Ira Smolensky


Whistle-blowing and the myth of 9-11


         USA Today ran a story last week about the fate of two 9-11 “whistle-blowers” whose experience adds to the already ample evidence that, in the real world of politics, no good deed goes unpunished.

         Dan L’Allier and Chris Christopherson were both involved in the relief effort at the sight of the World Trade Center when they discovered that Kieger Enterprises of Lino Lakes, Minnesota, the company that employed them, was looting considerable quantities of donated materials for its own profit.

         The two men went to the FBI.  In return, they suffered through serious harassment, lost their jobs, and were exiled from the relief industry.  The company, on the other hand, was never prosecuted for the 9-11 thefts.

         Outrageous?  Yes.  Surprising?  No.

         The sad truth is that whistle-blowing is a high risk venture that often punishes the messenger instead of the perpetrator.  Indeed, a good portion of the time, there is nobody who wants to listen sympathetically.  Blissful ignorance can be quite appealing for any number of reasons.  Investigating the charges of whistle-blowers can be hard work.  It can cost a lot.  Then, too, that which goes around comes around, which is to say that if you pursue the charges of whistle-blowers too avidly you might just have people checking your closets to see if there are any handy skeletons next to your summer suits.

         In this particular case, it appears that there was an element of the latter.  Apparently, FBI personnel took some unauthorized souvenirs from the World Trade Center site, which might have become a tad embarrassing for the agency if the case against Kieger Enterprises came up for trial.

         While this might have played a role, I would speculate that another, more important factor came into play.

         While whistle-blowing is a shaky undertaking in the best of circumstances, it is doomed right from the start when it threatens to disrupt something as sacrosanct as the dominant U.S. mythification of 9-11.

         To President Bush (and probably a majority of Americans), 9-11 was a totally unprovoked attack in which despicable and “cowardly” (to use the President’s term) foes hit us below the belt by means for which there was no current defense.  According to the myth, Americans responded with great courage and civic spirit, forging a new national unity that transcends party for all of us who are truly patriotic.

         Of course, one can understand the genesis of this myth when it is held up against that of the attackers and their fans around the globe: that the U.S. is the satanic source of all that is evil in the world and that the 9-11 attack was necessary to make a dent against this nation’s oppressive hegemony.

         While myths do not necessarily have to be false, both of these are.  It is possible to have legitimate grievances against the U.S., but it is beyond any semblance of accuracy to blame the U.S. for all the world’s ills and give it none of the credit for any of the good.  (In addition, and, I think, by design, the architects of the 9-11 attack have actually worsened rather than mitigated American arrogance.  This has led to a new round of American miscalculations which have made the world a less safe place for just about everyone, a state of affairs that is just as much on the heads of the 9-11 attackers as it is on the U.S.)

         On the other hand, the failure of the U.S. to ward off the 9-11 attack can legitimately be tied to a lack of vigilance on the part of government and the airlines.  Nor is the U.S. totally blameless for the sad state of the world or the resentment many feel against us.  In part, we are seen as hypocritical and self-serving because that is often just what we have been.  Then, too, 9-11 did not bring us together in the idealized way that the President and others claim.  Right from the beginning, there have been ugly instances of economic and political opportunism.  The President ought to know this, since he and his party have used 9-11 (and their version of its myth) as much as they possibly could to tame and ultimately bury the Democratic Party not for the sake of the country, but rather in the quest for political dominance.

         Thus is explained the sad fate of our 9-11 whistle-blowers.  Their testimony was unwelcome-- inconvenient and politically incorrect, as it were-- in this era of phony patriotism and spurious war.