But the weasels were still thinking in terms of the JFK assassination. They figured the second-guessers and conspiracy freaks would take years to document their suspicions and longer to rouse the public; and by then Afghanistan and Iraq would have been taken and tamed, Iran would have capitulated before the prospect of a two-front invasion from those countries, and the American-ordered abundance of oil on the market would have brought gasoline to where it belonged: rivers of it in the West, trickles in the East, and all at 1960s prices. Anyone who muttered about 9-11 would be silenced with the retort that it was the best thing that had happened to America since the GI Bill.
That, I would bet, was the line used to sell the operation to The Highest in the Land; who, as long as we're near the subject, replied, "Okay, do it, but with a minimal of loss of life." Hence the first airplane hit the North Tower well before 9 a.m., before most people had arrived at work. Hence all four airplanes took off loaded to between a quarter and a half their capacity (well below the national average of 70-75 percent). Hence the aircraft that hit the Pentagon made a 330-degree sweep around the building to hit the side that was largely deserted due to construction work. Yes, three thousand people died on 9-11, but if Carlos the Jackal had been in charge, that number would have been ten times greater.
But though the Internet gave the weasels a start, they knew they would ultimately win out. Americans, more than most peoples, never question their government in matters of national security. They question lobbyists and influence and politicians lining their pockets. But where matters of state are concerned, suspicion does not form part of our political culture. The armed forces, despite a history of cover-ups and stupendous blunders, enjoy an almost religious veneration. Unless the operation hit a snag -- and the weasels had contingency legends galore, like "Let's roll!" on Flight 93 -- they knew that Americans would dismiss any talk that their own people were behind the attacks.
And the weasels were right: their countrymen swallowed hook, line and Osama, squirmed away from doubters like a child from the doctor's needle, and especially, classically, effortlessly, thoughtlessly, "moved on" -- that quintessential American phrase that once connoted pioneer stoicism and now refers only to the national flight from reality, patent in both our burning obsession with celebrities and our sleepy indifference to war. So the truth of 9-11 stayed on the Internet, "e-cheek by e-jowl with on-line blackjack and Mayberry R.F.D. hobbyists," to quote my novel one last time.
And America has reaped the fruits of this "sin we committed against ourselves": hopeless debt, cureless recession, endless military conflicts of every shade between war and warry. It is impossible to discuss terrorism in anything approaching realistic terms. Just try mentioning to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that Al Qaeda is now a shadow of its past form; it makes no difference to him. Military and security services comprise one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy, and those people, to whom the legend of 9-11 is a great comfort in these hard economic times, will not be denied their paychecks.