11 September 2006

ONE MORE TIME: COCKBURN'S DISMISSAL OF CONSPIRACY THEORISTS

I would like to take this blog opportunity, today, to respond to Alexander Cockburn's dismissal of 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Cockburn's Counterpunch is one of my favorite places to visit -- yet I must disagree with his reasoning here, which is at its clearest in the analogy with the to-do about the JFK assassination:
Anyone who ever looked at the JFK assassination will know that there are endless anomalies and loose ends. Eyewitness testimony -- as so often -- is conflicting, forensic evidence possibly misconstrued, mishandled or just missing. But in my view, the Warren Commission, as confirmed in almost all essentials by the House Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s, had it right and Oswald fired the fatal shots from the Schoolbook Depository. The evidentiary chain for his guilt is persuasive, and the cumulative scenarios of the conspiracy nuts entirely unconvincing. But of course -- as the years roll by, and even though no death bed confession has ever buttressed those vast, CIA-related scenarios -- the nuts keep on toiling away, their obsessions as unflagging as ever.
Now, in real life, the Warren Commission report does not investigate several alternative paths of inquiry to the one it took. There were several points at which an alternate path of inquiry might have started. For example, the question of whether Oswald's gun could have shot JFK from the distance from which it was fired, the question of multiple bullets (as opposed to the "magic bullet" theory), the lapses in security on that day (which for instance allowed Jack Ruby to kill Oswald), Oswald's connections to the Communist Party (which by that time had been thoroughly infiltrated by the FBI) and his bizarre movement in and out of the USSR, the manipulations of JFK's autopsy, among others. The Warren Commission investigated no theory that might have sprung from the discrepancies between the official story and the real-world evidence. Instead, it manufactured an "official story" which is noteworthy for:
  1. its incomplete glosses on evidence,
  2. its refusal to explain important portions of the real-life story,
  3. its refusal to investigate government-kept secrets or destroyed evidence,
  4. and, most importantly, its refusal to investigate any alternative story to the one it set out to investigate in the first instance, which attempted to pin the blame for Kennedy's assassination on Oswald and Oswald alone.
Now, it's easy to draw the same conclusions about the 9/11 Commission Report and the other official stories of the events of 9/11/01. In both cases, officialdom, acting under the aegis of the Federal Government of the United States of America, concocts a story, which is then thoroughly debunked by conspiracy theorists -- up to a point. The conspiracy theorists appear to be able to tear down the official story without erecting a credible competing story of their own. In light of the fact that official stories, more often than not, represent cover-ups, conspiracy theories multply. Since the official story does not adequately explain, each individual is free to make up her own truth. So what we have with conspiracy theory is a result of the chaos that ensues when rumor is the best approximation of truth we can get.

Responding to conspiracy theory by dismissing the search for "9/11 truth" is simply not going to work. Justin Frank asks us:
What's the Truth Movement doing about the hundreds of thousands of poor non-violent drug offenders who are rotting in US prisons, or the thousands more who are decaying on death row? What are they doing for the teenage girls who slave away in sweatshops piecing together our clothes and sneakers? What have conspiracy theories ever proven, anyway?
Most of this quote is non sequitur -- nothing prevents conspiracy theorists from changing the world for the better in the ways which Frank suggests. And even though conspiracy theories don't really prove anything, what they do indeed do is to cement disbelief in official stories. One thing you know for sure when reading Peter Dale Scott or Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed is that the government is lying to you, in contravention of your self-interest, and that you ought to defy it in demanding the truth. And isn't that a good thing?

2 Comments:

Blogger Rev. T. Monkey said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response to Alexander Cockburn and Joshua Frank on this issue. I am not a zealous 9/11 conspiracy theorist nor am I a professional leftist writer/conspiracy debunker. Rather I am a fairly educated working class guy (college secretary and part-time undergrad instructor) who has a long history of mistrusting official narratives and pursuing interesting questions. I followed the link from Frank's website because I wanted to see how you'd respond (we corresponded before through his comments page, and I found your insights quite good). You succinctly pointed out the non sequiturs in Cockburn and Frank's "argumentation" and also underlined a concrete benefit to be gained from pursuing these questions where they lead.

That said, I still wonder why Frank, Cockburn, and many other leftists insist on chasing one another around over relatively minor areas of disagreement, instead of coming together to fight the obvious common enemies. Do we really need to have our vision definitively articulated before we can work to effect change? It seems like that is one way in which the right has outsmarted the left repeatedly---take on your real foes first, and then sort out your own disagreements after the victory.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Samuel said...

I agree with everything you've said here.

7:47 PM  

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