Monday, September 12, 2011

Salon's conspiracy theory

Salon has published  an allegedly anti-conspiracy-theory column by Alexander Cockburn (read here) in which he hypocritically promotes the granddaddy of all conspiracy theories: that Franklin Roosevelt knew about the Japanese plan to attack Pearl Harbor and deliberately allowed it to happen in order to provide an excuse for the U.S. to enter World War II.

With unintended irony, Cockburn gives his column the headline "The end of evidence". In it he writes:

I think there is strong evidence that FDR did have knowledge that a Japanese naval force in the north Pacific was going to launch an attack on Pearl Harbor. It's quite possible Roosevelt thought it would be a relatively mild assault and thought it would be the final green light to get the U.S. into the war.

That's all he writes about FDR's purported culpability for Pearl Harbor.  While Cockburn "think(s) there is strong evidence", he does not provide any of it. Considering the seriousness of the charge, his offhanded assessment of the truthiness of this implausible conspiracy defies logic. That he makes this unsupported assertion in the context of criticizing the fact-free arguments of the 9/11 truth movement highlights the flawed logic of both.  Cockburn and Salon apparently believe that it's wrong to argue without citing evidence that world events are controlled by massive conspiracies, except when they feel like doing so themselves.

Even Cockburn's condemnation of the conspiracy theories of 9/11 truthers themselves only goes so far. He implies that believes in some of them himself.  He writes:

It's entirely plausible to assume that the FBI, U.S. military intelligence, and the CIA -- as has just been rather convincingly claimed again in the latter instance -- had penetrated the al-Qaida team planning the 9/11 attacks; intelligence reports piled up in various Washington bureaucracies pointing to the impending onslaught and even the manner in which it might be carried out. 
The history of intelligence operations is profuse with example of successful intelligence collection, but also fatal slowness to act on the intelligence, along with eagerness not to compromise the security and future usefulness of the informant, who has to prove his own credentials by even pressing for prompt action by the plotters. Sometime an undercover agent will actually propose an action, either to deflect efforts away from some graver threat, or to put the plotters in a position where they can be caught red-handed.

Again, he offers no evidence for this 9/11 conspiracy theory. He merely deems it "plausible" because, he says, some unspecified similar things have happened in the past.

When Cockburn set out to write about "the end of evidence", did he intend to argue against that loss or to provide examples of it?

Cockburn goes on in the column to helpfully debunk the idiotic truther claims that the twin towers couldn't have been destroyed by the plane crashes alone; that they must have been brought down by explosives planted within them.  Considering how obviously flawed those truther arguments are, I have found them useful in the sense that any alleged expert who makes such foolish claims automatically impeaches his own expertise.  An alleged expert who fails to understand how the twin towers came down is by definition incompetent to offer an opinion on the subject.

Here, as a public service, is what Cockburn's expert has to say:

"The towers were basically tubes, essentially hollow. Tubes can be very efficient structures, strong and economical. The Trade Center tubes effectively resisted vertical loads, wind loads and vibrations and could probably have done very well against earthquakes. However, the relatively thin skin of the hollow tube must be braced at intervals to prevent local buckling of the skin under various possible loads, otherwise the tube itself can go out of shape and lose its strength.

"For their interior bracing, the thin-walled tubes of the Trade Center towers depended primarily on the interior floors being tied to the outer wall shells. These floor beam structures were basically open web joists, adequate for the floor loads normally to be expected. These joist ends rested on steel angle clips attached to the outer walls.

"As the floors at the level of airplane impact caught fire, the open web joists, which could not be expected to resist such fires, softened under the heat, sagged and pulled away from their attachments to the walls. Their weight, and the loads they were carrying, caused them to drop onto the next lower floor, which was then carrying double loads also becoming exposed to the heat. Then that floor collapsed, and so it went. But as the floors dropped, they no longer served as bracing for the thin-walled main tubes.

This loss of bracing permitted the walls to buckle outward in successive sections and thus the house of cards effect."

High-grade steel can bend disastrously under extreme heat. The types of steel used in the WTC Towers (plain carbon, and vanadium) lose half their strength when heated to about 570 C , and even more as temperatures rise, as they did in WTC 1 and 2, to 1100 C.

I am sure that the editors of Salon published Cockburn's column for its debunking of the 9/11 truth movement and not for its promotion of Pearl Harbor conspiracy theories. The absurdity of old conspiracy theories made in passing just doesn't have the impact of the madness of the truthers. It's possible Salon's editors didn't read the column closely and just missed Cockburn's Pearl Harbor comment. Regardless, they owe their readers an apology and an explanation. At the very least, if they want to publish columns decrying the death of evidence, they owe their readers the evidence.

1 comment:

Benjamin said...

Cockburn publishing something that' stupid and conspiracy mongering? It must be Tuesday.


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