Having referred disparagingly a few days ago to the radical historian Howard Zinn, I do not propose to make this "Howard Zinn Week" on my blog. But here's a singular development.
Professor Zinn is the author of a popular book called A People's History of the United States. It has been through many editions. Another historian of left-wing views, Michael Kazin, has described the book as "polemic disguised as history". I demonstrated here, with reference to his treatment of a central issue of world history in the 20th century, that Professor Zinn's scholarship is feeble and ignorant.
Let us turn now to what is and will remain a central issue of world history in the 21st century. Writing in Scientific American in 2005, the sceptic Michael Shermer noted:
[S]ome people think the Pentagon was hit by a missile; that U.S. Air Force jets were ordered to "stand down" and not intercept Flights 11 and 175, the ones that struck the twin towers; that the towers themselves were razed by demolition explosives timed to go off soon after the impact of the planes; that a mysterious white jet shot down Flight 93 over Pennsylvania; and that New York Jews were ordered to stay home that day (Zionists and other pro-Israeli factions, of course, were involved). Books also abound, including Inside Job, by Jim Marrs; The New Pearl Harbor, by David Ray Griffin; and 9/11: The Great Illusion, by George Humphrey. The single best debunking of this conspiratorial codswallop is in the March issue of Popular Mechanics, which provides an exhaustive point-by-point analysis of the most prevalent claims.
The mistaken belief that a handful of unexplained anomalies can undermine a well-established theory lies at the heart of all conspiratorial thinking (as well as creationism, Holocaust denial and the various crank theories of physics). All the "evidence" for a 9/11 conspiracy falls under the rubric of this fallacy. Such notions are easily refuted by noting that scientific theories are not built on single facts alone but on a convergence of evidence assembled from multiple lines of inquiry.
Note one of those volumes of conspiratorial codswallop, The New Pearl Harbor. Its author, David Ray Griffin, a retired professor of theology, has received notable academic endorsement for his book - not by anyone competent in the fields covered by Popular Mechanics, but by professors of theology. You can see those endorsements here. "This is a must read for all who want to get past the conspiracy of silence and mystification that surrounds these events," says John B. Cobb Jr, Professor of Theology, Emeritus, Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. "A must read for anyone concerned about American foreign policy under the present administration," concurs Rosemary Radford Ruether, Carpenter Professor of Feminist Theology, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA.
Professor Cobb is the leading modern exponent of an idea called process theology. He has co-written a book with Griffin entitled Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition, 1976, the central idea of which (pp. 41-62) is that God represents "Creative-Responsive Love" and acts in the world by persuasion rather than coercion. If you think this sounds like mumbo-jumbo, I would not seek to dissuade you (and I am godless anyway). Professor Ruether has, on the other hand, written serious studies of the theological roots of Christian antisemitism. She merely has no historian's understanding of why paranoid conspiracy theories fail to meet minimal criteria for plausibility.
How fortunate, then, that Griffin's book also receives comments from a historian. But that historian - as you will have seen coming many miles off - is Howard Zinn. Zinn comments:
David Ray Griffin has done admirable and painstaking research in reviewing the mysteries surrounding the 9-11 attacks. It is the most persuasive argument I have seen for further investigation of the Bush administration's relationship to that historic and troubling event.
You can only wonder whether some new edition of Zinn's People's History will explain the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon with reference to Griffin's crank accusations against the US administration. But this much is clear. You cannot be a historian and a Holocaust denier, because the only way to maintain that the Holocaust never took place is to ignore or fake the historical evidence. (My reader David Irving is usually referred to not as a historian but as a "historical writer" because of his treatment of source material.) You cannot be a biologist and a Creationist, for similar reasons. You cannot be a physicist and believe in perpetual motion machines. And you cannot, Professor Zinn, be a historian and give the time of day to the pernicious and unambiguously stupid notions promulgated by the 9/11 conspiracy theorists.
As George Monbiot asked plaintively in The Guardian, with reference to the 9/11 "truthseekers", a few months ago: "Why do I bother with these morons?" Prospective readers of Professor Zinn's work might profitably ask themselves the same question.