Monday, August 21, 2006

Conspiracy Theories: Was 9/11 An “Inside Job” and Other Stories
By Alexander Marriott

I was recently forced to break off an amicable correspondence of several years because of 9/11 conspiracy theories and this person’s acceptance of them. Our conversations became nothing but this person trying to convince me that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were an “inside job” and that for me to contend otherwise was to show my willingness to accept State lies and be a serf. This line of conversation and reasoning became tiring for me and all prior benefit of our correspondence was lost, so I broke off contact. I do not do this very often, mainly because I do not generally begin correspondences with the hopelessly irrational. But, unfortunately from time to time, it does happen that the previously rational become irrational for one reason or another. Before this instance it was because the correspondent lost someone close to them and turned, against my repeated pleas, to mysticism and altruism. So, as a way of expressing my disgust for conspiracy theories in general, and this one in particular, I write this article in dedication to all instances of broken correspondence I have personally gone through and heard about in similar cases from others over the years.

The conspiracy theory is the bastion of shadows and little or no evidence. It explains a famous or known event by appealing to the leftist dictum of “follow the money” or “look who benefits” as if actual evidence is irrelevant and personal ethics are just a farcical way for the rich and powerful to pull the wool over the eyes of everyone else. Whether it is the Kennedy assassination or the 9/11 attacks, conspiracy theories which pop up to counter the “official” tale of events share common characteristics.

As a historian, I come across conspiracy theories all the time. Progressive historians like Charles and Mary Beard made the conspiracy theory view of history a popular vogue for a while. They contended that the founders plotted the constitution as a way of aggrandizing their power and property at the expense of common folk, the evidence being that nearly all of the men at the convention were wealthy property owners and remained so afterwards, or became richer under the new system. Of course, this case is circumstantial at best and ignores the actual debates which occurred at the convention and afterwards on real political and philosophical issues.

Beard’s assertions inspired other historians to go into other historical episodes and see greedy conspiracies. The War of 1812 is a topic I study quite a bit and a topic with a historiography full of conspiracy theories, whether to steal Canada, Indian land, or whatever else, as opposed to the real issues of free trade and sailor’s rights which actually sparked the conflict. The conspiracy theory today is usually a way to cast the darkest aspersions upon the government in general and certain officers of the government in particular. I am no fan of the government in most of its actions. It is too big, too powerful, does a whole host of unconstitutional and immoral things, and is generally wasteful and inept. That does not mean I (or anyone else) should automatically buy into every conspiracy theory people come up with to explain events. I am not concerned here with delving into the specifics of these conspiracy theories to dispute their specific claims, there are experts and scholars already doing that in professional journals all over the country. I am more interested in the implications of conspiracy theories in general what one has to accept in order to buy one of these conspiracy theories.

To accept a conspiracy theory that the government or certain of its officers killed President Kennedy or carried out the 9/11 attacks, without overwhelming evidence (as in a criminal conspiracy case), requires the acceptance of certain other implausible facts. For instance, one would have to accept that scores of people in the government are able, at will, to plan secretly large scale attacks or plots and maintain operational security against leaks. This makes a good movie plot, but a rather alarming fact of reality if one accepts it. To accept this idea though, one has to ignore clear evidence that other plots and schemes by government officials including the “most powerful man on earth,” the President, have not succeeded and have been uncovered. The list of these is a long list of scandals from efforts to have the CIA kill Castro (a noble effort if ill-conceived) to Watergate, Whitewater, Travel Gate, the Iran-Contra scandal, Clinton’s efforts to cover up the Lewinsky affair and on and on. But for the person who accepts the conspiracy theory view of reality, the government is able to keep omniscient control of diabolical plots which are much more complex, require far more people, and involve the killing of perfectly innocent Americans.

Another point which the person who accepts these conspiracy theories much accept, at least implicitly, is that all people, particularly government officials, are evil incarnate. This may sound almost like common sense at first. How many of us don’t think the vast majority of officials and government employees are jerks at one point or another? But this belief is far more serious than frustration with the post office or genuine disgust with hated political foes. It means that you seriously believe that the vast majority of government officials are, on the whole, willing to kill anyone they have to in order to add to their own power or achieve certain goals, whether that means winning an election or, far more diabolical, toppling the republic to establish a despotism. As citizens we must always be wary and on guard against Catilines, men willing to scheme to overthrow the republic, but these men are rare (hence the name Catiline still rings down through history from ancient Rome). For one man to undo a political system and instate his own person rule is exceedingly difficult, the examples of it in all history are all too numerous but sufficiently small to make the threat real while rare. If we honestly believe that the majority or even a minority of our government is made up of genuine Catilines and Cromwells then we should give up on self-government altogether for it will prove nothing but a pipedream. We’ve had two large examples of purely evil governments in the 20th century, with hordes of evil henchmen, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Those governments were not brought about by shadowy conspiracies, but by very public leaders and their followers, along with the surrender and impotence of their opposition.

People who believe 9/11 was an “inside job” say Bush wanted a rationale for war or a way to win the next election, etc. So aside from the first two points (the government is capable of keeping such a plot secret and government is run by men of pure evil) one must also accept that Bush is a diabolical genius. He had to formulate and execute a perfectly secure plan to attack his own country in nine months in order to gather a rationale to attack Afghanistan and Iraq and win re-election in 2004. Since every new development, from the foiled plot in England to the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, can be added to the conspiracy, Bush’s tremendous mind and evil genius become magnified over and over again. He makes Lex Luther look retarded in the conspiracy theory universe. He sees things so far in advance he is almost prophetic. Of course, questions are being begged left and right. For instance, given that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda had already attacked the United States numerous times, why plot such an elaborate and traitorous scheme that, if discovered, would mean the utter contempt of people today and all posterity, not to mention sure death for treason? Also, Iraq was invaded under the auspices of the United Nations and their resolutions. Bush purposely and foolishly went out of his way to wrap all the rationale for the Iraq war in United Nations priorities and bromides, not 9/11. How did 9/11 help that? How did Bush know he could win in 2004, even with the terrorist attacks? His re-election was not automatic, and had the Democrats nominated someone competent they may well have won. Of course the conspiracy theory answers to these questions are predictable. Bush is evil; the attack created an environment to make the Iraq war acceptable; and Bush conspired to and stole the ’04 election. The evidence is that the event occurred and thus was in the interest of the subject of the conspiracy theory.

I will end this essay by creating my own conspiracy theory, using the conspiracy theory methods. Unfortunately it is all too easy.

George Washington, widely regarded as the father of his country and a great man, was in fact an evil genius bent on domination and tyranny. He callously egged on revolution and war with England and then purposely went out of his way to become commander of the continental army by shamelessly coming to the second continental congress in his uniform. When he relinquished his sword at the end of the war it was but a brilliant avaricious calculation for future power which worked perfectly as he chaired the constitutional convention and steered the proceedings to make the presidency powerful because he wanted to be the first one and knew the others would make him so. He also made sure Madison’s and the other delegates notes on the convention left his role of active manipulation out of the “official” record. When he became President he found the job not as powerful as he liked and wanted to quit which he did after two terms. As he was about to make his comeback as the commanding general of a huge army to, on paper, fend of French invasion (but really he was going to use it to kill President Adams and declare himself dictator), he caught pneumonia and died. Lucky for his country too, because he would have destroyed it as his whole malign career says he would.

These are all horrible lies about Washington’s great career designed to manipulate the various events of that career to fit an evil storyline. Because the events happened to his interest in this storyline it almost sounds plausible, but the evidence is very decidedly against all of it and historians are, on the whole, more than honest enough to tell it the way it was, not the way paranoid conspiracy theorists would have it. Bush is certainly no Washington, but with no evidence to the contrary, he is also no Stalin, Catiline, Cromwell, or Lex Luther.
Kasparov Playing Chess Without a Board
By Alexander Marriott

Gary Kasparov, the recently retired world chess champion, was perhaps the greatest chess player of all time. His reign at the top of the chess world was long and marked by great duels with other chess giants like Karpov and of course his matches against various versions of IBM supercomputers. It was a shock to the chess world, among others, when Kasparov announced his retirement to pursue a career in Russian politics, the principal aim of which is to see Putin and his cronies out of office. Kasparov is a liberal in the European sense, the classical sense of that term, he is a limited government pro-capitalism pro-freedom guy, the kind of guy a place like Russia needs many more of.

There is a problem though. Kasparov, while fighting a good fight against a would-be tyrant like Putin and his aristocratical allies, is making many mistakes and ultimately hurting his own cause. His problems range from allying himself with all anti-Putin forces, including the National Bolsheviks, to calling for improper constitutional reforms, like turning the Russian constitution into an even more rank copy of the French constitution, which it already heavily draws upon. There is no doubt that common cause needs to be made with other political groups aside from liberals and that serious constitutional reform needs to take place, but their are rational limits to both that Kasparov should keep in mind if he wishes to achieve anything against Putin and for a free Russia.

That Putin needs to go in undeniable for those who care about economic and personal liberty. Putin's crackdown on his enemies, most notoriously against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose Yukos oil company has now been declared bankrupt and parcelled out to Putin's cronies at the state oil company. Combine that with Putin's consolidation of the infant free pree in Russia under state-run media, his romanticization of Soviet-era relics like the national anthem and the cult-of-personality around the leader (i.e. Putin), and his manipulation of all recent elections and you have the makings of a stunning reversal in Russian politics. Such a reversal has been in the offing almost from the beginning of the Federation, ever since the failure to pass any substantial free market reforms under Yeltsin. Private property is still rare and state property is the payola of Putin's cronyism. Capitalism still has never had a run in Russia and yet the Russian people seem to think that capitalism and a democratic process (i.e. elections) are synonymous. Capitalism takes the blame for the corruption and the stagnant economy that were and still are the hallmarks of Russian tyranny.

Enter Gary Kasparov. That Putin thinks Kasparov is a serious threat is undeniable. A Kasparov staffer was badly beaten several months before the recent G8 summit in Moscow and numerous staffers for the alternative freedom summit were arrested days before that event. Kasparov is a popular national hero and a very articulate man who clearly is a Russian patriot. That Kasparov is a liberal makes him one of the few on the freedom side of Putin with any real clout. This is why it is so disheartening to see Kasparov teaming up with the likes of Eduard Limonov, leader of the National Bolsheviks whose only objection to Putin can be that Putin is fixing the elections for Putin and not Limonov. No one, including Kasparov, can think Limonov would not reinstate the Soviet tyranny which would make Putin look like the two-bit KGB agent that he was/is. To team up with such a group and person can only tell the Russians who wish to save Russia from a slide toward tyranny that the possible alternative in a free election is something far worse than Putin, which plays right into Putin's hands. This does not mean Kasparov should take on Putin alone, but it does mean he should have some standards and limits about who he allies himself with. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend, a principle sadly illustrated by the Allied alliance with Stalin in World War II. Putin, liberal that he is, should and must realize this if he has any hope to succeed.

As for constitutional reform, this is the fundamental defect of the Russian political world. When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Russian Federation was born there was a chance for a revolutionary constitutional shift in Russia. Instead of a dramatic change, Russia was given a meek transformation from cheaply veiled despotism to officially sanctioned command state with elections. By adopting a French model (i.e. heavily empowered President with a weak parliament whose leadership is largely in the hands of the President) with few dramatic economic reforms the Russians guaranteed themselves a Putin (i.e. would-be tyrant who relies on the immense power of his office to corrupt the entire body politic). Kasparov has suggested moving more in the direction of the French model, as if that hasn't caused enough problems. His reasoning seems to rely on the misperception that the current Federation constitution is built on a British model, which is entirely incorrect. The British model is a limited monarchy constructed over a 1000 years of legal decisions and compacts, charters, and parliamentary compromises. The British model is one of legislative supremacy now, the executive power has gathered in Parliament over the last 150+ years. The Russian model is nothing close to this, executive and to a somewhat lesser extent legislative power reside in the President, as in France. Neither France nor England should be the model for constitutional reform. The United States or Swiss constitutions, modified of their various defects, would be excellent models for the Russian Federation and would take account of the various peoples which make up the country. Whatever constitutional reform plan is forwarded though, it won't work without guarantees of actual individual rights, including economic private property rights and the complete denationalization of all industries and non-essential state property in Russia.

Constitutional reform should be second to getting rid of Putin, but it should also be taken more seriously and require a further selectivity of one's allies. Kasparov has yet to learn this lesson for the former task and until he does, both goals are in peril of being crushed by Putin through the weight of fear of Bolshevism and indifference to Kasparov's compromised message. Right now, Kasparov's queen is in jeopardy.