David Ray Griffin
[Note: Printed first here is a review by Ian Markham, who at the time was the dean of Hartford Seminary, of The New Pearl Harbor. My response follows. Both essays were published in Conversations in Religion and Theology (a journal published by Hartford Seminary), November 2005: 217-36.]
The Danger of Making Conspiracy Theories Respectable (A Review of David Ray Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11)
Ian Markham, Hartford Seminary, USA
David Ray Griffin is a distinguished theologian. He is the Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Claremont School of Theology. He has written and edited over twenty books and, as a result, is one of the country’s leading ‘process’ theologians.
His latest book is a significant departure from process theology. It is called The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11. The argument of the book is that the official version of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks is highly implausible. At the very least, Griffin suspects that high level officials constructed a false account, but it is possible that intelligence agencies had prior knowledge of the attacks, or even that the White House might have been involved in the planning of the attacks.
The list of endorsements is impressive. Richard Falk from Princeton writes a glowing forward. Howard Zinn (author of A People’s History of the United States), John McMurtry (Canadian Professor of Philosophy), Rosemary Radford Ruether (Professor of Feminist Theology), John Cobb Jr. (Professor of Theology), and Joseph Hough (President of Union Theological Seminary) all add their tributes to the book. The argument, explains Griffin, is cumulative, that is an ‘argument consisting of several particular arguments that are independent of each other’ (p. xxiv). So once the planes departed from their scheduled routes, then proper protocol would have required the military to challenge the planes. This did not happen. The towers should not have collapsed, especially building seven; and the way the towers collapsed is best explained in terms of explosives. It was probably a guided missile that hit the Pentagon, which would explain why there was no debris from the Boeing 757. Add to all this, the evidence for warnings that an attack was planned and the strange behavior of the President on September 11 at the Elementary school, Griffin feels that he has a strong ‘prima facie case for official complicity’ (p. xxiii) that requires investigation.
The book was written while the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks was doing its work. Griffin is skeptical that the Commission had the time, resources, or the independence to really get to all the difficult questions. However, The 9/11 Commission Report does provide alternative explanations for much of Griffin’s data. The reason why military aircraft did not intercept the hijacked flights was partly due to the protocols for the FAA ‘required multiple levels of notification and approval at the highest levels of government’1 and partly because the FAA did not know where the planes were due to the hijackers turning off the aircraft’s transponder.2 The President’s confused reaction was a combination of being misinformed at 8.55 am that a ‘small, twin-engine plane’3 had hit the World Trade Center and then a desire to ‘project calm’ as he listened to the children reading.4 Of course, one can debate whether this was the most appropriate response; but it is not evidence that ‘the White House expected some sort of attack’ (p. 64). Indeed the counter argument is equally easy to make: if President Bush did know that the attacks were going to take place, he would have planned a different photo op and response. The simplest explanation was that President Bush ? like all of us ? was in a state of some shock and bewilderment. People in shock do behave in strange ways.
The Commission report does criticize the intelligence agencies. Griffin is right to say that there were signs of an imminent attack. The Commission does not discuss alternative possible explanations for the collapse of the World Trade Towers, although it is clear that the plane in the North Tower did cause a fireball to travel down the elevator shafts.5 Also the report does not question the cause of the Pentagon attack.6 But perhaps we should not expect the report to consider every hypothesis that has been circulating on the Internet and then given respectability by David Ray Griffin. There needs to be limits to the range of possibilities considered; and I want to suggest that Griffin is outside them. Let me explain why.
Conspiracy theories abound in every area of life. Apparently, the Roman Catholic Church has tried to keep secret the marriage of Jesus; Procter and Gamble are under the control of Satanists; and the English establishment had Princess Diana killed because it could not tolerate the idea of the future mother of the King of England having a Muslim husband. A significant factor in all conspiracy theories is a deep bias or antagonism. So, for example, the Holocaust deniers, such as David Irving, produced their heavily referenced works, making the case that Auschwitz had insufficient gas chambers for the numbers that were killed. However, I suspect that David Ray Griffin would join me in not even dignifying the argument with serious consideration because of the deep antagonism that the holocaust deniers have for the Jewish people. We are both confident that the bias has so distorted their worldview that there is little point in disentangling the good arguments from the prejudice.
The antagonism in David Ray Griffin’s book is against America. He quotes with approval the journalist Patrick Martin, ‘In examining any crime, a central question must be “who benefits?” The principal beneficiaries of the destruction of the World Trade Center are in the United States: the Bush administration, the Pentagon, the CIA and FBI, the weapons industry, the oil industry. It is reasonable to ask whether those who have profited to such an extent from this tragedy contributed to bringing it about’ (p. 127). Apparently, the ways in which Bush et al have benefited include: increased popularity after 9/11, vast increase in military spending, more funding for covert operations, fresh support for the missile defense system and so on.
For the anti-Americans, whatever America does is bad. In 1998, Richard Rubinstein at the American Academy of Religion meeting mused on American inactivity in Kosovo to defend the Muslims. He argued that this due to the American sympathy with the European vision of a Europe free of the Jew and Muslim. When the bombing started in 1999, Noam Chomsky attacked it as an example of the new imperialism.7 Both inactivity and activity can be given an anti-American slant. The prejudice asserts itself by searching for a narrative (an interpretation) that connects certain events in an anti-American way. The narratives are always simple: so for Griffin, before 9/11 Bush was in trouble and afterwards he was able to progress his quest for world domination.
In reality the world is much more complicated. It is true that sometimes America makes morally ambiguous decisions, for example, the training of Bin Laden to become a tool against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. It is also true that events change Presidents. George Bush campaigned as a person who didn’t ‘believe in nation building’. This changed after 9/11. It is also true that intelligence agencies make mistakes; for example, they predicted the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which the military failed to find. In this fallen world, nations misinform and make mistakes.
But America under Bush is not Hitler’s Germany. Such parallels are not justified. It is true that Americans want to be able to trade, import oil, and travel safely; but it is not true that they want to destroy cultures, peoples and dominate nations. America will disentangle from Iraq and hopeful[ly] resource the rebuilding of that nation. Social commentary needs to be responsible. When a book argues that the American President deliberately and knowingly was “involved” in the slaughter of 3000 US citizens, then this is irresponsible. We can be sure that Griffin’s book will be widely translated and read in country’s ready to believe the worse about America. In terms of building cross-cultural understanding, this is a deeply damaging book.
If David Ray Griffin had come to me, then I would have refused to endorse the book. I do not think the book should have been written. It feeds a paranoia that is not justified. In so doing, it distorts significantly the legitimate political discourse that should challenge this administration. There are questions about current policy that should be asked, but suggesting that Bush cooperated with the terrorists is not one of them.
1. The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Authorized edition, 17.
2. Ibid., 20.
3. Ibid., 35. Andrew Card—White House Chief of Staff—was responsible for this piece of misinformation. Condoleezza Rice recalls then adding—in the course of the conversation—that it was a commercial aircraft.
4. Ibid, 38.
5. Ibid., 292.
6. See Ibid., 314.
7. See Noam Chomsky, The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo (Monroe: Common Courage Press, 1999).
*Permission to reprint this review has been granted by Zion’s Herald. It originally appeared in November 2004.
Response to Ian Markham
David Ray Griffin, Claremont School of Theology
Professor Ian Markham, in an essay entitled ‘The Danger of Making Conspiracy Theories Respectable’, has charged that in my book The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11, I have engaged in irresponsible social criticism. ‘Social commentary needs to be responsible’, says Markham, but I have leveled a charge that is ‘irresponsible’, being outside the limits of ‘legitimate political discourse’.
This is itself, of course, a very strong charge. It is, furthermore, leveled not only against me. As Markham notes, my book’s ‘list of endorsements is impressive’. Markham mentions Howard Zinn, John McMurtry, Rosemary Ruether, John Cobb, and Joseph Hough (a fellow dean of a major theological seminary). Markham could have also mentioned Marcus Raskin of the Institute for Policy Studies, Michael Meacher of the British Parliament, investigative reporter Wayne Madsen, and fellow Christian ethicist Douglas Sturm. Markham, saying that he himself would not have endorsed my book, has implicitly charged that these thinkers were irresponsible in doing so.
I will respond to this charge leveled against me and, implicitly, these colleagues by showing that Markham has provided no support for it and that, therefore, he has failed his own test: that criticism needs to be responsible.
Markham’s overall argument, as I read it, contains four particular charges. After responding to those four charges, I will, in the final section, offer some reflections on the theological importance of this issue.
I. An Irresponsible Charge
The most explicit charge of irresponsibility is contained in Markham’s statement that, ‘When a book argues that the American President deliberately and knowingly was “involved” in the slaughter of 3000 US citizens, then this is irresponsible’.
This statement, however, makes me wonder how carefully Markham read my book. Distinguishing between a prima facie case and a convincing case, I claimed only that ‘the revisionists [about 9/11] have made a strong prima facie case for at least some version of the charge of official complicity’ — strong enough to merit a ‘full investigation’, namely, one that would examine the evidence for this possibility (NPH xxiii, 146, 156).1 It was this thesis that was endorsed by those who wrote blurbs for my book.
Strangely, Markham early in the article recognized that I spoke (only) of ‘a strong “prima facie case for official complicity” that requires investigation.’ But he later wrote as if I had directly argued that the president was involved.
We can, however, leave this misrepresentation behind, because I now — having seen the number of omissions and outright lies to which the 9/11 Commission had to resort to defend the official story — have become sufficiently convinced to make the charge.2 Accordingly, let us see whether, if I in the book had directly made that charge, Markham would have provided good grounds for considering it irresponsible.
II. All Conspiracy Theories as Unworthy of Belief
Markham’s second reason for calling my book irresponsible is reflected in the title of his critique. Conspiracy theories as such, Markham holds, are unworthy of serious consideration, so it is irresponsible to treat some of them as if they were. Markham supports this remarkably sweeping assertion in two ways.
In the first place, he limits his examples of conspiracy theories to ideas that, he is confident, all right-thinking people will reject out of hand: the theory that the Catholic Church covered up Jesus’ marriage, that Procter and Gamble are controlled by Satanists, that the English establishment had Princess Diana killed, and that the Holocaust did not happen. The implication is that since what I am presenting is also a conspiracy theory, it should also be rejected.
However, in presenting such a one-sided list of examples, Markham ignores the fact that there are countless conspiracy theories that are true. In ignoring this fact, he also fails to mention that I had discussed precisely the kind of argument he presents. In a section entitled ‘Conspiracy Theories’, I wrote:
“[I]t seems widely assumed that any [case for official complicity in the attacks of 9/11] can be rejected a priori by pointing out that it is a ‘conspiracy theory’. . . . What is the logic behind this thinking? It cannot be that we literally reject the very idea that conspiracies occur. We all accept conspiracy theories of all sorts. We accept a conspiracy theory whenever we believe that two or more people have conspired in secret to achieve some goal, such as to rob a bank, defraud customers, or fix prices.“ (NPH xxiv)3
After writing this, I went on to point out that the official story about 9/11 — that the attacks were planned solely by al-Qaeda and carried out by 19 Arab Muslims — is itself a conspiracy theory. The choice we face, therefore, is not between accepting or rejecting a conspiracy theory about 9/11, but ‘simply between (some version of) the received conspiracy theory and (some version of) the revisionist conspiracy theory’ (NPH xxv). The difference between Markham and me, therefore, is not that I am a 9/11 conspiracy theorist and he is not, but simply that we accept different conspiracy theories about 9/11.
Accordingly, Markham’s second reason for calling my book irresponsible fails.
He could, of course, grant my point about conspiracy theories while insisting that it does nothing to rebut his main charge — that the revisionist conspiracy theory, according to which the Bush administration was complicit in the 9/11 attacks, is irresponsible. This theory, Markham believes, is irresponsible on both a priori and empirical grounds. I will discuss the a priori arguments in the next section, saving the question of empirical evidence for the following one.
III. Two A Priori Arguments
Markham has two arguments for considering my book irresponsible on a priori grounds. One of them follows from his one-sided account of conspiracy theories. Having given his highly selective list of examples, Markham makes a surprisingly sweeping assertion, saying: ‘A significant factor in all conspiracy theories is a deep bias or antagonism’. Then, seeking to illustrate this claim by referring to the antagonism toward Jews on the part of Holocaust deniers, he says that we should ‘not even dignify the[ir] argument with serious consideration’ because their ‘bias has so distorted their worldview that there is little point in disentangling the good arguments from the prejudice’.
“Finally, he suggests that the same attitude should be taken to my arguments in favor of government complicity in 9/11: ‘The antagonism in David Ray Griffin’s book is against America. . . .For the anti-Americans, whatever America does is bad. . . . The prejudice asserts itself by searching for a narrative (an interpretation) that connects certain events in an anti-American way’. “
Markham is suggesting, therefore, that he need not even look at the evidence-based arguments in my book because my ‘[anti-American] bias has so distorted [my] worldview that there is little point in disentangling the good arguments from the prejudice’. This is his first argument for dismissing my book as irresponsible on a purely a priori basis.
This argument is, however, problematic in several ways. First, Markham presents no evidence whatsoever of my alleged anti-Americanism except the fact that I have presented evidence to support the charge that the Bush administration was complicit in the 9/11 attacks. The argument is, hence, perfectly circular: Why does Griffin support this charge? Because he has an anti-American bias. How do we know that he has an anti-American bias? Because he supports this charge.
Markham implies, to be sure, that I was already anti-American before I supported this charge, suggesting that my ‘prejudice assert[ed] itself by searching for a narrative (an interpretation) [regarding 9/11] that connects certain events in an anti-American way’. This kind of charge is, of course, one of the most serious charges one intellectual can make against another. And yet Markham makes this charge casually, providing absolutely no evidence for it.
Besides being unsupported, this charge — that I began with the conviction that the Bush administration was responsible for 9/11 and then searched for an interpretation of various facts that would support this conviction — is also false. I again have to wonder how carefully Markham read my book, because in the Introduction, in a section explaining how the book came about, I wrote:
“Until the spring of 2003, I had not looked at any of the evidence. I was vaguely aware that there were people, at least on the Internet, who were offering evidence against the official account of 9/11 and were suggesting a revisionist account, according to which U.S. officials were complicit. But I did not take the time to try to find their websites. I had been studying the history of American expansionism and imperialism quite intensely since 9/11, so I knew that the U.S. government had fabricated ‘incidents’ as an excuse to go to war several times before. Nevertheless, although the thought did cross my mind that 9/11 might likewise have been arranged, I did not take this possibility seriously. It seemed to me simply beyond belief that the Bush administration — even the Bush administration — would do such a heinous thing.” (NPH xvii-xviii)
As I further explained, my attitude changed only after I learned from a colleague about Paul Thompson’s massive 9/11 timeline, which presented evidence, drawn entirely from mainstream sources (no Internet sources allowed), that pointed to official complicity (NPH xviii).
Accordingly, unless Markham simply doubts my word, he could have seen that, far from starting out with the prior conviction that the Bush administration must have orchestrated the events, I actually resisted this thought for a considerable period, until I encountered evidence that forced me to change my initial conviction.
The importance of this sequence transcends the debate with Markham. It is a common tactic among defenders of US policy to claim that critics of it are ‘anti-American’, that they are ‘part of the hate-America crowd’. On this basis, they assume that any allegations by these critics about American wrong-doing — in relation, say, to Cuba, Vietnam, Indonesia, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Serbia — can be dismissed, without examination of the evidence, because this ‘evidence’ arose out of the critics’ anti-American bias. The idea that the cause-effect relation may have gone in the opposite direction—that these people became critics of US policy because of the evidence that they now cite — is not considered. Markham’s critique reflects this type of question-begging argument.
A second problem with Markham’s charge involves his loose use of the term ‘anti-American’. Having said that my antagonism is ‘against America’, he points out that I quoted with approval the following passage from Patrick Martin:
“In examining any crime, a central question must be “who benefits?” The principal beneficiaries of the destruction of the World Trade Center are in the United States: the Bush administration, the Pentagon, the CIA and FBI, the weapons industry, the oil industry. It is reasonable to ask whether those who have profited to such an extent from this tragedy contributed to bringing it about. “ (NPH 127)
In using my approving quotation of this passage as evidence that I am ‘against America’, Markham equates ‘America’ with ‘the Bush administration, the Pentagon, the CIA and FBI, the weapons industry, the oil industry’. And if that charge, based on this equation, is accepted, then Iraqis who believed Saddam Hussein to be a mass murderer were anti-Iraqi, Germans who accused Hitler of genocide were anti-German, and so on. Since those conclusions are absurd, so is Markham’s.
Accordingly, although Markham has claimed that the evidence-based arguments in my book can be dismissed on the grounds that my worldview is so distorted by antagonism to America that there is little point in examining whether I have any good arguments, he has given no reason for anyone to accept this claim.
There is, moreover, a third problem with Markham’s first a priori argument. In his critique of conspiracy theories, as we saw, he said: ‘A significant factor in all conspiracy theories is a deep bias or antagonism’. This assertion is doubly problematic. In the first place, it is absurd to say that all conspiracy theories reflect bias, as if, for example, every prosecution of corporations for conspiring to defraud their customers or stockholders were based on a conspiracy theory rooted in bias. But the problem I wish to focus on here is the second one: the equation of ‘bias’ with ‘antagonism’. Although it is true that some conspiracy theories reflect bias that distorts the conspiracy theorists’ judgment, it is emphatically not true that the only kind of judgment-distorting bias that people may have toward their own country is antagonism.
A form of bias that is, in fact, far more common is uncritical patriotism, which leads people to believe that their political leaders never knowingly do anything terribly evil. One example is the fact that although credible reports about the genocide against Jews being perpetrated by the Nazis were circulating within Germany, many Germans refused to believe the stories, holding that the leaders of their highly civilized nation could not commit such atrocities. Indeed, these Germans were the original ‘Holocaust deniers’.
With this point before us, we are in better position to see just how tendentious Markham’s discussion of ‘conspiracy theories’ is. He suggests a parallel between my type of argument and that of holocaust deniers. But these two examples are not parallel in the most important respect. In the 9/11 case, it is alleged that a national government committed a heinous crime; in the other case, the claim that a national government committed a heinous crime is denied. The true parallel with Americans who accuse the Bush administration of complicity in the 9/11 attacks is, therefore, with those German citizens who accused the Nazi leaders of conspiring to commit genocide. And the true parallel with the original Holocaust deniers would be with those Americans who deny their government’s responsibility for 9/11. That latter parallel becomes damning, of course, only if, as I believe, the Bush administration was indeed responsible for 9/11.
The way in which bias can color our judgment about what our national leaders would and would not do cannot, therefore, be limited to negative bias, such as antagonism. In fact, positive bias, leading to uncritical patriotism, is the more common danger.
That Markham’s critique was written under the sway of this kind of bias is suggested by his second argument for dismissing my evidence on a priori grounds. This argument is simply that Americans can know a priori, apart from examining any of the evidence, that the Bush administration did not orchestrate or even deliberately allow the attacks of 9/11. Markham writes:
“America under Bush is not Hitler’s Germany. Such parallels are not justified. It is true that Americans want to be able to trade, import oil, and travel safely; but it is not true that they want to destroy cultures, peoples and dominate nations.”
It is on this basis that Markham makes his previously quoted claim that, ‘When a book argues that the American President deliberately and knowingly was “involved” in the slaughter of 3000 US citizens, then this is irresponsible.’ Markham’s contention is that although some governments, such as the Nazi government, have done some truly horrible things, both to other countries and their own citizens, the Bush administration would not.
Having read this passage, I wrote to Markham that it seemed to me that ‘our difference on 9/11 has to do primarily with a priori assumptions as to what the US government, and the Bush administration and its Pentagon in particular, would and would not do.’ Markham confirmed this judgment, saying that ‘yes, I am operating with an a priori assumption that Bush would not kill 3000 citizens for the sake of a political justification to invade the Middle East for oil.4
I, of course, had not argued that invading the Middle East for oil would have been the only motive. I also spoke of, among other things, establishing bases, for both oil and geopolitical control, in Afghanistan and Central Asia more generally (as Zbigniew Brzezinski had recommended in The Grand Chessboard); getting increased funding for the US military, especially the US Space Command, in order to weaponize space (as recommended by the Project for the New American Century’s 2000 document, Rebuilding America’s Defenses); and passing the USA PATRIOT act (which had obviously already been written). Even with those points added, however, Markham would presumably still maintain that the Bush administration would not have cared enough for these goals to sacrifice 3000 citizens.
I can only wonder, however, why Markham is so confident of this assumption. I would think that some of the endorsements my book received would have given him pause. He would surely acknowledge that people such as Marcus Raskin, Rosemary Ruether, and Howard Zinn probably know more about the history of US policy, both foreign and domestic, than he does. Indeed, he mentions the fact that Zinn is the author of A People’s History of the United States. If Zinn and these others, on the basis of their superior knowledge of the history of US policy, do not exclude the possibility that the Bush administration would do such a thing, how can Markham be so confident?
It would appear that his argument is not based on the view that there is something uniquely virtuous about the Bush administration. His argument seems instead to be that this administration, being an American administration, would not do such a thing.
But if that is the argument, then surely the kind of information contained in Zinn’s book is relevant. Markham says, for example, that ‘Americans [do not] want to destroy cultures, peoples and dominate nations’. But Americans certainly did a good job of destroying the culture of native Americans and the millions of Africans that were imported to be sold as slaves. More recently, moreover, American political and corporate leaders have shown no reluctance to destroy local cultures in various parts of the world when they conflicted with the profits of US corporations.
Finally, Markham’s statement that Americans do not want to ‘dominate nations’ makes me wonder if he has read Zinn’s book or any critiques of American foreign policy by authors such as William Blum, Noam Chomsky, or Chalmers Johnson.5 If he assumes that all the heinous policies reported by these authors can be dismissed because the writers, being leftists, simply distort the truth (as he suggests in his one mention of Chomsky), what does he do about the fact that Chalmers Johnson had been a conservative supporter of American foreign policy until his study of certain facts changed his understanding of the nature of that policy? And what does Markham do about the fact that although Andrew Bacevich is still a conservative, he now not only says that US foreign policy has been based on a ‘grand strategy’ to create a military-political-economic-cultural empire of global scope but also ridicules the notion that the purpose of this empire is ‘the promotion of peace, democracy, and human rights [rather than] the pursuit of self-interest’?6 Is Markham not given pause by the fact that Bacevich, having said that the aim of the U.S. military has been ‘to achieve something approaching omnipotence’, mocks the claim that while such power wielded by others would be threatening, such power ‘is by definition benign’ in America’s hands because of our nation’s unique virtue?7
In making this statement about omnipotence, Bacevich was referring to the Pentagon’s relatively new doctrine of ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’, according to which America’s present dominance on land, at sea, and in the air will be supplemented with dominance in space achieved by the new branch of the Air Force called the US Space Command. I discussed this program in my book, quoting a mission statement that says: ‘U.S. Space Command–dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment’8 —- not, it should be noted, to protect human rights and foster democracy. Indeed, in explaining the need for this extraordinary type of protection for ‘US interests and investment’, this document says that ‘[t]he globalization of the world economy . . . will continue with a widening between “haves” and “have-nots”’ — the point of which is that the US Space Command will be needed to protect American ‘haves’ from the world’s increasingly angry ‘have-nots’.
I went on to point out that this program involves putting weapons on satellites in space, including laser weapons that could be used to destroy the military satellites put up by other countries. The document announced, in fact, that the US Space Command would seek the power ‘to deny others the use of space’. To illustrate the fact that the purposes of the program are offensive, not merely defensive, I quoted the logo of one of the US Space Command’s divisions: ‘In Your Face from Outer space’. I pointed out, moreover, that the part of this program that sounds purely defensive, the ‘missile defense system’, has an offensive purpose: to overcome the capacity of other nations to deter the United States from attacking them (NPH 96-98).
Markham, in assuring his readers that Americans have no desire to ‘dominate nations’, ignores my discussion of this program. Perhaps he assumes that it can be dismissed as a fantasy created by my anti-Americanism. It may be important, therefore, to point out that the US military’s intention to weaponize space, previously known only by a few people, was revealed in a New York Times front-page story by Tim Weiner, published in May 2005.9 Pointing out that the Air Force is seeking a presidential directive to field ‘offensive and defensive space weapons’, Weiner quotes the head of the Space Command, General Lance Lord, as saying that the goal is ‘space superiority’ defined as ‘freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack’.
Although we should resist any temptation to base a theological critique of this program on the fact that it is headed by a man addressed as ‘General Lord’, we can legitimately point out that the name of one of its programs, ‘Rods from God’, does suggest that it seeks the kind of destructive omnipotence attributed to God by traditional theists — destructive power that is intended to be used to dominate other nations. Weiner refers to a strategy called Global Strike, which, according to Lord, will involve the ‘incredible capability’ to destroy things ‘anywhere in the world. . . in 45 minutes.’
For several reasons, accordingly, the factual record undermines Markham’s sanguine statements about US foreign policy. But what about his most central claim, that American leaders would not kill their own people to create a casus belli? Another part of the historical record, which was discussed in my book but ignored by Markham, was the plan called Operation Northwoods. Developed in 1962 and signed by all the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, this plan contained proposals to kill Americans and then blame Cuba as a pretext to invade it (NPH 101-03).
Markham’s various reasons for dismissing my evidence on a priori grounds, therefore, crumble in the face of past and present facts about US policy. It is not, to be sure, irrational to have a priori judgments about what kinds of things are possible and impossible. We could not get along without such judgments. To be rational, however, these judgments must be consistent with the relevant empirical facts. And yet Markham provides no evidence that he has sought to see whether his judgments about American political and military leaders, on the basis of which he calls my book irresponsible, are in fact consistent with readily available evidence.
To illustrate further: While arguing that America would not commit evils comparable to those committed by Nazi Germany, Markham admits that America does have some imperfections. ‘It is true’, he says, ‘that sometimes America makes morally ambiguous decisions’. That seems to be the worst that, from Markham’s perspective, can be said about some of the decisions that have been made by American leaders.
However, the kinds of books to which I referred earlier are filled with decisions that from a moral point of view cannot simply be called ‘ambiguous’. To give a few examples: the refusal to allow European Jews to come to America to escape the Holocaust;10 the decision by the US military, after having dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to launch a 1000-plane bombing raid on Japan after its surrender had been announced (but not yet officially received);11 the overthrow of democratically elected governments in, among other places, Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954;12 the massive bombing of North Korea, which killed some two million people, mainly civilians;13 the attempt to foment a civil war against the democratically elected government of Indonesia in 1957, which resulted in 40,000 deaths,14 followed in 1965 by a fabricated coup attempt and a bloodbath, aided by a list of names supplied by US officials, that resulted in one to two million deaths;15 America’s war against Vietnam, which was launched by violating the Geneva Accords in 1954 and escalated by fabricating the Tonkin Gulf incident, which resulted in the deaths of two to three million Vietnamese as well as over 68,000 Americans;16 and, more recently, the ‘sanctions of mass destruction’ imposed on Iraq in the 1990s, which evidently led to the deaths of over 500,000 children.17 I would hope that Markham, as a Christian ethicist, would agree that these decisions were not merely ‘ambiguous’.
In any case, Markham, in acknowledging American imperfection, adds: ‘It is also true that intelligence agencies make mistakes; for example, they predicted the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which the military failed to find’. Markham in this statement shows no sign of having taken seriously the allegations, which were reported in the mainstream press as well by many Internet sources, that the intelligence agencies made these ‘mistakes’ only because they were pressured to do so by officials in the White House and the Pentagon. This allegation was also publicly discussed in Great Britain in terms of the famous question whether the government had ‘sexed up’ the intelligence. And yet Markham, it appears, simply accepted the claims by the Bush and Blair administrations, which were later supported by official investigations, that their intelligence agencies had, regretfully, ‘made mistakes’.
On 1 May of 2005, however, this claim was shown to be a premeditated lie. The Times published leaked minutes from the British Prime Minister’s meeting of July 23, 2002, which summarized a report by the head of British intelligence, Richard Dearlove, on his recent talks in Washington. According to this report, President Bush had already decided to launch a war on Iraq to bring about regime change. Then, after saying that the war was to be ‘justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD’, Dearlove reportedly added that ‘the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy’. The Blair government did not contest the accuracy of the leaked memo.
Another significant fact about this story is that, in spite of all the prior discussion of this question in the United States, this ‘Downing Street Memo’ was at first reported only on the Internet, with the mainstream media reporting it, if at all, only after a couple weeks and then never as a front-page story with great significance.18
This episode, I would think, might suggest to Markham that he should be more sceptical of the mainstream press and official reports, especially in relation to the question of whether our political and military leaders have committed heinous crimes and then used official reports to cover them up, and also that he should be more open to the idea that allegations made only on the Internet may be true. With regard to the question of ‘intelligence mistakes’ in particular, I would think that this episode might lead him to be more sceptical of the official story about 9/11, according to which US intelligence agencies, due to incompetence and lack of coordination, simply had no idea that the attacks were coming.
IV. Easily Refutable Evidence
Although Markham’s main argument is that since he knows a priori that my charge is false, there is no need to examine my evidence-based argument, he does seek, if casually, to show that my evidence can be easily refuted.
I say “casually” partly because, although Markham points out that my book is constructed as a cumulative argument — which depends on several independent strands of evidence, each strand of which involves several instances of that type of evidence — he mentions only five of the 100-plus pieces of evidence I had cited. The five he mentions are:
1. If standard protocol had been followed, the military would have intercepted the four hijacked flights.
2. ‘The towers should not have collapsed, especially building seven;19 and the way the towers collapsed is best explained in terms of explosives’.
3. The Pentagon was hit by a missile rather than Flight 77 (although this is a very inadequate summary of my discussion of the problems in the official story about the strike on the Pentagon).
4. There is evidence that our intelligence agencies had received warnings of the attacks.
5. President Bush’s behavior at the school is inexplicable unless he knew that he would not be targeted.
“Casual” also describes the way in which Markham dismisses even these few arguments.
His main rebuttal of this evidence consists of the assertion that ‘The 9/11 Commission Report does provide alternative explanations for much of Griffin’s data’. His rebuttal depends, therefore, on assuming that this Report is worthy of belief. This assumption is, however, highly problematic.
One problem with the assumption that the Report is credible is that it is circular, for it presupposes that the Bush administration was not complicit. Why is that circular? Because, as I had explained, the Commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, who really ran things, was essentially a member of the Bush administration (NPH 153, 166, 195). One can, accordingly, presuppose that the Commission was really seeking to discover the truth, rather than to cover it up, only if one has already decided that the Bush administration was not complicit.
Besides this a priori problem, there is the fact that, as I have shown in my follow-up book, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions, the Report treats all the evidence pointing to official complicity by distorting it or, in most cases, simply omitting it. Indeed, if we think of the omissions and distortions as two types of lies, my book identifies at least 115 such lies, which I have summarized in an essay entitled ‘The 9/11 Commission Report: A 571-Page Lie’.20 Accordingly, the Report does not offer ‘alternative explanations for much of Griffin’s data’. Indeed, Markham himself points out that of the five examples listed above, the Report provides alternative explanations for only the first and the fifth. Two out of a hundred cannot be called ‘much’.
Anyone conversant with the facts, furthermore, can see that even the alternative explanations offered for those two issues are completely inadequate. The military’s failure to intercept the hijacked airliners is said, Markham reports, to have been due to complex protocols and the fact that the hijackers turned off the transponders. The first half of this answer, however, ignores the fact that interception is a routine matter, occurring about 100 times a year, and that the (allegedly) complex protocols apparently slowed things to a halt only on 9/11. The second half of the answer implies that our air defense system would have worked during the Cold War only if the Soviets had had the courtesy, when sending aircraft to attack America, to keep their transponders on.
With regard to President Bush’s strange response at the school, Markham first reports the Commission’s (wholly inadequate) explanation that it was due to ‘a combination of being misinformed . . . and then a desire to “project calm”’. Markham then adds his own observation that Bush ‘was in a state of some shock and bewilderment’ and that ‘[p]eople in shock do behave in strange ways’. Markham ignores, however, the fact that the question I had pressed was why the Secret Service agents, who are trained to act rapidly in crisis situations and to protect the president at all costs, allowed Bush to remain at the school for another half hour, even though they should have feared that a hijacked airliner was about to crash into the school.
With regard to the question of advance warnings, Markham says that the Commission agreed that the intelligence agencies deserved some criticism, but he fails to point out that the Commission was quite selective in the warnings it mentioned, failing to name the highly specific warnings, through which the date and targets would have been known.
With regard to the other two issues—evidence that something other than Flight 77 hit the Pentagon and reasons to believe that the WTC buildings were brought down by explosives—Markham admits that the Commission does not address them. But he then excuses them by suggesting that ‘we should not expect the report to consider every hypothesis that has been circulating on the Internet and then given respectability by David Ray Griffin’.
This statement brings us back to Markham’s main point, that all the empirical evidence I cited can be dismissed without serious examination because the charge that the Bush administration was complicit in the attacks is too absurd to take seriously. But Markham’s arguments in support of this assumption, as we have seen, are all undermined by an examination of the historical record. Markham could, therefore, support his charge that my book is irresponsible only by showing that its evidence can be refuted, and this he has clearly not done.
V. Concluding Theological Reflections
Markham speaks of my book as ‘a significant departure from process theology’. That is a true. It is not a theological book. But it is, I would insist, an appropriate book for a theologian to write. Indeed, if the US government arranged for the attacks of 9/11 in order to advance what Richard Falk has called its ‘global domination project’,21 as I believe,22 then there is no topic that is currently more important for theologians to address.
Religion involves, as Paul Tillich said, our ultimate concern or, as Josiah Royce more aptly put it, our ultimate loyalty. According to Christianity and other theistic religions, our ultimate loyalty should be to God, understood as the creator and lover of all human beings, indeed of all life whatsoever. Religion at its best leads us to transcend the human tendency to be concerned only with ourselves, or at most our tribe, in favor of concern for the welfare of all.
There has been a strong tendency of human beings, however, to seek to enlist religion in their drive to promote themselves, their tribe, their race, their gender, their religion, or their nation in a competition with others. Religion at its worst, serving this sinful tendency, is idolatrous.
The form of idolatry that has been most dangerous since the rise of the nation-state system has been Nationalism, in which one’s nation becomes, de facto, the object of ultimate loyalty. National leaders encourage this idolatrous loyalty through various forms of propaganda directed at their own citizens.
At the center of our own nation’s propaganda since its inception has been the myth of American ‘exceptionalism’, according to which America is free from the sins and weaknesses that led the nations of the Old World into corruption, war, and imperialism.23 One expression of this myth has been the widespread idea (now rejected by Andrew Bacevich) that enormous power in American hands is not dangerous because our nation, unlike others, uses its power to promote freedom, democracy, and human rights, not selfish interests.
Although this myth was traditionally based on the idea that America is a uniquely Christian nation, it is actually, from a Christian perspective, a heretical idea, because it contradicts the doctrine of original sin — no less than did the Communist doctrine that ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ would be salutary because the proletariat was free from the selfishness of the bourgeoisie. The doctrine of original sin, at its best, says that human beings cannot be divided into those with sinful tendencies and those without. The political implication of this doctrine is that no individual, faction, class, race, institution, or nation can be trusted with unchecked power. Lord Acton expressed this implication in his famous dictum: ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.24
If we combine Acton’s insight, Bacevich’s observation that the US military has been seeking ‘something approaching omnipotence’, and Chalmers Johnson’s statements that the United States is ‘a military juggernaut intent on world domination’ and that it, in fact, already ‘dominates the world through its military power’,25 then the notion that America’s political and military leaders are corrupt enough to have orchestrated 9/11 to increase their power is, far from too fantastic to believe, just the kind of act we should expect.
Furthermore, if this is what really happened, as I believe, then we face a situation analogous to that confronted by the Confessing Church in Germany. Unlike the ‘German Christians’, who supported National Socialism, the Confessing Church said, in its Barmen Declaration, that this support violated basic principles of Christian faith, thereby creating a status confessionis, a confessional situation. I believe that basic principles of Christian faith are equally violated by support for the American empire, even if most Christians in America are not yet aware of this conflict. I hold, therefore, that no task is more important for theologians today than the attempt to make that conflict clear. I am also convinced that one of the most effective ways to do this would be to expose the truth about 9/11.
1. NPH stands for David Ray Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 (Northampton: Olive Branch [Interlink Books), 2004).
2. See note 20, below.
3. This kind of point is developed at greater length by philosopher of science James Fetzer, who writes: ‘Conspiracies are as American as apple pie. . . . Most conspiracies in our country are economic, such as Enron, WorldCom, and now Halliburton . . . . Insider trading is a simple example, since investors and brokers collaborate to benefit from privileged information. . . . If anyone doubts the ubiquitous presence of conspiracies, let them take a look at any newspaper of substance and track the stories reported there’ (‘”Conspiracy Theories”: The Case of 9/11’, forthcoming.
4. Email from Ian Markham to David Griffin, March 24, 2005; quoted with permission.
5. William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage, 1995); Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, 2nd ed. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1992), Year 501: The Conquest Continues (Boston: South End Press, 1993), and Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs (Cambridge: South End Press, 2000); Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (New York: Henry Holt [Metropolitan Books], 2004).
6. Andrew J. Bacevich, American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 30, 49.
7. Ibid., 133, 52.
8. This document, which was signed in February 1997 by then USAF Commander in Chief Howell M. Estes III, was discussed in Jack Hitt, ‘The Next Battlefield May Be in Outer Space,’ The New York Times Magazine, August 5, 2001. Although the document has largely disappeared from the Internet, perhaps because it was thought to be too candid, it can still be found on the website of Peace Action Maine (http://www.peaceactionme.org/v-intro.html).
9. Tim Weiner, ‘Air Force Seeks Bush’s Approval for Space Weapons Programs’, New York Times, May 18, 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/18/business/18space.html?th&emc=th).
10. Arthur D. Morse, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy (New York: Random House, 1968); David S. Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust (New York: Pantheon, 1984).
11. Noam Chomsky, American Power and the New Mandarins (New York: Vintage Books, 1969), 167, 210-11.
12. Blum, Killing Hope, 64-72 (on Iran); Piero Gleijeses, Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-1954 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).
13. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History (New York: Norton, 1997), 289-98.
14. Audrey R. Kahin and George McT. Kahin, Subversion as Foreign Policy: The Secret Eisenhower and Dulles Debacle in Indonesia (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995).
15. Kahin and Kahin, Subversion as Foreign Policy, 217-30; Blum, Killing Hope, 193-97.
16. Marilyn B. Young, The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990 (New York: HarperCollins, 1991); George McT. Kahin, Intervention: How American Became Involved in Vietnam (Garden City: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1987), 63-90.
17. Dilip Hiro, Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002); John Mueller and Karl Mueller, ‘Sanctions of Mass Destruction’, Foreign Affairs, May-June 1999: 43-53.
18. For of the first stories about the ‘Downing Street Memo’ on the Internet, see Greg Palast, ‘Impeachment Time: “Facts Were Fixed”’ (http://www.gregpalast.com/detail.cfm?artid=426&row=0), which includes the memo itself, and Ray McGovern, ‘Proof the Fix Was In’, Antiwar.com, May 5, 2005 (http://www.antiwar.com/mcgovern/index.php?articleid=5844). On the early treatment by the mainstream press in the United States, see ‘Smoking Gun Memo? Iraq Bombshell Goes Mostly Unreported in US Media’, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, May 10, 2005 (http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2511).
19. That Markham is here discussing things he knows little about is suggested by the fact that he refers to Building 7 of World Trade Center as one of the ‘towers’, whereas that term was used only for Buildings 1 and 2, commonly called ‘the Twin Towers’.
20. Griffin, ‘The 9/11 Commission Report: A 571-Page Lie’, 9/11 Visibility Project, May 22, 2005 (http://www.septembereleventh.org/newsarchive/2005-05-22-571pglie.php). Whereas Markham assumes that The 9/11 Commission Report has shown my suspicions to be baseless, I have written that it, ‘far from lessening my suspicions about official complicity, has served to confirm them. Why would the minds in charge of this final report engage in such deception if they were not trying to cover up very high crimes?’ The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (Northampton: Olive Branch [Interlink Books], 2004), 291.
21. ‘Resisting the Global Domination Project: An Interview with Prof. Richard Falk’, Frontline, 20/8 (April 12-25, 2003).
22. David Ray Griffin, ‘9/11 and the American Empire: How Should Religious People Respond?’ 9/11 CitizensWatch, May 7, 2005 (http://www.911citizenswatch.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=535), a C-span video of which can be viewed at 911blogger.com, April 28, 2005 (http://www.911blogger.com/2005/04/proper-release-of-griffin-in-madison.html).
23. Deborah L. Madsen, American Exceptionalism (University Press of Mississippi, 1998); Anders Stephanson, Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995); Ivan Eland, ‘American Exceptionalism’, Antiwar.com, October 26, 2004 (http://www.antiwar.com/eland/?articleid=3847).
24. Lord Acton, Essays, ed. Rufus F. Fears (Liberty Classics, 1985), Vol. II: 383; quoted in Garry Wills, Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 2.
25. Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (New York: Henry Holt [Metropolitan Books], 2004), 4, 1.