Yesterday I unintentionally got in a conversation with a radical. I didn’t mean to. I try to avoid radicals like the plague, but he looked harmless and needed help navigating the subway. It started as a simple pro-Bush rant glowing of how well he protects us from terrorism. A full lecture on 9/11 followed. I sat and listened, gritting my teeth, staying silent as the allegations became more and more wackjob. The crowning moment was the fact that the Clinton administration knew about the plans for the World Trade Center attacks kept it a secret from the Bush administration out of spite and malice.
The train slows down for a stop; it’s not mine. I have time…a lot of time, so I decided to play along for the sake of conversation.
“I’m surprised that a secret known by that many people wouldn’t have leaked to the next administration by someone.”
He of course had an answer for that.
“That would be true if the entire administration knew about it. Only four other people…and exactly four other people…besides the Clintons* had knowledge of the attack, and only one of them stayed on to the Bush administration.” He cites a name that I probably should know as an American, but don’t. He continues, “so it was easy for that one person to keep it a secret.”
*I kind of love the fact that he kept referring to Hilary as one of the “inner six”; even though the President’s cabinet didn’t know about 9/11, the first lady surely did.
“Really?” I ask, dropping the playing-along facade a bit. “I find it hard to believe that only six people in our entire government knew about the 9/11 attacks and it didn’t manage to spread to a single person more.”
“My friend, don’t find anything hard to believe.”
There it is. He actually repeated it in case I missed this nugget of golden advice.
“Don’t find anything hard to believe.”
This is the worst advice anyone has ever given me…probably could give anyone. We are being trained subconcsiously to take this advice, but I’ve never heard anyone actually state it as advice to be followed. I would go so far as to say that most of the problems of the world are caused by zealots that believe things unquestionably, and I don’t use zealots with strictly a religious connotation. Any person in power or that gives power to another because of unquestioning faith in anything, religious or otherwise, is dangerous. I’ve found a healthy amount of doubt in any situation will usually bear positive fruit.
In fact, isn’t it impossible to not finding anything hard to believe? Unfortunately L’esprit de l’escalier being what it is I didn’t think to say, “Good advice. I won’t find anything hard to believe. I don’t it hard to believe that only five people in this country had knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. That feels good. I don’t find it hard to believe that the 9/11 attacks never happened. Wait a second…” until I was heading up the escalator away from him. You can’t find two conflicting things easy to believe. You can find two conflicting things hard to believe, and you should before taking any critical measure.
Let’s look back at history at the top ten things I wish the we as Americans had found hard to believe:
1: “President Andrew Johnson, we find it easy to believe that freed-men’s basic rights of citizenship will be recognized in the south.”
2: “President Lyndon Johnson, we find it easy to believe that the Desoto patrol was attacked by the North Vietnamese.”
3: “President Eisenhower, we find it easy to believe that Americans would never violate Soviet airspace.”
4: “President Wilson, we find it easy to believe that membership in the League of Nations will threaten the sovereignty of the United States.”
5: “President Nixon, we find it easy to believe that an FBI investigation into presidential affairs could cause national security risks.”
6: “President Madison, we find it easy to believe that the British are instigating American Indians on the frontier to attack American settlements.”
7: “President Jefferson, we find it easy to believe that a self-imposed prohibition on trade with Europe will improve our economy.”
8: “President Kennedy, we find it easy to believe that the targets of the Bay of Pigs invasion are modern fighter aircraft and rockets that endanger America’s security.”
9: “President Reagan, we find it easy to believe that the United States didn’t exchanged arms for hostages.”
10: “President Bush, we find it easy to believe that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.”
In each of these cases if we found what the president told us hard to believe, perhaps we would have called them to account before they acted…perhaps a healthy dose of doubt in our nation could have avoided some of the most regrettable actions that our country has taken.