I was asked several months ago why Charlie Sheen's association with the documentary Loose Changedid more harm than good for those investigating the events of September 11. "I wouldn't be too sure about a passenger plane hitting the Pentagon," said one reader, while another added "there was no wreckage, the hole in the building was too small, and plenty of military people reported seeing helicopters before the incident.
"Investigate further, my friend."
That's okay. There are several avenues of discussion I'm not willing to walk, one of which being the notion that American Flight 77 never struck the Pentagon. Theorists point to any number of culprits, from missiles to conventional bombs to drone aircraft. A Boeing 757 would create a much larger point of collision, they speculate. And the quantity of wreckage is too slight for an airplane of that size.
It's a bold theory, one that raises the eyebrow of skeptics – until they have a basic understanding of airplane construction. For planes are extremely lightweight and flexible, primarily made of aluminum and other composite materials that minimize weight, and aside from seats and passengers, the interior cabin is mostly open space. The resultant crash would not leave an airplane-shaped hole in the heavily-reinforced Pentagon. As someone said, "only in Warner Bros. cartoons does the Coyote leave a cookie-cutter outline of himself as he crashes into the rock face."
Don't believe me? The military flew a F-4 fighter jet into a concrete wall to see what might happen in a similar situation. The jet, built sturdier than passenger airliners for combat purposes, disintegrated upon impact. "The plane atomized with the impact, it just disappeared into dust," the narrator of the test footage states. "Only the tips of the wings escaped total destruction. But the wall, designed to move and absorb energy, did its job well." Some might argue the wall's strength relative to the Pentagon's (it was built for nuclear containment), but they can't deny the jet's airframe crumpling.
Nor can they deny the wreckage around the site of devastation. Piles of aluminum debris, engine casings, luggage, and various wheels are all visible in the photographs taken that day. If that's not enough debris for you, consider that some wreckage did make it into the building, where it started the fire that collapsed that portion of the Pentagon. (While the airplane is mostly lightweight, the engines, landing gear, and solid-state electronics are bulky items capable of doing some damage.)
Dozens of eyewitnesses corroborate the conventional opinion. "I picked [the plane] up as it struck very low into the Pentagon," said eyewitness Mike Walter." The wings folded back and it was like watching someone slam an empty aluminum can into a wall. The jet folded up like an accordion."
"The plane clipped the top of a light pole just before it got to us, injuring a taxi driver, whose taxi was just a few feet away from my car. I saw it crash into the building," said Father Stephen McGraw. "My only memories really were that it looked like a plane coming in for a landing. I mean in the sense that it was controlled and sort of straight. That was my impression."
Yet claims of government black op helicopters flying over the scene trump prudence and physics in the minds of many. So I ask the believers this: If Flight 77 wasn't slammed into the Pentagon six years ago today, where is it?
Was it flown remotely over the ocean and detonated? Did it land, its passengers brainwashed and reintegrated into some far-off land? Did it circle the Arctic until it ran out of fuel? If you're going to go to the effort of making it look like a planeful of people took out a piece of the Pentagon, why not use a plane and not a Machiavellian series of smoke and mirrors to give that illusion? Those responsible aren't worried about property value or human life.
I'm sorry if the cuts from Occam's Razor run deep for you, but the simplest solution is correct. Instead of an invisible army of men firing remote-operated missiles or unmarked helicopters unleashing their fury, a plane was used as a weapon and people died. There's no magic trick here, just a tragedy. (This goes for those who insist pods were strapped to the bottoms of United Flight 175 and American Flight 11, too.)
Why is this theory so popular, so prevalent? Why would such an outrageous conspiracy find itself as the headline act on websites and in documentaries? Is it to discredit the men and women who have legitimate questions about 9/11? With millions of Americans – and quite a few elected officials – questioning the United States government and its role in domestic terrorism, what better way to dismiss critics than by associating them with people who believe what eyewitness account and common sense prove is fiction?
There are those who cling to the idea the American space program is a hoax, and there was a time when New Yorkers were afraid they'd need to saw Manhattan in half so it wouldn't tip into the ocean like a lopsided popsicle stick. People buy into gullible nonsense all the time at the expense of the facts. Thinking for even one moment Flight 77 didn't crash into the Pentagon is absurd. Take a look at the available evidence, examine it, and draw the same conclusion I have.
Not all conspiracy theories are created equal.
Canon Fodder is a bi-weekly analysis of politics and society.