What is the purpose of science? What is the purpose of scientific reasoning? The purpose of the whole enterprise – the logic, the testing, the evaluation of evidence – is to make the inexplicable, explicable. Before science, existed magic, superstition, and we have to admit it, religion. Before science, the sun – the source of life on our planet – had no rational explanation. We did not know why it rose and set. We had no idea how it generated so much heat. We still don’t know how it generates so much heat, for so long. That’s just what stars do. Some balls of gas apparently have their own furnace.
The 9/11 attacks present numerous inexplicable problems – puzzles if you like – that invite us to engage in scientific reasoning. Only that kind of reasoning can explain what, at a first look, appears inexplicable. Why did U. S. air defenses fail? Why did the FAA not follow its standard procedures? Why did the debris at the Pentagon not include parts from a large passenger jet? Why was the debris near Shanksville spread over such a large area? Why did so many extended cell phone calls from the doomed planes come through, with such good reception? Who exactly were the people who executed the attacks? Why did three skyscrapers at the World Trade Center come down at free fall, or nearly free fall speeds? These puzzles don’t answer themselves. These puzzles require a certain kind of reasoning to solve. The reasoning required is fairly sophisticated, if you do it correctly.
Interestingly, the commission that President Bush appointed to investigate the 9/11 crimes did not address any of these questions, except for the one about who did it. The commission treated the questions as irrelevant, already solved, or illegitimate. The only question under its charge was the problem of who did it, a question the government had answered for us long before the commission set about its work. You knew, before the president put these people to work, how they were going to answer the question of who was responsible.
Given the simplicity of its charge – who did this to us? – you might expect a report from the commission that was pretty straightforward. Yes, people expected a couple of hundred pages, but you can fill that much space without a lot of trouble, and without embarrassing yourself. Look what the commission produced instead. Instead of presenting honest, soundly researched answers, the commission’s report was so poorly assembled that no sixth grade science student would turn it in. Not only did it ignore the apparently inexplicable elements of the case, it did not even take seriously the question of who carried out the attacks. The investigators might have said, “Of course the report is incomplete. So much of the relevant information is classified.” That’s an answer? Why, may we ask, is information related to this horrific crime classified? Will you even bother to explain why the government wants to withhold information in a case like this?
The difference between Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush on the matter of investigations is that Johnson launched the Warren Commission right away. If it had been up to George W. Bush, we would have had no 9/11 Commission at all. He persistently opposed any investigation, then authorized one only after Congress passed the required legislation, and sent it to the White House for his signature. Since he did not explain why he resisted an investigation for so long, we can only guess. Vice-President Cheney pleaded that an investigation would distract from the administration’s Global War on Terror.
That’s an amazing excuse, when you look at it. It says, “We don’t want to find out who attacked us, because that would distract us from the people we’re attacking right now. If it turns out that we’re attacking the wrong people, that’s our bad. Meantime, we want you to go away. Don’t bother us anymore. We’ve already told you what we’re going to tell you. You already know what you need to know.”
When the vice-president, who speaks for the president, gives you an excuse like that, you know it’s a snow job. You know something is wrong.
The controlled demolition of World Trade Center 7 – passed off as an uncontrolled collapse – illustrates what I mean. No one could witness the destruction of this third skyscraper – on film or otherwise – and think it was anything other than planned. No forty-seven story skyscraper constructed of heavy steel could suddenly fall to the ground in just over seven seconds, due to some scattered fires. Just as government offered pabulum to explain other puzzling elements of the 9/11 attacks, it offered essentially no explanation for the destruction of World Trade Center 7. The building fell down, people. That’s all you need to know.
When you see someone treat the families of victims with that little respect, you know you are dealing with someone who has no integrity. When victims’ families say, “Honestly, is that all you’re going to tell us?,” government officials can say, implicitly, “Look, we’ve already given you a lot of money. That should be enough for you.” The first thing government officials do, after each of these horrible events, is organize a huge victims’ fund. Someday, we will come to see these funds as hush money, dispensed on behalf of the national security state.