Over a decade since the ‘worst attack on American land,’ many individuals continue to speculate the events that occurred on that terrifying day of September 11th, 2001. While many individuals accepted that these were terrorist attacks from Islamic extremist group Al-Qaeda, many others continued to question the source and cause of the attacks. By the end of the decade, Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported that 9/11 brought forth more conspiracy theories than the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which was the “top event on the conspiracy charts.” (Grossman 2). The basis of this paper is to provide supporting arguments that the main cause of damage to the U.S. Defense Headquarters, more commonly known as the Pentagon, was due to the crashing of Boeing 737 jet. The building was primarily damaged by fire, associated impact, and deflagration.
Since the attack on the Pentagon on that tragic day, there has not yet been any actual evidence that the jet attacked the building, leading conspiracy theorists to naturally question the method wherein the building collapsed, killing approximately 189 of 2600 individuals working at the site (Sommers 13). One of the primary causes for the damage to the building was instant fire, which was unmanageable and required a day and a half to quench entirely (Sommers 13). According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (N.I.S.T.) website, separate fires broke out throughout the Pentagon, especially on floors 7 to 9 and 11 to 13. The Pentagon was the first building to ever collapse due to a fire alone, and N.I.S.T. explains that other factors contributed to the collapse of the building including:
“Significant magnification of thermal expansion effects due to the long-span floors in the building; connections between structural elements that were designed to resist the vertical forces of gravity, not the thermally induced horizontal or lateral loads; and an overall structural system not designed to prevent fire-induced progressive collapse.”
N.I.S.T. did investigate the possibility of an explosion at the site, however scientific evidence suggests that no thermite or thermate were detected at the site and that an intentional demolition would require explosives on most, if not all, columns and walls. Over 100lbs of thermine would be required to complete this task and it would be highly unlikely that these explosives would have remained undetected prior to September 11th. Additionally, the collapse of the Twin Towers preceding the Pentagon attack damaged the water mains of the building, making the water sprinklers impractical (www.nist.gov). The Airlingron Fire Department had attempted to extinguish the fire by 2pm, however it was far too intense and they withdrew instantly, allowing the fire to spread farther into the building consequently causing more damage than through impact alone (Sommers 13).
Although the damage to the building was extensive some still doubt that the damage to the Pentagon was from the jet, claiming that there were no physical plane parts to prove this. To support this theory, many rely on CNN correspondent Jamie McIntyre’s report from the crash site on 9/11 which states, “From my close up inspection, there’s no evidence of a plane having crashed anywhere near the Pentagon.” N.I.S.T. published a fact sheet focusing solely on conspiracy theories, concluding that they often “depend on circumstantial evidence, facts without analysis or documentation and quotes taken out of context.” (Grossman 4) When McIntyre specified that no debris from the plane was present it was in response to a specific question from CNN anchor Judy Woodruff during a live segment (Mole 37). During the segment there was speculation that the plane may have struck the ground prior to hitting the Pentagon, thus when noted in full, McIntyre’s response makes it evident that he was not implying there was no evidence of the plane at all, but that there was no evidence of the plane hitting the ground first (Mole 37). There are many photos that demonstrate the damage created by the crash on 9/11, and in Popular Mechanics author Allyn E. Kilsheimer describes his own observations at the Pentagon upon arrival:
“I saw the marks of the plane wing on the face of the building. I picked up parts of the plane with the airline markings on them. I held in my hand the tail section of the plane. I held parts of uniforms from crew members in my hands, including body parts.” (Popular Mechanics 2005)
This quote demonstrates what Kilsheimer encountered and dealt with as the first structural engineer to arrive to the site. Additionally, the plane engine along with other major plane parts were discovered approximately 300 ft. away from the crash site, facing the same direction that the plane was headed (Mole 38).
While thus far logical and scientific explanations have been provided as to why the building underwent such extensive damage and why, many conspiracy theorists insist that the building was pre-loaded with demolition and/or deliberately hit with a cruise missile by the U.S. Air Force. The primary logic around this theory is simple: the hole left into the building was only 75ft. wide, while the wingspan of the jet was 124ft. wide (Grossman 2). This is a rational observation to question, and to date no official or credible research is available to confirm why this is so, however an anonymous author publishing a website dedicated to 9/11 research states that:
“We see that the entire left wing damaged the building, and almost the entire wing except for the wing tip entered the building. The right wing just a little past the right engine also entered the building. However the rest of the wing, about two-thirds of the length of the wing, did not. The reason for this was the angle of the wings. The right wing was higher than left; if the wings were leveled, the right wing would have demolished the white construction trailer in addition to the emergency generator next to it.”
The above quote plainly clarifies the damage of the impact and why the hole left behind was not as wide as many were expecting, which was due to the angle of the wings. Although this source is not as reliable as an academic source, it provides a rational explanation as to what the reason was. This is essentially an issue with the Internet being used as a solitary source without academic or scientific research, as some websites may not rely the appropriate information in order to encourage more people to support their cause.
Through the use of the Internet it is fairly convenient for individuals to share their own personal beliefs based on partial facts and impact others researching the same issue, which in turn allows for a wide spread of individuals sharing a common belief (Sommers 14). In 2006, a Scripps-Howard poll of 1,010 adults found that 36% of Americans consider it “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that government officials either allowed the attacks to be carried out or carried out the attacks themselves (Grossman 1). That is a large population of people convinced that their own government would deliberately attack their population to cause mayhem amongst a peaceful nation. It is significant to note that conspiracy thinking is now a normal part of mainstream political media, and a way wherein some of the population choses to deal with a traumatic public event such as 9/11. “We tend to associate major events–a President or princess dying–with major causes,” says Patrick Leman, a lecturer in psychology at Royal Holloway University of London, who has conducted studies on conspiracy belief. “If we think big events like a President being assassinated can happen at the hands of a minor individual, that points to the unpredictability and randomness of life and unsettles us.” (Grossman 4) Sommers and colleagues concluded that conspiracy theories were higher during the Bush administration, but dropped significantly since the election of Barack Obama in 2008.
September 11th of 2001 has been marked as the worst attack on American land to date, and while there is no denying the immense impact of the attacks, the population appears to have been divided. On one side there are those who believe that the attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists and those who believe the attacks were pre-determined and possibly planned by the United States government themselves. Conspiracy theories, though often logical, tend to rely on partial or misunderstood quotes, as occurred with CNN correspondent Jamie McIntyre. While the quote often used to defend conspiracy theories does state that there was no plane near the crash scene, it was in a different context, as he was answering a very direct question being asked by CNN anchor Judy Woodruff during a live segment. The damage caused to the Pentagon is often questioned due to the impact and the size of the hole in the building. Although to date no official information is available as to why, anonymous source online believes that it was due to the angles of the wings on the jet. The confidentiality and anonymity of the web can often cause speculation regarding the credibility of the source. This is extremely significant to remember when reading about conspiracy theories online, as conspiracies are often based on partial or misleading information. There are also psychological explanations as to why conspiracy theories are so alluring, concluding that conspiracies, in a way, are a source of national mourning. With the rise of the Internet one would assume that the world would be able to find the truth through common knowledge and evidence, however it is proving to be merely impossible to create a consensus reality and a single version of the truth.
“Blast and Impact Events.” Pentagon Building Performance Study 2001 . N.p., 11/08/2011. Web. 12 Oct 2011. <www.nist.gov>.
Mole, Phil. “9/11 Conspiracy Theories: The 9/11 Truth Movement in Perspective.” Skeptic. 12.4 (2006): 30-41. Print.
Grossman, Lev. “Why the 9/11 Conspiracy Theories Won’t Go Away.” Time Magazine . 03/09/2006: 1-5. Web. 19 Oct. 2011.
Kilishner, Allen. “9/11: Debunking the Myths.” Popular Mechanics. March, 2005.
Sommers, Scott. “Who Still Believes in 9/11 Conspiracies?.” Skeptic. 13.1 (2011): 13-19. Print.