MARCH 18, 2002
Crash flap follow-up
© 2002

 My column last week, "So where is the plane?" sparked an unbelievable storm of response. I am physically unable to respond to the thousands of e-mails individually, but hopefully this column will cover most of the bases.

I have created two links at which those of you so inclined can find a collection of e-mail responses (there are a lot and no it is not complete) and pictures you may not have seen from in and around the Pentagon.

I believe the bulk of my harshest critics either never read the first three paragraphs or were unable to comprehend the words. I did not subscribe to the French intimations, I just reiterated the questions.

The controversial column started, "I receive a lot of strange information from a wide variety of sources. Some of it is intriguing. Some of it is flat-out weird. I try (and frequently fail) to temporarily set aside my own personal prejudices to objectively as possible consider the merits of both the intriguing and weird." I referenced the French website and the conventional wisdom of what happened that tragic day in September. I noted, "The conspiracy theory industry hasn't been this jazzed since the JFK assassination."

Then, I apparently made the unpardonable sin of suggesting, "there are several questions that at least should be asked and answered." To report that my request for your comments was answered is grossly inadequate a means of articulating what followed.

For the record -- and this is neither a mea culpa nor a retraction -- I personally am convinced American Airlines Flight 77 did hit the Pentagon Sept. 11. There are still a lot of unanswered questions, but that much is a certainty.

I am not an expert in these matters and I don't play one on TV. However, I have heard from a wide range of experts offering contradictory conclusions.

One of the more reasoned, objective reactions received was from an Air Force chief master sergeant. He was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11 when we were attacked. He personally participated in rescue and recovery operations immediately after the attack -- and for days afterward -- and has direct observations of many details not mentioned. Read his point-by-point refutation of the French website questions.

Frankly, the controversy has been fueled by government information management (or mismanagement). The World Trade Center was pretty much an open book from the jump with continual coverage, the Pentagon was not.

However, the Pentagon held 25,000 people, most of whom routinely work on classified information. An inconceivable amount of classified stuff was blown all over the place. "Security containers were dislodged, sensitive operations areas blown open, and classified computers and papers littered the site. The raging fires created drafts carrying classified papers into the air and distributing them everywhere on the grounds of the Pentagon." That is one very good reason why the press was kept at bay.

I was verbally eviscerated by one Air Force lieutenant colonel who wrote, "It is patently offensive that we now read the ridiculous conclusion that because the FBI is in possession of the evidence, and does not choose to share it with website authors, that it does not exist. That is on an intellectual par with skinheads choosing to disbelieve their older ideological classmates engaged in genocide."

"The investigations of murderers do not take place in the news media, but by careful people studying the pieces of aircraft that weren't vaporized, the security film and the testimony of FAA controllers and the aircrews who were in our sector at the time. If you would like them to conduct the investigation differently, please address your concerns to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They can be reached at the FBI's National Press Office."

I responded in part: "I am in receipt of your patronizing response. I regret you take offense and were unable to comprehend the opening of the column. I too have held the broken bodies of comrades in my arms and I understand your visceral reaction."

Since the initial salvo, we have exchanged assorted e-mails and made nice. An Army chaplain who works at Arlington National Cemetery noted, "There were many people in the cemetery who saw the plane rocket in, at full throttle, and strike the building. That this happened is truly beyond debate -- once again, too many people saw it."

One of the best e-mails was from a woman responding to one of my many critics. She observed, "Being an American is a great thing. Because of it, we have access to many ideas, theories, opinions, etc. Yes, what happened on Sept. 11 is a horrific tragedy -- one we will never forget. If we didn't have journalists to report and speculate on what happened that day (or any other event that happens), we would be in the dark and would have only the 'authorities'' version of what they want us to know."

"There are many unanswered questions surrounding what happened that horrible day -- some that may never be answered. I found the article interesting and thought provoking. I would rather have access to other people's ideas and opinions than to be living in times where we are only told what 'they' want us to hear ... like the terrorists live. I think that if such articles offend you, don't read them. I personally, would rather have the choice to read or not read, listen or not listen, watch or not watch ... than not to be given the choice. The First Amendment gives us the right to free speech."

Bless you, Rita. However, the First Amendment doesn't give us anything. It acknowledges our God-given, inalienable right.