What would you like to know about the World Trade Center attacks? What questions would you want to ask, and to whom would you direct them? How did these atrocities relate to governmental policies, and is it possible to find explanations for these events without inquiring into the fundamental character of the state?
Anyone desirous of understanding the nature of political systems must first be willing to confront the collective mindset into which most of us have been conditioned. Such a point of beginning might include an appreciation for Thomas Pynchon’s observation that "if they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers."
Such an awareness ought to energize the minds of any analysis of the current 9/11 Commission hearings, a spectacle reminiscent of the Warren Commission exercise in the asking of wrong questions. I have not watched all of the 9/11 hearings, but have seen enough media reporting thereof to get a sense of their purpose and direction. I have found them to be much like watching a bunch of carnival hucksters testifying to a panel of used car salesmen on the ethics of salesmanship!
Like the Warren Commission, the members of the 9/11 panel have been drawn from the ranks of politically safe people (i.e., men and women who have been a part of, or otherwise supportive of, the political establishment). The politicians and lapdog media continue to speak of the "bipartisan" nature of this commission. But "bipartisanship" is an open admission of the one-party nature of the American political system, extolling the virtue of total agreement as to policies central to establishment interests. In reality, we have one "Establishment" party, that bamboozles the public with the illusions of choice in being able to select from either of its two franchised sub-parties.
A bipartisan commission, in other words, is one in which its members can be counted upon to raise no fundamental questions that might prove embarrassing to the ruling political establishment. Like the major media, the 9/11 Commission contains no voices that might utter a discouraging word, or reveal the nakedness of the emperor. A panel that might include political analysts such as Noam Chomsky, Bob Higgs, Gore Vidal, Lew Rockwell, or Alexander Cockburn, would be guaranteed to produce the kinds of interesting questions that foster greater understanding than do predictable answers.
Like the Warren Commission, this panel was designed more to pacify the public than to generate a clear sense of what brought about the deadly events of 9/11. Witnesses, commentators, and retired intelligence officials began humming the soothing mantra that tranquilizes minds in a politically-engineered society: "we will find out what went wrong and fix it, so that this will not happen again."
It is for the purpose of reconfirming popular faith in the political mindset that the 9/11 Commission was created. Most people may be hopelessly unsuspecting of state purposes, but the vivid, televised coverage of the WTC attacks made even the most gullible aware of major flaws in the myths that sustain political systems. By holding hearings and making findings of fact, the commission will shore up any latent doubts regarding the state’s managerial capacities. The 9/11 hearings could as easily have been named the 7/11 hearings: an enterprise created for the purpose of satisfying the appetites of people seeking round-the-clock consumption of statist nostrums!
In virtual lockstep cadence, witness after witness testified to the shortcomings of an intelligence system as the explanation for the attacks on the World Trade Center. Based upon what has thus far transpired, it is easy to predict the content of the final report to be issued by this commission in coming months: the FBI, CIA, and other government agencies didn’t have enough surveillance powers or money to do their jobs, and only an expansion of such authority and resources can "protect" Americans from future attacks. This is the same offertory hymn with which the government schools and police systems have been able to convert their increased failures into demands for more money and authority from the public.
At the same time, however, these hearings have unwittingly confirmed what the events of 9/11 clearly demonstrated: governments are unable to protect people from persons bent on causing harm. When nineteen men, armed only with box-cutter knives, can precipitate what has transpired in these past thirty-one months; and when suicide bombers can wreak the devastation they have, it should be evident that the capacity to conduct wars has become thoroughly decentralized. In much the same way that viruses and bacteria mutate in response to ever-more-powerful vaccines and antibiotics and, in the process, become even deadlier threats to our existence, we must understand how state power generates destructive reactions. There is a social application of the third law of motion assuring that for every action there is an equal and opposing reaction. Hubris — nowhere more evident than in politics – often prevents us from comprehending such unintended consequences, helping to produce the wars, conflicts, and economic dislocations in which the world is embroiled.
Most people are uncomfortable questioning the competency of state systems, or the motivations underlying governmental policies and programs. Most prefer to believe that government officials are well-intended innocents who are often beset by evildoers; that some men or women are better able than others to address such problems; that the system suffers only from failures of leadership; and that the democratic process is the most efficacious way of securing such leadership. We may tinker with, or "fine-tune" the machinery of the state, but dare not think of doing without it. Questions that go beyond this point are simply too troubling for minds that have been conditioned to collective thinking.
But there are far more basic questions that need to be asked beyond whether Condoleezza Rice might have failed to properly advise Mr. Bush, or whether CIA/FBI rivalries might have impeded the flow of important information. One far more important question to ask is this: who planned and carried out the WTC attacks? The Bush administration quickly identified Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network as the culprits, an accusation that bin Laden was reported initially by one news network to have denied. I am not suggesting that the al Qaeda group was not responsible. Bin Laden and his crowd may well be the perpetrators. I have no more factual background on these events than have been reported in the media, including the Internet. But given the numerous lies put forth by the Bush administration to rationalize its war against Iraq, explanations ought not be accepted by executive fiat. It is essential to the future of this society that more far-reaching questions be explored than just the restricted ones taken up by the 9/11 Commission.
A commission that was sincere in its avowed purposes ought to have considered the possibilities of other parties — whether foreign or domestic — being involved in this attack. It might also have inquired into the role played by American military policies in creating anger and frustration among foreign peoples who resent attacks and other interventions within their nations. When such resentment reaches a level that scores of men and women are moved to make suicide attacks upon their perceived foe, intelligent minds would be well advised to transcend Mr. Bush’s simple-minded analysis of such people as "evildoers."
The real inquiry regarding these horrific events, however, remains to be conducted by the rest of us. As the bloody and repressive history of the 20th century segues into the 21st, it is time for humanity itself to ask whether political systems have become outmoded relics to be added to history’s trash pile. Levels of state power now exceed our capacities to absorb the resulting conflicts, destructiveness, and oppression and still retain our sense of humanity. The very existence of mankind demands that we discover new principles and systems by which we can peaceably live and cooperate with one another. It is time for us to renounce the self-appointed "authorities" who represent no one but their own interests, and to reclaim for our individual lives the power and authority that nature has bestowed upon each of us.
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.