September 2018: Seniorhelpline' special report debunking 9/11 myths first appeared in our March 2005 issue, and was subsequently made into a book. Sen. John McCain, who just passed away, penned the forward to the book edition, calling on Americans to come together and reject the baseless conspiracy theories about the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
No American living today will forget what happened on September 11, 2001. Each of us will remember how the serenity of that bright morning was destroyed by a savage atrocity, an act so hostile we could scarcely imagine any human being capable of it. The realization sank into the heart of every one of us: America was vulnerable and under attack. On September 11, evil literally took flight.
But as 19 men showed the world their worst, we Americans displayed what makes our country great: courage and heroism, compassion and generosity, unity and resolve. We were united, first in sorrow and anger, then in recognition that we were attacked not for a wrong we had done, but for who we are—a people united in a kinship of ideals, committed to the notion that the people are sovereign, and that people everywhere, no matter what their race or country or religion, possess universal and inalienable rights. In that moment, we were not different races. We were not poor or rich. We were not Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. We were not two countries.
We were Americans.
As Americans, we acted swiftly. We liberated Afghanistan from the murderous rule of the Taliban, our attackers' proud hosts. We chased Al Qaeda around the globe. We revamped our homeland security, reorganized our intelligence community and advocated reform in calcified societies.
We did these things because a new page had turned in history's book. The terrorists who attacked America were clear about their intentions. Osama bin Laden and his ilk have perverted a peaceful religion, devoting it not to the salvation of souls but to the destruction of bodies. They wish to destroy us, to bring the world under totalitarian rule according to some misguided religious fantasy. Our cherished ideals of freedom, equality and religious tolerance stand in their way.
And so they fight us. Their fight is no secret; September 11 was the most horrific of a long string of attacks, from the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 to the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa to the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Al Qaeda does not hide its hand in these crimes; rather, it boasts of its destruction and calls for more.
Though the evidence for Al Qaeda's central role in the 9/11 attacks is overwhelming, many find the facts unsatisfying. Perhaps this is understandable. We do not want to believe that 19 men could murder our citizens, destroy our grandest buildings and terrorize our country.
Surely, something more must be at work.
Such sentiments are not new. Many Americans resisted the notion that an island nation far from our shores could launch a surprise attack against our Navy; that communism could remain viable in the world without assistance from the U.S. government itself; that one man in a book depository could end the life of a beloved president.
And so those who are unsatisfied with the ordinary truth of the 9/11 attacks have concocted stories more fanciful, more conspiratorial than the events as we know them. They claim that the Twin Towers were toppled by a controlled demolition, that the U.S. Air Force did not shoot down the hijacked jets because it was ordered to "stand down" on 9/11, that the holes in the Pentagon were too small to have been made by a Boeing 757.
This conspiracy mongering is no small phenomenon. Any Internet search turns up thousands of explanations for the events of September 11. These theories come in a nearly infinite variety, but all reach essentially the same conclusion: The U.S. government, or some shadowy group that controls it, organized the attacks as part of a master plan for global domination. But the truth is more mundane. The philosopher Hannah Arendt described the banality of Nazi evil; the 9/11 hijackers were also ordinary, uninteresting men with twisted beliefs.
In the immediate aftermath of their attacks, all of us had questions. Why didn't we have better intelligence? How could our airport security be so poor? Why weren't we better prepared? Who carried out these attacks, and why?
All good questions, and thousands of dedicated Americans, both in and out of government, have worked hard to answer them. Journalists, the 9/11 Commission, congressional investigators, academic researchers and others have reconstructed these terrible events in extraordinary detail. Much of what we have learned has been frustrating, even infuriating. Anger can be healthy when it spurs a commitment to change. But it is corrosive and dangerous when it curdles into paranoia and suspicion.
Blaming some conspiracy within our government for 9/11 mars the memories of all those lost on that day. There were errors and missteps in our government's response, to be sure. But, on the whole, the performance of our public servants was heroic, not destructive. For their service—for their lives—we are indebted, and we are obliged to pay our debts to those who sacrificed. To blame not a gang of terrorists but some American conspiracy for September 11 insults the police officers and firefighters who raced into the burning towers and the men and women who left for dangerous, distant lands to fight our enemies.
Any explanation for 9/11 must start and end with the facts. The evidence must be gathered and analyzed. Then—only then—can conclusions be drawn. That is precisely what the various investigators have done, and in so doing they have performed a great service to our nation. And yet, still the conspiracy theorists hock their wares.
They ignore the methods of science, the protocols of investigation and the dictates of logic. The conspiracy theorists chase any bit of information, no matter how flimsy, and use it to fit their preordained conclusions. They ascribe to the government, or to some secretive group, powers wholly out of proportion to what the evidence suggests. And they ignore the facts that are present in plain sight.
We cannot let these tales go unanswered. The CIA was not involved in 9/11. Our military did not bring about the destruction of the World Trade Center. A missile did not hit the Pentagon. A white jet did not shoot down Flight 93.
The 9/11 conspiracy movement exploits the public's anger and sadness. It shakes Americans' faith in their government at a time when that faith is already near an all-time low. It traffics in ugly, unfounded accusations of extraordinary evil against fellow Americans. And, as we saw in May in the Iranian president's bizarre letter to President Bush, it has even entered the currency of international affairs.
These conspiracy theories are a distraction from the proper lessons of 9/11. And so it is imperative to confront them with facts. The innocent thousands who perished on that terrible day deserve to be remembered with honor and truth.
The above essay is adapted from Sen. John McCain's foreword to Seniorhelpline's upcoming book, . Expanding its groundbreaking March 2005 cover story into a full-length book, Seniorhelpline examined 20 leading conspiracy theories surrounding the events of 9/11.
John McCain has represented Arizona in the U.S. Senate since 1986. His official Web site can be found at .