Thursday, July 3, 2008

The last forty years of history kind of cause problems to 9/11 deniers

Because it’s both summer time and the Fourth of July, when many of us get together with our friends and collectively relax, it feels right to offer a small, enjoyable reading list to both our friends and our opponents in the 9/11 denier movement.

Both of these books speak about what happened on 9/11 than any single little Blog could. Because many of our readers are college students on vacation, these two books, though both dense in their content and complex in their message, feel appropriate for both skeptics and people generally interested in the history of the events that led up to 9/11.

The first one – Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower – is quite straightforward. It builds a clear narrative and works with a few of the “characters’” life stories’ to illustrate what exactly happened between the rise of the Soviet Union and the fall of the World Trade Center towers. At around five hundred pages, it looks intimidating, but can easily be read in a week. It’s that well-written.

The second one – Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars – is actually a challenge. Often esoteric and difficult to read, this book includes many long opinionated analyses of the inner workings of the CIA and the Pentagon. Though about three hundred pages longer than The Looming Tower, it has roughly the same amount of actual content, but doesn't include too much of Tower’s content, and gives you together with the first one a clear and thorough picture of more or less what actually caused 9/11.

To anticipate the complaints of the 9/11 deniers who actually go out of their way to inform themselves: yes, neither of these books are completely neutral. Ghost Wars is distractingly soft on Ronald Reagan and almost absurdly harsh on Bill Clinton. If it were written as one, long Wikipedia article, the phrase “weasel word” would appear throughout. The short shrift given to Bill Clinton is annoying to say the least, and the gentleness Ronald Reagan is treated to is openly irking – for a little while. Then you figure it out, and you realize when and where the author’s opinion is being worked in, and you end up getting a lot out of the book. But underneath the conservative political commentary is a mountain of truth. If you can put up with the author’s running commentary, you will learn volumes from this book.

The Looming Tower doesn’t have a noticeable anti-Reagan or even liberal-leaning bias, but it does appear to oversimplify matters. That should surprise no one – 9/11 is the result of some of the most complex forces in history, and no single book could hope to cover every layer. Both of these books are Pulitzer Prize winners. Reading these books – not necessarily simultaneously, it’s okay – will indeed help you figure out what had happened between 1960 and 2001.

They also provide among the strongest possible challenges to 9/11 denier dogma. None have ever explained how any of the last forty years or so makes sense – the pronouncements and plannings of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden in attacking the United States, the tragic inability of the CIA and the Pentagon with which it quarreled incessantly to catch every possible threat in its nets, the social and cultural context in which Islamic violence has arisen time and time again – and none will ever be able to do so, for obvious reasons.

These and any other books read in conjunction will prove beyond all doubt what really happened on 9/11. Happy Fourth, everyone!

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