Conspiracy theorists revving up

Not this is a real eye-opener:

BERLIN, July 23 (Reuters) – Almost one in three Germans below the age of 30 believes the U.S. government may have sponsored the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, according to a poll published on Wednesday.

And about 20 percent of Germans in all age groups hold this view, a survey of 1,000 people conducted for the weekly Die Zeit said.

Asked whether they believed that the U.S. government could have ordered the September 11 attacks itself, 31 percent of those surveyed under the age of 30 in the poll answered “yes”, while 19 percent overall gave the same answer.

Die Zeit said widespread disbelief about the reasons given by the United States for going to war in Iraq and suspicion about media coverage of the conflict had fostered a climate in which conspiracy theories flourished.

Granted, huge events like 911 are bound to generate conspiracy theories, especially if they happen this unexpectedly. The anti-globalization crowd and anti-American press (not the majority of publications, but certainly the loudest ones) around the world have done everything they can to capitalize on the situation, but there really is no excuse for this. It seems that about 20% of Germans and about 30% percent of Germans under 30 badly need a reality check. Americans who heard of the poll rightly reacted incredulously; Rachel Lucas summed up very well why:

“They obviously can’t wrap their brains around the concept of transparency – you can get away with certain things in America, but you can’t get away with much. Especially if you’re a politician – everyone watches everyone else, everyone’s out to get everyone else, and that creates an environment where it would be impossible to keep the kind of secrets that would be necessary to hide something like the federal government’s sponsorship of 9/11”.

Of course, claims (in the blogosphere and elsewhere) that France and Germany opposed the war on Iraq because they allegedly had armed Iraq with WMDs as a proxy against America were met here with similar incredulity, for the same reason. What goes for America goes for Germany and France, too. Both countries are democracies, with the same transparency that Rachel claims for America. No German or French government could have armed Iraq with a huge arsenal of nuclear, biological weapons without the opposition parties and the press getting on to them. Don’t forget, all those reports about German arms sales to Iraq were originally published by the German press, for example (something for which it got no credit from the bloggers who posted them). Europe’s economies may be more strongly regulated than the American one, but you couldn’t get away with bad craziness like this over here any more than you could in America. So, and no offense, but a reality-check in regards to this issue might also have been useful. ;)

14 thoughts on “Conspiracy theorists revving up”

  1. Ralf, I disagree. Your comparison implicitly assumes France and Germany are as transparent as the US, or close enough to it. To which I can only say : you must be joking.

    France did provide tons or weaponry to Iraq
    (a lot more than Germany, and I don’t mean to have a pissing contest here), and the Osirak reactor was not civilian in purpose (we knew what ‘research’ meant back in those days). So France did try to provide Iraq the means to develop its own nuclear arsenal. The record is well documented. At the time, do remember the political context was rather different; everybody was offended at the Israeli bombing of the reactor, not France’s nuclear dealings with Saddam. You could do this stuff “transparently”. It happened then and there is considerable evidence it continued through other channels over the years, if only the number of financial scandals involving arms dealings with African and Middle Eastern countries going back to the 60s and 70s.

    Moreover, France’s interests in Iraqi oil, through Total, was considerable. So were Russia’s. Claims that their opposition was motivated by these stakes are quite justified. As to whether they considered Iraq a “proxy against America”, the case is not so weak. One does not have to see French or Russian soldiers fighting the Marines to prove this. When De Villepin, a foreign minister, refuses to answer questions about who he’d like to see win the conflict, it is rather transparent he might not be rooting for the home team.

    Last but not least, I shall remind you that all the countries you mention repeated for years that Saddam did have WMDs, often with specific data points. France, Germany, the UK and the others did provide the UN with useful intelligence in the past. In recent times, the intelligence seemed precise yet none of the evidence could be exposed to the public and, seemingly, none of it can be used to locate those weapons. Why ? Because they’re invoices. Not for final chemical shells or rocket launchers, nobody is that dumb. For components, ingredients and other gear the use of which is unambiguous to the expert eye. This stuff ain’t made in the Middle East, buddy. We – Old Europe – knew it was there somewhere because we sold them the ingredients to bake the cake.

    To conclude, Rachel Lucas makes a good point. And you make an invalid one. I do not know enough about Germany but French politicians can and have gotten away with anything and everything. Ten years ago, it was discovered that Mitterand was running a wiretap unit out of the Elysee Palace to spy on the press and his political opponents. The people involved were simply moved away or promoted, Mitterand was reelected, 20 years after Nixon was sent packing for the same thing and the low-level perpetrators jailed. Closer to us, the 1958 Constitution gives Chirac immunity from prosecution for the myriad corruption scandals surrounding him.

    So yes, Americans have grounds to disbelieve 9/11 conspiracy theories. French citizens do not, specially when it comes to Iraq, a country with which their President has been dealing with publicly and privately since 1967.

    So to paraphrase your own conclusion : no offense, but a reality-check might have helped here…

  2. I’m sorry to heat that I was wrong about France, but Germany really is that transparent, so my point remains valid at least in this respect.

    A longer answer to follow tomorrow, I’m too tired tonight.

  3. One small point: None of the shit that has been claimed about Germany has chcked out; neither the alleged sales of sarin components to North Korea, nor the alleged cover-up of smallpox stores in Iraq etc.

  4. Unfortunately we will not know the whole truth for at least 20 years, if then. However, France’s position, especially Chirac’s is pretty clear. Whether Germany foolishly or malignantly tagged along with France is up in the air.

    I suspect 95% of Americans don’t know enough to have an unprompted opinion. Of the 5% who do, 95% probably think it was foolish. On the other hand, it really doesn’t matter why Germany chose France and Iraq, unless the Germans change their decision.

    Either way, in two years I doubt you will find 20% of Americans saying that Germany supported Iraq because of commerical WMD links. But 2 years after 3,000 Americans died at the hands of terrorists 20% of Germans think the American Government could have ordered it.

    The issue has nothing to do with the transparency of European governments but with the mentality of the German people. That is where the reality check is needed.

  5. The European frame of mind is all the more mental when you remember that 12 years ago, the French, the Germans and everybody else was urging the US to finish the job in Iraq and go to Baghdad to finish off Saddam since he was a menace to the region.

    As I am in France for a few days, the hatred for Bush is as blind, superficial and stupid as ever. Even the kids pick it up from the TV. It’s pathetic, really. I guess people don’t like to be taught about their own moral weakness and political irrelevance in such a straightforward manner. Denial is a lot more comfortable.

  6. I don’t think at all that France or Germany “armed Iraq with WMDs as a proxy against America.” Yes, that is crazy.

    It’s perfectly believable, however, that French and German companies were willing to bend the rules and sell dual-use items without really checking what they were going to be used for. There’s a good bit of evidence for that; as you say, it’s appeared in German newspapers. It’s also a fact that French and Russian oil companies stood to lose a lot of money from sweetheart oil deals illegally (if violating the UN sanctions is illegal) made with the Hussein regime.

    In addition, French thinkers, up to the top of their government, have been talking for some time about the need to restrict US power. Given that, it’s not too ridiculous to take them at their word and decide that they were opposing the US partially in an attempt to weaken it, or to boost France’s relative power by strengthening the UN. If one assumes that the Mid-East will remain a hellhole no matter what (as France seems to do with Africa, given its actions there), then much of US action there is essentially irrevelant, as one dictator will eventually just be replaced with another.

  7. Ralf, your assuming that things are transparent sounds a tad naive. Opposition parties are an effective check and balance only to the extent they do not have their own skeletons that could be revealed, should they uncover their adversaries’ activities. If German politics are so transparent, how do you explain the party finance scandal around Helmut Kohl could last this long without the opposition piping up about it ? Moreover, when it comes to arms deals, or any deals involving government negotiations with dicy dictators, most involved, if not all, have incentives to remain quiet about it. For a long time. To the extent Germany’s foreign policy was stunted for so long after World War II, that is a certainly a mitigating factor. That is, however, not a factor with France.

    But given the size of the German state and how much money feeds the system, I doubt things are so much more transparent than anywhere else. In fact, the very fact that Germans believe it is so would make it that much easier for people in power to set up odd contracts with odd governments and local businesses for even odder purposes…

  8. Sylvain, I don’t think there can be much doubt that you are correct about France. It was long ago obvious that Iraq wanted to make nuclear bombs, because why else would an oil-rich country buy an expensive nuclear reactor? I can’t imagine that the French govt wanted the bombs to be used, but it was reckless in selling the reactor. I don’t think any German govt did anything during the post-war period that was nearly as bad as this.

  9. NO one has mentioned the hilarious parody of this Die Zeit survey on Scrappleface. It is shocking, just as the fact that so many in the third world do not believe that Americans set foot on the moon. However, I think that since the survey question’s wording was: “could” the U.S. have sponsored the attacks, we cannot conclude that 31% of young Germans believe that this in fact is what happened.

  10. In general, Western Europeans, Canadians, and liberal Americans drum up conspiracy theories in lieu of sound, logical, evidence-backed, common-sensical reality. Period.

    The basis of this farce? I submit (as pointed out in World Magazine, see what was once referred to as “civilized western society”, in large part, is abandoning the Judeo-Christian values that have birthed and developed that same civilization.

    The west continues to govern by a rule of law that was based in those traditional values. However, increasingly the liberal factions across the west chip away at the foundations of these laws through redefinition of core precepts under the guise of inclusion or tolerance.

    Stout-hearted conservatives, Christian evangelicals, and orthodox Jews together remain largely on the sidelines watching western civilization’s historical foundations crumble with a mixture of disgust, sadness, and fear.

    Has western civ been utopian and without darkness? Most certainly not. But whereas liberal thought leaders point to criticism of evil as a concerted conspiracy on the part of conservatives, said conservatives buckle under and decide to pick another battle another day.

    When will conservative Judeo-Christians stand up and call this increasingly vocal fabrication of reality what it is? And will the bottle-fed reality-show-loving general western populace even be able to discern reality from lies?

    The days of western civilization as we know it are sadly numbered. I state this with a combination of disgust, sadness, fear .. and hope in the mercy and kindness of God Almighty himself.

  11. Jonathan, I agree about Germany. Their post-WW2 position prevented them from doing radical things on the foreign policy front. France, a former colonial power granted a permanent seat at the UN, did not have such inhibitions and hindrances. When it was not prodded and helped by the US, as in Indochina.

    sircigar, I don’t think liberals are alone when it comes to conspiracy theories. The thirst for such things, and assorted bad news, is human nature. Thousands of years ago, someone wrote something that sounds strangely similar to your post on an Assyrian stone tablet (“Children don’t obey their parents, civilization is crumbling” etc etc). Jews and others were prone to consider optimistic prophets to be fakes, and we just take a morbid pleasure in predicting or forecasting our own doom, preferably due to the actions and/or stupidity of enemies or political opponents. Nobody is immune.

    There is evidence to show mainstream political attitudes go through cycles. There is also evidence that a conservative cycle could be starting in America. Once you become the establishment and entrench yourself, you get your own counter-cultural revolution, sooner or later. Nobody’s immune to that later. But that’s matter for another post in a few days…

  12. “In general, Western Europeans, Canadians, and liberal Americans drum up conspiracy theories in lieu of sound, logical, evidence-backed, common-sensical reality. Period.”

    Unlike shrewd commonsensical American stout hearted conservatives who know why Vince Foster was knocked off by Friends of Bill from his days moving Drugs through Mena Arkansas?

    Conspiracy theories are simply evidence that idle minds are the devil’s playground. Tom Clancy depends on it. And some times they are true.

  13. Mr. Heddleston: I concede that “conspiracy theories are simply evidence that idle minds are the devil’s playground”, but Vince Foster is a bad example. The “Clinton murdered Foster” theory was limited to a small right-wing lunatic fringe. It never gained the kind of mainstream currency that the “neo-con cabal” or “corporate interests” doctrines have on the left.

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