September 11 came and went this year as never before. For the first time, memorials to honour the more than 3,000 fallen became second-hand news. But, long after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are relegated to the back pages of history books, 9/11 will forever retain its prominent place on page 1.
Like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 or the Kennedy assassination in 1963, 9/11 was a generational moment. In all three eras, the world watched and worried. And in each case the event was so monumental that conspiracy theories seemed necessary to explain them.
While on the verge of entering World War Two, history records the United States was instantly provoked to war when the Japanese wiped out so much of the American navy at Pearl Harbor with their perfectly executed sneak attack.
It was amazing that the Americans didn’t have a sniff of the attack, even though it was clear they were already, in all but name, at war with the Japanese. It was a complete failure to have left so many battleships in harm’s way with virtually no battle-ready defence.
It made no sense.
Two decades later, the Kennedy assassination brought some of us to a place beyond belief. And if anyone were to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone assassin with no connections and no defined reason to blow the president’s head apart with a perfect shot from a faraway sixth floor window, then please explain Jack Ruby.
How do you explain Ruby waltzing undetected into police headquarters in Dallas? How do you explain Ruby getting into perfect position to put a deadly bullet in Oswald ensuring no Kennedy assassination trial? Was it just an accident that Ruby ran a sleazy underworld strip club?
For all of the Warren Commission’s assertions that there was no conspiracy, no connections with the mob, or Castro, or anything or anyone else, to this day, more than a half-century later, it is still so hard to believe the official version. To believe it means there is only one other explanation: human error and complete stupidity.
When Oswald, a former U.S. Marines marksman, moved to the Soviet Union in 1959 at the height of the Cold War, you might think American intelligence officials would have been curious. When he moved back to the U.S. in 1962 with a Russian wife and baby girl, you might think they would have been more curious. Yet Oswald rang no alarm bells.
And how incompetent did the Dallas Police Force have to be to allow Ruby to walk into police headquarters with a gun? And just how stupid was it to parade Oswald in a hallway swarming with people who never passed through even the slightest of security checks?
The three-pronged attack on September 11, 2011 was so incredible in its execution it is still hard to believe it really happened. It was a plot that stretched beyond the imaginations of the best fictional minds in Hollywood. Like Pearl Harbor, and like the Kennedy assassination, there were so many factors that added up to there being no logical explanation.
What will burn in the consciousness of those running the FBI forever is how many signals were missed. The 9/11 commission report outlined bad interagency communications as a real factor in the terrorists getting their murderously wicked plot off the ground. Many people at many levels screwed up.
For good reason, modern history emphasizes the stoic heroism of the first responders after the attacks while the passengers on the plane that went down in a field in rural Pennsylvania are justly hailed as true American patriots for overpowering the terrorists. All the positives are emphasized rather than the glaring signposts and warning lights that were ignored.
Young Middle Eastern men with wads of cash show up in different places across the United States to take flying lessons – but these people aren’t interested in flying little planes like any other novice. They pay for time with simulators flying big passenger planes. With flight schools eager to scoop up the cash, the lessons proceeded.
Like Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination, 9/11 invites conspiracy theories because the truth makes no sense.
But the simple truth does make sense. People make terrible mistakes.