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Of all the unanswered questions, the greatest concern what Russians call their 9/11. A supposedly Chechen-inspired terrorist bombing campaign in September 1999 killed nearly 300 apartment dwellers in Moscow and other cities and led directly to Mr. Putin’s political rise. In the free-wheeling Russian press of the day, respected journalists from Russia’s Moskovskaya Pravda, Italy’s La Stampa and Sweden’s Svenska Dagbladet reported that such a terror wave was coming—and that it would be sponsored by the Russian state.

In the middle of the bombing campaign, Gennadiy Seleznyov, speaker of the Russian Duma, took to the rostrum on Sept. 13, 1999, to announce that an apartment building in Volgodonsk had been bombed the previous night—but the Volgodonsk bombing would not take place until three days later.

The campaign came to an abrupt halt after three perpetrators were caught planting explosives in an apartment block in Ryazan. The three turned out to be Russian security agents. After 36 hours of contradictory statements, the Kremlin cited a training exercise. ~ Holman Jenkins, “What Putin Is Afraid Of,” Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2014

Note how Putin’s techniques in the 1999 apartment bombings in Russia resemble the sinister ineptness and inability to cover tracks apparent in other false flag attacks. Government agents prepare the buildings for destruction in advance; hints, rumors, and announcements ahead of time signal that an attack is on the way; government refers to a training exercise to explain evidence that is obviously incriminating.

You might justifiably ask whether Vice President Cheney and his colleagues took inspiration from Putin’s success – and overlooked his failures. Putin blew up several buildings, started a second war with existing enemies in Chechnya, and secured his power in the Kremlin as a result. Our masterminds in Washington think, if we blow up several buildings and blame it on Saudi terrorists directed from Afghanistan, we’ll have a new Pearl Harbor. That means we can start wars against our enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq, and bend things our way here at home.

What’s remarkable, of course, is that when we report these deadly, state-directed attacks in Moscow and other Russian cities – we assume that, of course Putin would do that sort of thing. All the evidence – including Putin’s subsequent assassinations and the government’s failure to investigate the crimes – points to that conclusion. Yet we cannot see or admit that crimes of the same kind occur in our own country.

Western Europeans, who sit between Russia and the United States, and who know from their own history how great powers act, bring seasoned skepticism to their judgments of political chicanery. If 9/11 evidence contradicts official explanations about the attacks in New York City and Washington DC, European analysts do not hesitate to say so. They state the charge, without fear of ridicule, that attacks on both cities were not what the U. S. government said they were. Yet despite plain evidence of intentional destruction – especially of World Trade Center 7 –apologists here assume, mistakenly, “That kind of attack cannot happen here.”

If you want evidence of American exceptionalism, you have it in our insistence that governments of other countries commit serious crimes, but our government does not. We recognize some degree of corruption – and speak against it when it becomes public – but we do not recognize extreme criminality directed against United States citizens. Minor scandals round the bend so regularly they become a form of entertainment. They remind us that our rulers are no better than we are, and often worse. They also remind our governors how easily distractable people can be. Keep news reportage simmering with enticing stuff, and you need not concern yourself that the truly criminal and dishonest things you do will come to light.

Altogether, if we compare Washington’s feds with Moscow’s feds, we comfortably conclude that at least our governors aren’t criminals. Our government, we presume, is better than other regimes. We ask ourselves, more than subconsciously: if people I elect plan and lie about crimes like 9/11, how can I love my country, or respect institutions of public authority? If my leaders act like that, how can I trust anyone in authority? If I cannot trust anyone in authority, where do I belong, and who will protect me?

Actually, that sense of insecurity is another beneficial outcome for double-dealing rulers. It secures their practical power if no one trusts anyone. People in power appreciate the effects of the unspeakable deeds they have perpretrated, including the sense of loss and disorientation, but they are happy to conceal the true causes of these feelings. The people who conduct false flag attacks concentrate on their effects, to take advantage of them.

More particularly, they are happy if we disregard the truth behind attacks on office buildings or apartment buildings, whether they occur in New York City or Moscow, but they surely intend the fear, distrust, and animosity these attacks create. Under these unsettled conditions, public officials increase their own power, and at their pleasure bring people together in fervors of fake, propaganda-fed patriotism. Think of the street celebrations when news of bin Laden’s death circulated. When the spasm of self-congratulation subsides, people return to the same unhappy isolation and mistrust, until the next occasion for fear unites them in their desire for protection and revenge.

We want to love our country for the right reasons again. We want to love our country because it accomplishes good works, and sets an example worthy of its citizens’ good intentions. That won’t happen – soon or in our lifetimes – if we don’t grasp the significance of our own actions and beliefs, if we don’t also perceive our actions the way our critics abroad perceive them. We need to step outside of ourselves, which is not easy when we have created so many enemies.

When Putin whips up Russian nationalism for a new war, the rest of the world holds the entire Russian nation responsible. When we invade other countries under cover of 9/11, as we did in Iraq, the rest of the world holds the entire American nation responsible. We may like to distinguish between criminals who prey on their countries, and the unfortunate countries they rule, but the rest of the world does not.

Here at home, we might set about to start over, to reinstitute rule of law and constitutional government, but we cannot do so while we think ourselves incapable of the same crimes our counterparts commit. Think of the times we lectured Putin about good behavior, even as we prosecuted a deadly, destructive war in Iraq. We cannot justify ourselves because we stand for something special. The children and other civilians we kill are dead just the same, and victims’ family members cannot forgive us for either the murder or the hypocrisy.

If we acknowledge the enmity we have created, we can think clearly about healthy, honest self-perceptions, instead of dishonest and divisive ones. When we talk about American exceptionalism, for instance, we can frame these self-perceptions in a couple of ways. We might refer to real actions in the world, or to socially constructed beliefs about ourselves. If real actions, we have to analyze actual histories and patterns of behavior – ours and others’. If beliefs, we have to analyze evidence that pertains to social psychology, including how we use propaganda and other political communication to justify ourselves, boost our morale, or promote unity. If we don’t undertake tasks like these, we fall again into one of those barren controversies, where you’re patriotic if you think we’re special, and you’re unpatriotic if you think we’re not. Raise your hand if you think we’re special. Suffer our scorn if you think we’re not.

Patriotism rests not on beliefs about whether Americans display exceptional traits, nor does it depend on a tradition of exceptional behavior. Patriotic sentiments do depend on honesty. You cannot love a lie.

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