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Sinking into Bewilderment

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If you listen to conspiracy theories with an open mind, earnestly seeking knowledge, you may wind up in total confusion, unable to reach a clear conclusion.

For example, take the Kennedy assassination. A slew of books and videos contend that rogue CIA agents or other sinister "hawk" elements used Lee Harvey Oswald as a fall guy to eliminate a popular president who wasn't warlike enough. Suspicions grew so intense that Congress held new hearings in the 1970s and concluded that Kennedy was "probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy". Oliver Stone's 1991 movie "JFK" delivered this message forcefully.

The JFK speculation was augmented by discovery of Operation Northwoods -- a long-hidden 1962 plan by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to stage attacks on Americans by phony terrorists disguised as Cuban communists, to stampede U.S. popular support for an invasion of Cuba. President Kennedy scuttled the loathsome plot.

After a half-century of dither over the Kennedy horror, Americans still cannot answer whether a lone crackpot acted by himself, or whether wider treachery was involved. The question seems utterly unanswerable.

More recently, similar suspicions have been raised about America's 9/11 tragedy. Numerous books and videos contend that three World Trade Center structures -- especially Building 7 across the street that wasn't struck by airliners -- couldn't possibly have fallen straight down as they did, without controlled demolition.

Some high-rise architects and construction engineers formed a study group and concluded that the Twin Towers had plenty of strength to survive the airliner impact, so they must have been felled by planted explosives. Discovery of thermite in the Manhattan debris supports this theory. So do videos of Building 7 dropping directly downward in seconds.

Former Assistant U.S. Treasury Secretary and Wall Street Journal Associate Editor Paul Craig Roberts wrote: "It was completely obvious that the towers had not fallen down from asymmetrical structural damage. They had blown up." He added: "It was obvious that Building 7 had been brought down by controlled demolition."

Roberts also said it's improbable that all 16 of America's top security agencies failed to detect that young Muslim men got pilot training and boarded airline flights on the morning of September 11, 2001. Why, he asks, did the White House never demand an explanation of this security failure? And why did the White House spend a year resisting calls for an inquiry into 9/11?

Back in the 1990s, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other top Republicans led the Project for the New American Century, which called for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, among other military goals. A PNAC report said "some catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor" would be required to impel Americans to support its militaristic agenda.

A book titled The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 implies that the Bush-Cheney White House was complicit in arranging the historic 2001 tragedy.

A couple of my friends have studied the JFK assassination and 9/11 horror extensively. They led our church study circle in long debates on both topics.

But I bog down in bewilderment, especially about 9/11. I keep asking: Can anyone really believe that Bush and Cheney conspired to kill 3,000 Americans to stampede America into the Iraq war they desired? Did CIA operatives sneak into World Trade Center buildings in advance to plant demolition charges -- then wait indefinitely until Osama bin Laden happened to send 19 "martyrs" on a suicide mission -- or did the CIA collude with bin Laden to conduct the attack? Such thoughts boggle the mind.

The most extreme theory alleges that no Muslim terrorists were involved, and that the 9/11 attackers were CIA stooges. But I can't swallow the idea that the CIA persuaded 19 young men to pretend to be terror fanatics and kill themselves in the plane crashes.

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James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight Atheism, (more...)

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