Dear David Ray Griffin,
I seem to have a difficult time these days with book reviews, so I wanted to see if I might write this letter instead. To start, thank you for your books. The work you have done makes me want to say, “Thank God for theologians!” Your books demonstrate that when philosophers, theologians, and other thought leaders ask God what he wants from us, he gives whole communities courage to do what he asks. Paul said in one of his letters that God never asks of us more than we can give, that he always gives us strength to do the work he places before us.
I addressed the first version of this letter to you and to James Douglass, author of JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. It’s hard though to write two people at the same time. So I wanted to collect some thoughts about 9/11 and the Kennedy assassination here. A second letter to James Douglass after this one may work just fine.
Over a year ago, I wrote a review essay on Douglass’s book. The research required to uncover the truth about Kennedy’s assassination and about 9/11 have a number of similarities. That’s why I’ve wanted to write about your work and Douglass’s work together. Both of you address a common theme underneath these historic events: how did we let our democracy get away from us?
I have not written about your books on 9/11 before now. I’ve been reading them, though. If these books don’t save our republic, I don’t see how anything will. At the moment, I’m pessimistic. If someone ever tells the story of our times, the historian will see that we failed to keep our democracy despite leaders like you, who care about telling the truth. The desire to deny the truth makes me think of Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly.
You use the term state crimes against democracy. We know that all states commit crimes. That is why states are so dangerous: they combine unusual power with criminal behavior. Democracies are supposed to be different, though. In a democracy, the people place limits on state power. Therefore the state’s crimes are of such small scope, we may call them petty. That is the theory anyway. When citizens constrain the state, they want to constrain its unjust and criminal behavior.
State crimes against democracy aim to abrogate these constraints. Other criminal behavior aims at theft, torture, revenge, conquest, and the like. These types of crimes undermine democratic institutions, to be sure, but that is not ususally their principal purpose. The principal object of a crime against democracy is to destroy or remove constraints on state action. That makes this type of crime especially troublesome. When it succeeds, it makes all the other types of criminal behavior much easier to carry out.
To illustrate, Douglass argues that the CIA decided Kennedy had to go. They had a lot of specific reasons to make such a decision. Most broadly, they perceived that Kennedy wanted to hamstring the CIA and the Department of Defense, and that he might actually succeed if he stayed in office. On the other side, you argue that people in the United States government made plans they could not carry out without a new Pearl Harbor. In the case of 9/11, a whole set of institutional constraints prevented people in the Department of Defense and the CIA from undertaking a variety of actions. 9/11 removed those constraints.
One thing we might do is investigate why these two crimes succeeded, and whether they succeeded for similar reasons. I’d like to talk first about the research required to uncover the truth about state crimes against democracy. The research process in these cases poses some especially difficult challenges:
- The state will not investigate itself.
- The state has many methods to keep information secret.
- The state has many methods to keep researchers and others from revealing the truth.
Non-state researchers, on their side, have a few factors that work in their favor:
- The internet helps them publicize their results and share information with each other.
- The country is large, and the state has difficulty preventing all research into its activities.
- Many citizens no longer trust the state.
You indicate in The New Pearl Harbor that Congress and the media have sufficient resources, independence, and responsibility to investigate what happened on 9/11. Certainly they have a responsibility to do it, but they do not have sufficient independence. Even if they were independent from the state, I’m not sure they could assemble the required skills for the job. Therefore the job of telling an accurate story about what happened on 9/11 rests with non-state researchers like you, Paul Thompson, and many others. The strong affiliations between mainstream media and the state make those organizations unqualified to conduct research in this area.
Like you, I accepted the general outlines of the government’s account of 9/11 in the years right after the event. I spent most of my life thinking that the government’s key conclusions about November 22, 1963 were accurate. The way government behaved after 9/11 made me rethink both November 22 and September 11. After 2005 or so, I could not accept anything the government said.
For a long time, I had a dim view of conspiracy theorists, as that term described people who conducted research into Kennedy’s assassination. Then I watched a few internet videos made by Bob Harris and thought: this guy is good. His arguments are logical, thorough, reasonable and well grounded. I no longer had a dim view of conspiracy theorists!
Perhaps I should write more about my experience doing research on both November 22 and September 11, but for the moment I’d like to move straight into a brief comparison. That is, what lessons can we learn from Kennedy assassination research that will help 9/11 research succeed? Here are eight points:
- Be patient.
- Dont ask of the evidence more than it can give.
- Assume the government is untrustworthy.
- Don’t mind the names.
- Go for the easy stuff.
- Tell a story.
- Remember the victims.
- Build and maintain credibility.
I hope to have a chance soon discuss these points thoroughly. In less than sixteen months, we’ll mark the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Researchers have learned so much during that time, and have accumulated such a record of success, that we should know how they did it. We want to follow their example. We don’t have fifty years to assemble an accurate account of 9/11. We can’t simply call for an official investigation that will never happen. We have to work with what we have.
Over time, Kennedy researchers and citizens did persuade the government to release information about the assassination, little by little. In the end, independent researchers digested and assembled all the pieces available to them. All signs indicate that 9/11 researchers have to follow the same model. If they wait for an official investigation that reveals more than the investigations already completed, they will wait a long time. We have to conduct the research now, while the victims’ families are still alive, and while citizens still understand what is at stake. We cannot wait fifty years.