Unflinching: The New Pearl Harbor
Asks All the Hot Questions
The New Pearl Harbor:
Disturbing Questions about the
Bush Administration and 9/11, by David Ray Griffin (Northampton, Mass.: Interlink Books, 2004) paperback, 256 pp; $15.00.
The New Pearl Harbor, by Professor David Ray Griffin, impressively catalogues evidence which raises questions about the official story of 9-11.
To begin, the book's introduction and foreword both provide immediate good news for readers who uncritically dismiss any and all 'conspiracy theories.'
In the foreword, Richard Falk, the eminent Princeton University professor of international law, rightly states that Griffin unravels the logic of his case "in the best spirit of academic detachment."
And in the introduction, Professor Griffin himself, who is the author and editor of over 20 books on philosophical and religious topics, assuages readers' fears. He lucidly discusses terms like 'complicity' and 'conspiracy,' and points out that the official story about 9-11 is itself a conspiracy theory. He adds that we commonly accept that bank robberies and stock market fraud involve 'conspiracies.' Thus we don't reject all conspiracy theories, he points out, only those that we do not believe are true.
Griffin then lays out eight possible theories about 9-11, all under the more general rubric of an 'official complicity' theory.
These eight alternatives run the gamut from the least damaging – an unplanned coverup of 9-11 afterwards – to the most damning – the White House was involved in orchestrating 9-11. I will suggest later that the list may actually be quite a bit longer than eight. But this sets out the format of the book: after each chapter of evidence, Griffin returns to the eight possibilities to determine which is helped or harmed, proved or disproved, by the latest evidence.
This format is effective for informed and uninformed readers alike, for while a first impulse upon hearing talk of investigating the story of 9-11 may lead people to jump to assumptions that such investigations are bent on branding Bush and his closest advisors with planning or even executing the attacks, we see that Griffin is, again, working "in the best spirit of academic detachment."
Critiques to Push the Dialogue Along
Most of this review will consist of criticism of the book. However, these critiques in no way undermine the primary purpose of the book, which is to unearth enough evidentiary contradictions to convince readers that deeper public investigations are both necessary and justified. As opposed to other conspiracy theories that seek to assert and prove their own veracity, Professor Griffin's more modest objective to convince readers more investigation is warranted is thoroughly achieved through sharp argumentation and a preponderance of evidence.
My critiques are meant to push inquiry further along through amicable dialogue, and thus to modestly assist in formulating a more robust argument. But first, let me offer a brief synopsis.
The main body of Griffin's book is divided into two main sections. The first section examines much of the physical evidence surrounding all four hijacked flights. It covers the collapse of the two main buildings of the World Trade Center (WTC1 and WTC2) and building seven (WTC7), along with the damage inflicted on the Pentagon. This first section also covers President Bush's behavior on the day of the tragedy and the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Apart from the weaker chapter on President Bush, the evidence and alternative theories concerning the flights and buildings are startling and thought-provoking – even for the most die-hard doubters. Their power derives from the fact that nearly every American has seen footage and knows all too well most of the facts upon which the argument rests.
Professor Griffin's objective to convince readers that more investigation is warranted is thoroughly achieved.
- why military jets took nearly an hour to respond to the hijackings, when standard operating procedures should have taken around 10 minutes
- why the concrete of the WTC buildings exploded horizontally, fell at a speed no less than freefall, and pulverized into dust rather than remain in large chunks
- why the steel beams of the WTC came down and fell into relatively neat piles, like in a controlled demolition, rather than remain standing, bent or upright
- why the steel remnants of the WTC towers were shipped away quickly and sold abroad, rather than properly undergoing forensic testing
- why the hole in the Pentagon was too small to accommodate a Boeing 757, and was also not independently investigated by forensic specialists
- why the alleged hijackers chose the relatively abandoned and difficult-to-hit west side of the Pentagon to crash the jet, rather than the 29 acre roof of the broadest, widest building in the world.
These are but a fraction of a seemingly endless number of subtle and not-so-subtle arguments and counter-arguments concerning evidence that nearly any individual with Internet access could have unearthed. As the author rightfully points out, his argument is not like a chain, in which disproving one piece of it will sever the chain and undermine the whole endeavor. Rather, his argument is cumulative, like a cable made of dozens of tough strands; disproving one piece of it simply removes that one strand from the cable, leaving behind many, many strong strands in an impressive body of evidence.
Context and Motives
Having presented the facts about the day of 9-11 itself, Griffin turns to the larger context of the events of 9-11 in the second part of the book. He examines historical evidence from before and after 9-11 to consider motives. In so doing, he constructs a case that suggests U.S. officials:
- may have had advance information about 9-11
- may have obstructed investigations prior to 9-11
- may have had motivations to allow 9-11
- may have aided the escape of the alleged masterminds
- may have impeded investigations since 9-11
Similar to the first part, there are endless counter-arguments to the official story, which are again cumulative and thus not vulnerable to simple refutations. Anyone ambitious enough to take on Griffin's arguments and evidence will need to devote significant time and energy to the task. A partial attack wouldn't be enough to weaken a sufficient number of strands in his presented case.
Also in the second part, Griffin raises the powerful point that under any normal criminal investigation, those parties who benefit most from the execution of a crime would top the list of suspects. Without doubt, when one looks at budget increases, opinion polls, and corporate profits, the executive branch of the government, the military and intelligence communities, and military and oil interests have benefited most from this tragedy. And all investigations to date have been vigorously shaped, if not obstructed, by many of the same actors who under normal conditions would rank as suspects. It is the highly political nature of both the event and the investigations that permit this counterintuitive reversal, in which potential suspects have control over their own investigation. However, Griffin's arguments are myriad, vary in quality, and defy summarization in this short review. I now turn to some constructive criticism.
Tell Us: Anomaly or 'Par for the Course'?
While Griffin provides reams of physical evidence from the day of the attacks, it remains from a certain perspective, not enough. Most of his evidence focuses only on the actual day of 9-11 and does not show that 9-11 was an anomaly compared to previous days or years. What he needs is a comparison of 9-11 with what might be labeled 'par for the course.' Fully half of his evidence should derive from prior to 9-11. That is, Griffin's argument will become even more powerful if he can consistently show with evidence that what happened on 9-11 was truly anomalous compared to 'normal' conditions.
For instance, one of his more powerful arguments is that jet fighters did not intercept the civilian airliners until over an hour after the airliners were known to be hijacked. While he does quote a NORAD spokesman as saying that "fighters routinely intercept aircraft" (p.5), and quotes other authors who claim that there is "no evidence" of prior failures (p.48), a more convincing study would show with conclusive evidence the official and unofficial failure rates of NORAD in the past few years. Or he could investigate presumed and attempted hijackings of the past decade or so. If corroborated evidence shows near perfect rates of success, this would provide nearly conclusive proof to refute the official claims about NORAD incompetence and failures. By predominately focusing on the events of 9-11, there is no context for comparison in Griffin's study. Additionally, pointing to the NORAD rulebook is very weak evidence, because how NORAD ideally should operate and how it actually does operate may drastically differ. Anyone who reads a DMV manual on proper driving techniques surely chuckles at how much the realities of driving depart from the ideal. Whether NORAD, as a federal bureaucracy, does any better is an empirical question to be answered. Although he does not completely ignore this issue, he should make it more prominent and provide additional evidence on top of one NORAD employee's opinion (p. 5). A similar logic may apply to other arguments, such as failures to monitor, apprehend, and expel the alleged hijackers during their time in the US. Perhaps there are official and unofficial figures on INS and FBI failures to apprehend and track foreign criminals on US soil prior to 9-11.
Call in More Professional Backup
While distinguishing anomalies from normal conditions requires additional research into sensitive topics – including the acquisition of possibly classified information from the INS, FBI, NORAD and other agencies – Griffin could improve many of his arguments without relying on sensitive, professional opinion.
For instance, before turning to the copious evidence surrounding the collapse of the WTC towers (p.12-23), he should have provided much more evidence, if not a whole section, on the demolition of skyscrapers in general. His argument is highly reliant on much technical knowledge concerning: the heat generation and conduction of differently colored fires, at what temperatures steel weakens and melts, the architectural strength of the WTC buildings, the results of controlled demolitions, and more. While some professional sources were mentioned, the general argument was not systematic or prominent enough to inspire confidence in the reader that the 9-11 collapse had indications of controlled demolition. Citing and quoting more expert studies on general engineering would have inspired more confidence. This reader is not even aware if such massive skyscrapers have ever been intentionally or unintentionally brought down, and thus I was uncertain whether steel should still remain standing or cement should or should not pulverize, or the speed with which such huge buildings fall. Providing more extensive, professional analysis from demolition experts or civil engineers would bolster this argument immeasurably. Again, it's necessary to include and compare evidence from before 9-11.
It's necessary to include and compare evidence from before 9-11.
What About a Subtler 'Bureaucratic Labyrinth Theory'?
While Griffin compares two ideal-type theories: the "official incompetence" theory and a "revisionist" or "complicity" theory, there may be a theory that lurks in between them and which incorporates elements of both. This could be called a 'bureaucratic labyrinth theory.' While elements of the official incompetence theory finds succor in the common American belief in inefficient, slow-moving, Byzantine bureaucracies, it can also be used as support for the complicity theory. One of the common counterattacks against Griffin's complicity theory is that hundreds of government individuals – from faceless bureaucrats to sleek jet pilots to the highest ranking political elites – would need to be knowledgeable or even intentionally complicitous in some sort of master plot. It may stretch many reader's credulity to believe that so many individuals have participated and none have voiced themselves in public. Griffin partially relies on an argument of the powers of government intimidation to argue that this is possible (p.139). However, the bureaucratic labyrinth theory may equally explain away this problem in the complicity theory.
Bureaucracies are infamously complex with serious problems of communication and are highly hierarchical. It is not beyond imagination to believe that the highest-ranking officials, who have the most comprehensive view of the bureaucracy as a whole, would be able to 'divide and conquer' those below them. That is, a high ranking bureaucrat may be able to deliver a series of commands over a long period of time at different levels and sub-agencies within a bureaucracy in such a way that lower level bureaucrats would be unable to fathom the larger – and in this case nefarious – goals to which the high ranking bureaucrats are privy. Only the high ranking bureaucrats may possess the full and complete picture of an operation, while those below live in relative ignorance of this larger plan, as they fulfill their duties unaware of their contribution to a larger plot. Thus, the bureaucratic labyrinth theory lies between the incompetence theory and the complicity theory, and can be drawn on by both to make their point. If this can be shown to be true, then, in effect, the number of actual conspirators may be much smaller. Many would never be aware of their contributions, or would never have the capacity to put the rest of the pieces of the puzzle together, even if they had suspicions of malevolence. This inability may ultimately be a greater check on their potential whistle-blowing than direct intimidation could ever be; and direct intimidation, of course, would be far less desirable to those at the higher levels of government since it might indicate guilt to those at the lower levels.
No Need to Force Us Into 'Either/Or'
In the interest of providing clear alternatives, Griffin may have intentionally decided to create two ideal typical theories: incompetence and complicity. In reality, and considering the complexity of the bureaucratic labyrinth, these three theories (if one includes the bureaucratic labyrinth theory) could actually all be operating simultaneously. The issue of bureaucratic fissures arises. While any piece of evidence may point to either incompetence or complicity, it could be that a single piece of evidence is actually indicative of lower-level incompetence and higher-level complicity. Or, the incompetence of one sub-department in the Pentagon, for instance, and complicity in another sub-department. Fissures may run deep within any single organization.
Another useful examination may be policy networks which cross over institutional boundaries. This avoids the assumption that institutional boundaries provide the true and natural borders between individuals and thus shape their interests and powers. Oftentimes, institutional titles do not reflect the true power and influence an individual. The most obvious instances of this are Bush and Cheney themselves. Networks of individuals who today reside in a disparate group of institutions, but who at one point were connected by educational ties, prior policy ties, or prior employment ties, may be the uniting string for a lot of individuals, both domestic and foreign. Short biographies of as many of these individuals as possible may reveal new connections to Griffin.
These are my major critiques of The New Pearl Harbor. Ultimately, if addressed, they may greatly strengthen Griffin's argument. None of them undercuts his cumulative cable of evidence, but rather they point to further evidence that may reinforce its already impressive strength. There are a few other minor improvements, such as the need for an abridged timeline for the reader to keep the main events and times neatly in mind. But in general, this is an exceptionally strong first cut, particularly considering the timeliness of its publication.
Most importantly, The New Pearl Harbor demonstrates the patriotism of someone who believes in our collective and individual right to free speech. Criticisms of our government, even those as potentially damning as this, are not only legal but helpful and essential in our Republic. What is most impressive about Griffin's book is its courage in looking into the most fearful questions of state power, without flinching.
Mark Dallas is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley.
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