. Sample dec-Left humbug: The War on Terror is the witchcraft work of Halliburton.
No doubt the U.S. government has lied. The Johnson administration's relentless lies about the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon's Watergate seeded deep distrust. The Clintons' Whitewater antics and their bumbling behavior after Vince Foster's suicide fueled right-wing suspicions.
But belief in grand political and historical conspiracies is not a new phenomenon. Three hundred years ago, Europe's pub-crawlers thrilled to tales of conspiracies run by Freemasons, Jesuits, Jewish bankers and French Protestants. Religion shaped that era's explanatory conspiracies, rather than technology, space aliens or intense French jealousy of American success.
Some individuals cannot or will not face difficult, history-altering facts. Conspiracy theories provide them with a mind-numbing -- if morally degrading -- antidote for the difficult. Blaming "Them" snuffs complexity and the responsibility for making tough choices.
But there's more at stake than individual psyches seeking solace in updated tales of sea monsters and witches. Mass acceptance of conspiratorial allegations can lead to holocausts. This is conspiracy theory as agitprop, to delude so tyrants can gain or retain control. Hitler thrived on racist theories. Marx sold a grand conspiracy theory --apparently still treasured by many lefty academicians -- that featured "class warfare" as the engine of history. Blind belief in Hitler's and Marx's conspiracy theories produced the 20th century's two greatest evils, Nazism and communism.
The ground truth about Ground Zero may be hard to face, but -- with effort and analysis, like that provided by Popular Mechanics -- the truth will out.