TCS Daily

Enter the Conspirators

By Brian E. Finch - April 16, 2002 12:00 AM

"I am not aware of any evidence," Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) tells us "that President Bush or members of his administration have personally profited from the attacks of 9/11. A complete investigation might reveal that to be the case."

This statement constitutes Rep. McKinney's follow up to her rather incredulous accusations that President Bush and other officials somehow knew 9/11 was going to occur and did nothing to prevent it. McKinney said President Bush did nothing to prevent 9/11 probably because some of his friends were "poised to make huge profits off America's new war." Thus, instead of pursuing the war on terror, Rep. McKinney would have us trying to figure out "[w]hat do they have to hide?"

It was bad enough when the rumors began on the "Arab street" that Israel was behind 9/11, but now we have a Member of Congress announcing on a Berkeley radio station (surprise) that the war profiteers have struck again, killing thousands of people all for the sake of a fattened stock portfolio. While outlandish, McKinney's statements are not unexpected. Whenever tragedy strikes America, scholars and political elites shun the simple answers and instead search the shadows for telltale signs of conspirators. In each instance, they refuse to believe that violence against America was caused by a hatred of our culture or our resolute defense of freedom. Rather, they concoct silly notions that the tragedy was engineered from within for dark, greedy purposes.

Such conspiracy theories are not new and they will not stop because some people will always be obsessed with the notion that an evil cabal runs all. If you look at these conspiracy ideas closely, however, they reveal something else about their proponents. They contain an undercurrent of racial and ethnocentric bias; basically, in order for these theories to be true, you have to assume that "sophisticated" Americans can readily manipulate these people.

We have seen this type of conspiracy theory before. As I discussed in "Pearl Harbor It Wasn't", a lot of people are incorrectly drawing parallels between the Pearl Harbor attack and 9/11. But a parallel that does fit between those two incidents, however, is the cottage industry of conspiracy theories. For instance, many scholars argue that President Roosevelt knew full well that the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor and, in fact, baited them to do so that the U.S. would have an excuse to defeat Japan and seize territory throughout Asia. Without the Pearl Harbor attack, Roosevelt would never have had the support to fight a war against Japan.

This idea may play well in the college faculty room, where the mere hint of aristocratic conspiracy is enough to overcome an absolute void of supporting evidence. Out here in the real world, however, it does not stand up to scrutiny. The lynchpin of this theory is that the Japanese attack had to be a complete "surprise" in order to galvanize America into war. Len Deighton, author of "Blood, Tears and Folly : An Objective Look at World War II", makes a number of critical points in this regard. For example, why would Roosevelt sacrifice the Pacific Fleet - the most vital weapon in the coming fight - just to get a declaration of war? The idea of an attempted attack on Pearl Harbor would have been enough to declare war, and if Roosevelt really knew what was going to happen, it would have made much more sense to preserve the fleet, seek out the Japanese and make the first battle a victory. Sacrificing half of your navy (particularly when, contrary to popular belief, the Japanese were going to attack no matter what) is no way to go about defeating a dangerous foe.

Moreover, the theory that the U.S. manipulated the Japanese into the war reveals an unconscious racism on the part of its supporters. In order to believe that the U.S. deliberately tricked the Japanese into an attack at the time and place of our choosing, one would have to conclude the Japanese were too stupid to realize what was going on. Japan had plenty of alternatives to war with America (seizing British and Dutch assets throughout Asia) that they could have easily pursued to avoid the effects of the U.S. embargoes. Because the Japanese chose to attack the U.S. instead, the conspiracy theorists conclude that the U.S. plutocracy tricked the "simple" Japanese into a war they could not win. This of, is course, not the case: The Japanese of the 1940s had grand, imperialist visions, and the one obstacle to those plans was America. Pearl Harbor was the beginning of the answer to that dilemma.

In the same way Pearl Harbor conspiracy theories are poorly thought out, so too is McKinney's. In order to believe her theory, we would have to assume that bin Laden and his followers were so simple that we could lure them into attacking America, and that a secret cabal in America had concluded that such an attack was the only way to increase the defense budget. This is the logic that applies though: Arabs are so dumb that we can trick them into launching a losing war just to line some pockets. It seems hard to believe that Bush and his fellow conspirators would do so (much less put their own lives at risk as was the case with V.P. Cheney) so that a few friends would stand a better chance for landing defense contracts.

Also, much like the Pearl Harbor conspiracy theorists, McKinney and those who would believe her have ignored the aftermath of the 9/11. There is a real chance that the war on terror could go quite badly. For all their "powers," it is hard to believe that Bush's gang can ensure that bin Laden and other terrorists will not find a way to harm them or the nation even more severely than they did on 9/11. Yet this is the type of thinking we are faced with from conspiracy theorists. It is not rational, and it does not need to be. It only needs to strike a tone that resonates with groups that do not want to believe in what America is fighting for. And that is what we have here - we have one of the most ridiculous ideas in recent memory, but it has traction because it implicates a mystery group that supposedly can manipulate poor, malleable foreigners at their will just for personal profit.

There is no proof of any conspiracy -- McKinney herself admits that. Any "investigation" would be useless because when nothing came of it, people would just argue that all the relevant evidence has been covered up. Instead, we are faced with this simple conclusion -- people will never accept the fact that some people just hate us and will doing anything to see us hurt in order to satisfy their own twisted motives. No ludicrous accusations of profiteering will change that. What conspiracy theorists also have to understand is that they are not helping America see the "truth"; instead they are actually reinforcing lies that our enemies will feed upon.

Moreover, McKinney's statement reveal that she, like the Pearl Harbor conspiracy theorists, believes that the "elites" can readily manipulate other cultures for their own personal gain with fair certainty of the conclusion. In other words, we have to believe Arabs and Muslims are too stupid to realize we are playing them for fools. One would think that supporters of the downtrodden, as conspiracy theorists claim to be, would be more careful and avoid theories that call into question the intellectual abilities of other cultures.

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