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September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: View of the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. (Image: US National Park Service ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since September 11, 2001, two different stories have emerged about the attacks on that fateful day.

Story 1: The attacks were the planned and organised solely by Al Qaeda Islamist terrorists, headed by Osama Bin Laden. 19 terrorist operatives boarded armed with little more than box-cutter knives, boarded 4 passenger jets, overpowered the flight crews, and sent their planes towards New York and Washington DC, where two airplanes hit the World Trade Center, one plane crashed into the Pentagon, and another plane crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, having failed to reach its intended destination. The Twin Towers collapsed as a result of structural weaknesses caused by the impacts and burning jet fuel. The US authorities failed to prevent the attacks due to lack of co-ordination between intelligence authorities and insufficient information about the terrorists’ objectives.

Story 2: The attacks were planned and coordinated by Israeli and/or US authorities, mainly as a pretext for war against Iraq and Afghanistan and extending American hegemony in the oil-rich Middle East. The World Trade Center collapses were caused by controlled demolitions. According to some accounts, no plane hit the Pentagon – instead it was caused by a missile shot at close range.

Clearly, most people accept the former story, but a small redoubt of people fervently believe that the leadership of the free world tried to pull a fast one on them, and that there is plenty of evidence in this regard to disprove the official account. These people have spent an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to unpick the established narrative.

Which story to believe?

Story 1 has a number of points in its favour. 9/11 was set in the context of increasingly audacious violence from Islamist terror groups, from Kenya to London to Bali.  The 9-11 Commission Report recounts, in excruciating detail, the level of miscommunication, discord, lack of communication and underestimation that took place between intelligence authorities in the days up to and including September 11th. Members of the military and intelligence communities were themselves targeted and killed in the attacks. The US Government had to invest in a massive overhaul of security. It embarked on two colossally expensive foreign wars to protect its interests. There are multiple lines of evidence: tracing the movements of the killers, the actions of the different intelligence communities, senior government decisions, airport security, flight crews, passenger phone calls, Islamist leaders and many more – all adding to an overall narrative of events on the day. Few individuals from the thousands of people, who were players in the events of the day, ever registered any major dissent from the narrative. Neither has any major media organisation, at home or abroad, seriously contested the story. It’s a story of terrorists getting lucky against a security system that was less than watertight.

To accept Story 2, you must replace incompetence, discord and pot-luck with a tale of near perfect planning and co-ordination, on a vast scale. At each stage up to the attacks themselves, alert airport officials, brave passengers or crew members could have disrupted the government’s putative plans. The implication is that they would need to have been tipped off in some way – that they were in on the conspiracy. Only a handful of companies in the world could have staged a controlled demolition on the order of the World Trade Center. To do so covertly would have been even more challenging – taking months of meticulous planning. Why didn’t the world media investigate these demolition companies? What of the (surely abundant) evidence of the products of controlled demolition among the wreckage of the buildings? The clearance teams must have been truly excellent. If the Pentagon was not hit by a jet plane, what happened to all the passengers of Flight 77 and who helped clear up (or plant) the evidence? To accept this story, you must accept that an army of specially trained, and potentially psychopathic government operatives, were in place to maintain a subterfuge on this scale. The aftermath of Iraq and Katrina, and the sheer ineptitude of many officials at that time, does not help the conspiracy theorists’ case.

It is worthwhile reminding ourselves that mass collusion does occur and has occurred in the past. The history of the 20th Century provides us with many examples: Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, the Cambodian killing fields, Pinochet’s Chile. However, these examples all had a common refrain: the hatred of a particular class of people to the point that eliminating them was seen as a good thing by the perpetrators. How the ordinary traders, administrators, managers and support staff of the World Trade Center fitted the mould of  non-people is something the conspiracy theorists need to properly establish. Then there is mass-collusion within organisations such as the Catholic Church and Scientology. But these organisations, by their nature, value absolute adherence to dogma, stifle freedom of speech and are contemptuous of dissent: again, hardly prototypes for the loud, free-speaking, most in-your-face country on the planet.

Conspiracy theorists will scream that the devil is in the detail, so if you are truly bothered, far better brains than I have pulled the detailed claims apart. Popular Mechanics did a full deconstruction of the Truther claims, there are a few grassroot sceptical sites and Ryan Owens has put together some good debunking videos also. Skeptic Magazine also ran an article on 9/11 debunking that’s worth a read.

So, if you believe that the 9/11 attacks were the result of an inside job, the weight of evidence is completely against you. You are not a skeptic, you are a denier; the burden of proof is on you. The focus should be on the many issues and developments that arose out of the attacks – some of which have that often have had a huge impact on personal freedoms and government power – and not on this bullshit.

Another day, another truly sickening mass murder in the US.

English: Caliber .45 ACP Pistols. From left to...

English: Caliber .45 ACP Pistols. From left to right: Glock 21, Sig Sauer P220 Combat, Colt 1911 Rail Gun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time, a man managed to kill 27 people, including 20 young children, during a shooting spree in a Connecticut elementary school. His weapons of choice: two handguns and a Bushmaster .223 caliber semi-automatic rifle.

Nobody really expects things to change after this. Even though this counts as one of the worst gun outrages in US history, the power of the NRA, along with blanket opposition to gun restrictions means that the only outcome is likely to be a few extra lines in America’s grim firearm mortality records.

People, who should never be let within an ass’s roar of a powerful weapon, will continue to purchase firearms with impunity. The building up of private arsenals will not abate. The senseless murders will persist. America will lead the developed world in gun violence.

Any sensible person should be able to reason that mass murders like this, and murders in general, are unconscionable in a civil society. Presumably, it is the will of the vast majority of people that something be done to reduce these horrific statistics as aggressively as possible. It is also reasonable to assume that things can be done, given the right circumstances.

Gun violence, like most other things, is driven by certain factors. Identifying these factors and implementing policies to manage them or eliminate them is therefore both judicious and necessary.

Let me digress for a moment. Forty years ago, Ireland had some of the worst road death statistics in Europe. At times during the 1970s, over 600 people died on Irish roads. This was at a time when car ownership was far less than it is today. Today, the road death rate is less than 200 – a decrease of 66% on those grim figures. The reason for the drop, in Ireland as well as many other countries around the world, has been due to a raft of different measures from penalty points, to random breath testing, to airbags, to better testing and training. Road deaths were driven by multiple factors. Identifying and addressing all of them, in a comprehensive way, helped to control the problem. There are many other examples of initiatives such as this making a real and substantial difference in improving health and avoiding early mortality.

America is stuck in a situation where a cool-headed analysis of the root causes of gun violence has not been sufficiently translated into any sort of sensible public policy. Instead, the country has been happy to let rhetoricians and lobby groups hold sway. Rather than doing whatever it can to address and reduce the incidents of mass murder, the citizenry gets soundbites, right-wing propaganda and slogans.

Rhetoric and sloganeering will not solve the gun violence problems of America. Sensible initiatives, from a wide range of perspectives, will do it. Comparing America’s experience to initiatives in different countries, and implementing similar policies locally, will help. Keeping all factors on the table and identifying the real root causes is essential.

It’s time that people stopped presuming that their sacred idols are above reproach or beyond sensible analysis. A wide range of initiatives should be implemented and supported. Some may work, others not: but that is how science works. These initiatives need to encompass gun ownership, mental health, advertising, gun-culture, arms manufacture and trading, among many others. In this way, America’s gun-murder problems can be solved.

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