Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
9/11 conspiracy theories. Yes – those again. I could expend a considerable amount of ink on why they are utterly false. I could detail the reams of research by journalists and congressional staffers of all political stripes into how the attacks of 9/11 were planned and unfolded, or the refutation by civil and aerospace engineers of the arguments put forward about ‘irregularities’ in the manner of the buildings’ collapse. I could point to the comprehensive lack of planning for the post-war settlement in Iraq, or what Bush’s Administration would do if Iraq had no WMDs. Or the fact that the first war the United States undertook after 9/11 was in Afghanistan – a country that had been never been of prior interest to any Bush administration members.
Yet the theories still persist. Given the weight of evidence against them, this would be surprising, if we were not dealing with political history. History, and political history in particular, is the stories we tell about the past in order to make sense of how we got here, and by extension who we are now. These are often based on who we want to be, on a yearning for a favourable identity. The story that the ‘Truthers‘ want to tell is that a US president orchestrated attacks that killed thousands of American civilians, a narrative that denies the possibility that a non-state group in Afghanistan launched devastatingly successful attacks on the World Trade Center, UA Flight 93 and the Pentagon. Indeed, this story seems to depend on the assumption that it would be better for the United States government to be competently evil, rather than its best intentions having failed. This attitude is built on two things: American exceptionalism and racism.
Many Americans have long subscribed to a theory of their country’s exceptionalism. It has been present since the colonial era, first as an idea of Americans as a ‘chosen people‘, magnified by the War of Independence. Then, with the Second World War and the subsequent Cold War came the idea of America as having ‘global responsibility‘ as one History textbook put it. With responsibilities come rights. The right, for instance, to intervene globally in the name of their national security. For a country great enough to lay claim to these rights and responsibilities to be successfully attacked in its most important cities, by an organisation that lacked the resources or manpower of even the most minor state, could easily be denied by those who have internalised this way of thinking. It would be unsurprising if the end result was a line of argument that concluded ‘only Americans could possibly have killed this many Americans on home soil’.
Racism and the United States have a long and involved history. The 9/11 attackers were comprised of Saudi nationals, operating out of compounds in southern Afghanistan. Add to this the fact American politics has contained an undercurrent of contempt for the abilities of those of different races (often barely veiled) since before the founding of the United States. Slavery, then the failure of Reconstruction, the rise, fall, then resurgence of the KKK, followed by the confrontations of the Civil Rights movement all testify to this fact. It follows that ‘Truthers‘ are affected by this legacy, drawing upon this disdain for other races.
9/11 was undoubtedly an event of great trauma for the American psyche. That fact is inescapable. But the response to it has, over the years, revealed the content of this psyche, and in the case of the conspiracy theories some less savoury aspects have been highlighted.