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Writing 9/11 History

September 11, 2010

Everyone in Grand Rapids who was old enough on September 11, 2001 could write their own version of the history of that day. The Grand Rapids Press capitalized on that fact by running a lengthy story today of reminiscences of local folks about the day. I myself was at work when a co-worker flagged me frantically into her department. It was quarter after 9 in the morning, and she was watching a film clip on one of the design computers. “A plane just flew into the World Trade Towers!” she cried out. Stunned, I said I couldn’t understand how an air traffic controller could have let that happen. “No, no!” she said. “You don’t understand! It was the second plane to fly into the Towers.” Oh, God, I thought.

I ran back to my office to pull up a news site and finally got the Washington Post. which showed the headline, “Plane crashes into Pentagon.” I told myself, “There’s so much chaos in the newsroom that they were posting some headline about the Pentagon and left the word in by mistake—it should say ‘World Trade Towers.’” The enormity of the whole story makes rest of the day dissolves into a few details in my memory—watching early news film of people throwing themselves off the burning buildings (an aspect quickly squelched by the media); staff members at work connecting with relatives in New York and hearing detailed information that was not being reported on the news; and my mounting feeling that the media’s version of the story, more and more obviously orchestrated as the day ground on, represented more editorializing than truth.

This weekend I saw a History Channel special called “9/11 Conspiracies: Fact or Fiction.” The special dealt with troubling aspects of 9/11 that have been discussed but are rarely addressed in mainstream media. How much did the government know prior to the event? Did Cheney, rather than Bush, issue the order to shoot down United Flight 93? Was Building 7 at the World Trade Center deliberately destroyed because it contained closely held CIA and other government documents that might have shed light on the attack and our inability to respond to it? Were the events of 9/11 used by the Bush Administration as a flimsy excuse to invade Iraq?

Each “conspiracy theory,” of course, is roundly rejected in this History Channel presentation. “The Bush Administration is the ultimate target of the 9/11 conspiracy movement,” the narration declares solemnly. This is followed by the director of the documentary “Loose Change” reminding viewers many times did Bush attempted to link 9/11 to Iraq, declaring that America had to “go get the terrorists wherever they are,” using 9/11 as the justification of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations. Then “experts” appear on the screen to explain that anyone questioning the official line displays the “messianic aspect” that apparently exists in all conspiracy theories, because in fact our government responded effectively to a crisis that they knew nothing of beforehand and did not benefit from it afterward; there is nothing to suggest otherwise.

But even in this carefully executed TV show, small cracks appear in the official story. For example, Condaleeza Rice once reported that Bush debated with she and Cheney at length about shooting down Flight 93; but the Commission report states that the phone call lasted less than two minutes. And at the 9/11 Commission testimony, Secretary of Transporation Mineta said that the shoot-down order was for American Flight 77, the plane that hit the Pentagon, not for United Flight 93. He later refused to recant this statement even though Rice and Cheney both said it was false.

I couldn’t help but notice other details, such as the words of a NYC fire chief named Albert Turi, one of many witnesses who reported hearing secondary explosions inside the World Trade buildings. But despite the fact that he was on the scene, he is labeled a “conspiracy theorist” in this show and his statements are dismissed as “chaotic reporting of the moment” that had no basis in fact.

Every theory that even hints that the military/industrial complex might have ultimately profited from the events of the day is soundly labeled utter nonsense by the History Channel. “Demonizing a powerful group of leaders has historically been one method to explain away a huge traumatic event,” the narration explains glibly.

Setting conspiracy theories completely aside, I am fascinated in the way that American history is shaped, edited, and controlled after the fact. The parallel to the reporting about the JFK assassination is an obvious one. PBS once aired all the mainstream TV reporting of that day in 1963 and you could not help but notice the formation and refining of an official story line. Some early eyewitness testimony was simply tossed out the window—and later some of those dismissed statements were in fact verified by the Zapruder film. The official version was then reshaped to include the film’s images into a new explanation, later known as the Warren Commission Report.

The History Channel, co-owned by the Hearst Corporation and Disney, stands clearly in the government camp, “debunking” even eyewitness testimony at 9/11 events as nonsense if it doesn’t fit the official military/industrial line. And while I watched the show’s neat, pro-government packaging of the day’s events, I couldn’t help but think of the great Howard Zinn, who said, “If those in charge of our society—politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television—can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Joshua permalink
    September 12, 2010 5:04 am

    I find myself skeptical of both the conspiracy theories and the official government line in this case, both seem to be wanting. Obviously, Cheney’s side of the story just doesn’t add up and leaves one with some serious questions, so I completely understand why conspiracy theories have formulated. The government has basically invited such theories with it’s totally incomplete explanation of the events. However, I’ve yet to hear one conspiracy theory that takes all the facts into account and doesn’t rely on some major leap of faith in the other direction either (this includes Alex Jones’ “Loose Change” and “Zeitgeist”, the latter of which being incredibly deceitful on many counts).

    In the end, the events of 9 years ago were certainly tragic, however what is even more tragic is the fact that almost a decade on our leaders have failed both the American people and the people of the Middle East so dramatically. We’ve now killed far more abroad than were in the towers in the first place, many of whom had no connection to any terrorist organization what-so-ever. We have yet to rebuild or commemorate the site in anyway, yet the worlds largest building has been constructed in the meantime. Today, while protesters in Gainesville surrounded a church that threatened to burn a Koran, the Muslims in that community handed out food to the homeless.

    Perhaps US citizens ought to look at our roll in what happened on 9/11/01, how US policy shaped the events of that morning, and what we can do to better our position in the world as a result. The “terrorists” won on that day, and we’ve failed in everyway possible to make things right ever since. I view the election of Obama as a referendum on the conservative politics of those years, and so far he has shown almost no progress. This just puts us at risk for another attack, and rightfully so.

  2. greg permalink
    September 15, 2010 7:58 pm

    Conspiracy theories are a total crock! All they do is distract folks from the real issues at hand and make the left look loony!

    This is very disappointing.

  3. January 21, 2012 12:25 am

    I am interested in the topic but is it really historically accurate?
    I am not going to include my beliefs.I just want to write about how the Mayans predicted it and all the history behind it.What do u think?I am sick and tired of writing about World War,Apartheid or Hitler.

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