Sunday, September 13, 2009

FEATURE 30 - 9/11 - The Falling Man

As the anniversary of 9/11 comes around once more there is no more poignant visual reminder than this picture of a man falling from the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Channel 4 chose to rebroadcast a programme called The Falling Man, to mark this sad date, which is well worth viewing. The films of people falling from the tower were so emotionally charged and visceral, they moved me to tears. Imaginatively you place oneself in their position, cut off on the top floor of a burning building, increasingly heat and smoke about to reach you, to cruelly bring your life to an end. You are trapped. At that point what would we decide ? To stay and surrender ourselves to the looming conflagration - or to take what control we have left over how we are to die, jump into the air and fall thousands of feet, hitting the streets, as one person described it, 'with a thudding sound like a sack of potatoes.'

As the 10th Anniversary looms closer, the growing clamor of conspiracy theories are in danger of drowning out how this was fundamentally a human tragedy. Thousands of innocent Americans died in a matter of hours in an horrific manner, which should never be lost sight of. But there is also the tragic background to this event - of the suicide hijackers themselves, who conceived this plan to reek revenge for the suffering their own ordinary people, on the US government and its people, whom they believe are responsible for supporting this oppression. When conspiracy theorists high jack 9/11 for there own purposes, all this gets lost in their aberrant conjecture.

I have been quite disturbed and shocked by some of these theories -that the US government would knowingly sacrifice thousands of their own people in order to bring about a war for geopolitical advantage. It's as if two airplanes hitting two of the tallest towers in the world, causing massive causalities and finally structural collapse, done purely as an act of revenge, is not inhumane and unbelievable enough. We have to give a more reasonable explanation that, bizarrely, becomes even more fantastical. Were it to be true, then two planes hitting the Twin Towers, was the minor abomination against humanity.

We choose to believe what we like. I fundamentally cannot believe, or get a handle on, the Machiavellian nature of these conspiracy theories. I don't believe governments have that much forethought, or the ability to foresee outcomes, or control events in this way. I think they are far too incompetent, and gaff prone to pull this audacious sort of thing off. Governments are usually focused so much on short term popularity, and getting re-elected, they can't think beyond the confines of their current term in power. There may be cause to doubt or be sceptical about the story as they present it to us. But I'll wager that the reasons are more about them, in a panic, trying to hurriedly cover someones back, or the secret services strategic incompetence, than covering up a grand abdominal plan.

The events surrounding the Two Towers are unique, its not normal, it doesn't conform to reason. People do strange, odd, even barmy sounding things in the face of such a cataclysm. The conspiracy theories attempt to give the unreasonableness of this act of violence, a unreasonable reason. There has to be an overarching reason, it can't just remain incomprehensible. Its one way of trying to come to terms with its horror. Some people too readily believe these theories because they reinforce existing prejudices - that the US is the source of all evil - in the face of which we should be vigilant and sceptical, in order to oppose their satanic works. What I find somewhat incompatible with this standpoint, is that folk hear the need to be sceptical, and then abandon their scepticism to believe the sceptics, lock stock and barrel i.e. entirely uncritically. What they say becomes the unvarnished truth, simply because they're defacto -Not The Government - they must be telling it how it is. We don't even know who these conspiracy theorists are,where they are coming from, what private agenda or vested interest they might have. How selective they've been with the evidence, what has been deliberately ignored, or left out? How balanced is their judgement?

In this age of cynicism, yes, we do need to be suspicious about a governments motives, and the spin they put on things, but we also need to remain suspicious about the motives and spin of alternative viewpoints. Otherwise, we'll be making judgements based not on the broad basis of established facts, but on speculative conjecture, suppositions, assumptions, or worse than that blind prejudice. Hitler was once a lone voice of truth.

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