The world is in tumult, but here in the heart of Empire, the level of creative political energy runs flat along the bottom of the graph. As Iraq disintegrates amid frightful slaughter, U.S. generals propose to bring to life the mad plan they once ascribed to Saddam Hussein, to dig a defensive ditch round Baghdad, one of the larger cities on the planet. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are once again on the rise. Amid these vivid implosions of the "war on terror," the U.S. antiwar movement is near dead.
Here in the homeland, the mightiest names of the auto-industrial age have their backs to the wall. Tens of thousands of men and women face grim times as Ford and GM shutter plant after plant. Yet the pulse of organized labor amid this devastation is feeble. From the environmental movement there is an even fainter heartbeat, even as an actual conspiracy -- official concealment of the toxic toll on New Yorkers from the 9/11 attack -- finally comes to light. There's no convincing energy plan beyond posturing about a nature reserve in Alaska; no protest at the giveaways of public lands.
Less than two months from the midterm elections, the Democrats cower from confrontation with a widely hated President. When Bush tries to annul America's always-frail commitment to the Geneva Conventions on torture, Joe Biden complacently announces that the Democrats are happy to sit this one out and let Republican Sens. John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham attempt to mount a counterattack. This is the way to rally millions of antiwar voters in November? Bush's present bounce in the polls shows the bankruptcy of Democratic strategy, as supervised by Rahm Emanuel.
Outrage burns in many an American breast, but there's scant outlet for it in the political arena. A friend of mine took his family to the annual Puyallup Fair near Tacoma, Wash. There was a CNN booth, in which a mini "Democracy Wall," an 8-by-4-foot sheet of butcher paper, was available for people to scrawl their sentiments in felt tip. Fast as the CNN staffers changed the paper, scores more hastened forward to scribble their views, almost all of them harsh in language toward both CNN and the president. Families photographed each other in postures vulgarly disrespectful to the life-size cutout of Wolf Blitzer. When an older man -- he turned out to be the retired commander of a nuclear submarine -- rebuked the crowd and called for loyalty to Bush, the mood turned ugly, and for reasons of his personal safety he was advised to leave. "And yet," said my friend, the anthropologist David Price, "try getting these people to an antiwar rally."
It's as dismal a political landscape as I can remember in 30 years. Yet some discover a silver lining. They find it in the 9/11 conspiracy cult, which I have discussed here in recent weeks. A politically sophisticated leftist in Washington, D.C., wrote to thank me for my attack, but added, "To me the most interesting thing (in the U.S.) is how many people are willing to believe that Bush either masterminded it [the 9/11 attacks] or knew in advance and let it happen. If that number or anything close to that is true, that's a huge base of people that are more than deeply cynical about their elected officials. That would be the real news story that the media is missing, and it's a big one."
"I'm not sure I see the silver lining about cynicism re government," I answered. "People used to say the same thing about the JFK conspiracy buffs and disbelief in the Warren Commission. Actually, it seems to demobilize people from useful political activity. I think the nuttishness stems from despair and political infantilism. There's no worthwhile energy to transfer from such kookery. It's like saying some lunatic shouting to himself on a street corner has the capacity to be a great orator. The nearest thing to it all is the Flying Saucer craze. 'Open up the USAF archives!' It's a Jungian thing."
The 9/11-ers, who've insulted me and other radical critics for years as "gatekeepers for the neocons," "CIA agents," and "fearful for their jobs," are wounded when I call them nuts. I've had many e-mails repeating their delirious litanies about NORAD, the collapse of the WTC buildings or the "missile" that really struck the Pentagon. On this last matter, Chuck Spinney, now retired after years of brilliant public service exposing the Pentagon's budgetary outrages, wrote to me that "there ARE pictures taken of a plane hitting Pentagon -- they were taken by the surveillance cameras at Pentagon's heliport, which was right next to impact point. I have seen them . both stills and moving pictures. I just missed seeing it personally, but the driver of the van I just got out of in South Parking saw it so closely that he could see the terrified faces of passengers in windows. I knew two people who were on the plane. One was ID'd by dental remains found in the Pentagon."
This won't faze the nuts. They're immune to any reality check. Spinney worked for the government . They switched the dental records . The Boeing 757 was flown to Nebraska for a rendezvous with President Bush, who shot the passengers, burned the bodies on the tarmac and gave Spinney's friend's teeth to Dick Cheney to drop through a hole in his trousers amid the debris in the Pentagon, the same way the paleontologists did in the Sussex gravel pit when they faked Piltdown Man. Such fantasists are not the foot soldiers of any movement for constructive social change.
Richard Aldrich's book on British intelligence, "The Hidden Hand" (2002), describes how a report for the Pentagon on declassification recommended that "interesting declassified material" such as information about the JFK assassination "could be released and even posted on the Internet, as a 'diversion,'" and used to "reduce the unrestrained public appetite for 'secrets' by providing good faith distraction material." Aldrich adds, "If investigative journalists and contemporary historians were absorbed with the vexatious, but rather tired, debates over the grassy knoll, they would not be busy probing into areas where they were unwelcome."
By the same token, I'm sure that the Bush gang and all the conspirators of capital are delighted at the obsessions of the 9/11 cultists. It's a distraction from the 1,001 real plots of capitalism that demand exposure and political challenge.
Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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