Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Rummy's latest gaffe

There has been quite a lot made of Donald Rumsfeld's latest 'gaffe', where he appeared to say that Flight 93 had been shot down:

"And I think all of us have a sense if we imagine the kind of world we would face if the people who bombed the mess hall in Mosul, or the people who did the bombing in Spain, or the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon, the people who cut off peoples' heads on television to intimidate, to frighten - indeed the word 'terrorized' is just that. Its purpose is to terrorize, to alter behavior, to make people be something other than that which they want to be.


Whether Flight 93 was shot down or crashed for some other reason remains one of the great mysteries of September 11. It is particularly odd, if Flight 93 was shot down by the U. S. military, that the Bush Administration is so shy to admit it. Given what had already happened on September 11, no one could criticize the Administration for shooting down Flight 93 and saving the lives of whoever was in the terrorists' target building, particularly as the passengers on the plane were all going to die anyway. On the other hand, leaving the issue vague has allowed Bush and Cheney to allow their supporters to assume that they did order the shooting while avoiding the obvious questions about why they did not have the other planes shot down. Rumsfeld, who at one point said that a 'missile' hit the Pentagon, may have inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. Or, since he is under pressure to resign, is this 'slip' a message that he knows too much for anyone to force him out? There is something perhaps more interesting in what he said. I can parse it like this:

". . . if we imagine the kind of world we would face if


  • the people who bombed the mess hall in Mosul, or

  • the people who did the bombing in Spain, or

  • the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon,

  • the people who cut off peoples' heads on television to intimidate, to frighten

  • . . . ."


These are obviously all different groups of people, although he may be suggesting that they are all Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. The problem with that is that the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists could not have shot down the plane over Pennsylvania. The way Rumsfeld's sentence is constructed - and perhaps I'm reading too much into it - is that "the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon" are one distinct group, just as the other 'people' he discusses are distinct groups doing different bad things. Since we know it must have been the Pentagon that shot down Flight 93, is Rumsfeld saying that the Pentagon "attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon"? He goes on to say that the purpose of terrorism "is to terrorize, to alter behavior, to make people be something other than that which they want to be." Did the Pentagon stage 9-11 to alter the behavior of the people of the United States? If that was the intention, it certainly worked.

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