Globe and Mail - Toronto, Canada
9/11: truth and consequences
August 26, 2006
And so it begins: the season of 9/11 Five Years On. First there were the films: Flight 93 is about the plane where the passengers resisted the terrorists, crashing it into a Pennsylvania field; the first viewers of this technically adept, emotionally inert film cried out: "Too soon, too soon." Then came Oliver Stone's intense but un-Stoneian World Trade Center. Not only was this tale of true grit, heroism and family devoid of leftish polemics, it could have been a commercial for American family values.
Now, with the anniversary all but upon us, here come the books, a . . . whatever the proper metaphor here for size that will not evoke burning and falling towers of them, books both directly about 9/11 and its aftermath, and books allied to the issues raised then and since. Some of the more important among them will be reviewed at length in these pages, but this week I want to talk about a couple of others.
Amid the predictable volumes about the day's heroism and the need for increased vigilance, as well as those about the threats to civil liberties occasioned by the Bush administration's War on Terror, the political-emotional gamut includes books imputing cover-up and conspiracy (it is still widely believed in the Muslim world that the attacks killed no Jews, since they were either conspirators or were forewarned).
One such entry is by Canadian media critic (and how!) Barry Zwicker. Towers of Deception: The Media Cover-Up of 9/11 (New Society, 400 pages and DVD documentary, $27.95). In brief. Zwicker believes that the outrage that killed 2,973 people -- unless they're all alive and hiding in Hoboken -- was not a sneak attack by al-Qaeda, but, in the words of the immortal Baldrick of Blackadder infamy, a "cunning plan" devised and executed by the White House itself. It was successor to, Zwicker is at pains to allege, many such events, from the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot of 1605 on. For Zwicker, it was a concoction -- as were subsequent attacks in Madrid and London and the Chechen assault on Beslan -- to justify a war on Islam, a war in which the U.S. media lapdogs are fully complicit. And, get this, Noam Chomsky, darling of the anti-American left, is part of the plot.
Now I have little trouble believing it possible that plutocrats of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis of ego are orchestrating things for their own benefit and that of their Fortune 500 cronies. Or that the war in Iraq is based on an unsavoury stew of misconceptions, stupidity, wishful thinking and deceit. But what I do have great difficulty believing is that the "perpetrators" are intelligent enough and, I suppose, quite evil enough, not only to concoct such a grand strategy, but to carry it off so deviously that only Zwicker and his allies can discern its true nature. I have just as hard a time believing that this sometimes entertainingly obsessive screed has proved anything at all.
I assume Zwicker would dismiss as either part of the conspiracy, or its dupe, the 9/11 book that is attracting most attention: The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Interpretation (Hill & Wang, 131 pages, $37.95 hardcover, $21 paperback). The intent of the book, by two comic industry veterans -- writer Sid Jacobson and Richie Rich artist Ernie Colón -- is to make accessible to a bewildered and heretofore inattentive public the full force not just of the event, but of its antecedents and consequences.
If the publishers believed that the original report was, at nearly 600 dense pages, too imposing, too unwieldy, too . . . wordy for popular taste, they have already been proved correct. The last time I checked, and although the book does not publish officially until next week, it was already #2 on the amazon.com bestseller list and #8 on amazon.ca.
Although I am certainly interested in the content of The 9/11 Report -- its chronicling and organization of events, its assignment of responsibility and failures of responsibility, and the analyses and recommendations it logs -- I am just as interested in it as a form for handling complex information with clarity. (Someone with far better credentials than I will deal with content in an upcoming issue of Books.)
And on those grounds, its success is mixed. Quoting liberally and accurately from the published report, the book does show that complex issues can be handled in graphic form without simplifying them absurdly. And, though Barrie Zwicker would undoubtedly think the report itself a fraud, this work seems an accurate version of it. Extreme care has been taken with the accuracy of both text and illustration.
But the "wow" element that in the best graphic works unites text and art is something else. The 9/11 Report opens very strongly, using parallel illustrations to show the timelines of all four hijacked planes. And, surprisingly, it creates considerable tension, though we're perfectly aware of what is to come (it could simply be a case of emotion recollected in relative tranquillity).
About 25 pages in, though, it starts to replicate in miniature the report, and I'm not sure what is gained, other than readable brevity (admittedly, that's a lot), and some niftily colourful and moderately bloody illustrations. So for all those who aren't going to read the full report -- and that's almost all of us -- I recommend this graphic version as a clear and concise record of events and deliberations. But then, I'm just another dupe.