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Outside threats

Government | For all its power, the federal government cannot manipulate events

Issue: "Fighting fatalism," July 12, 2014

The news that jihadists are trying to take over Iraq follows hard on the exchange of POW Bowe Bergdahl for five al-Qaeda fighters. There’s no direct connection between these two events, but taken together they give me a bad feeling about how ready we are to face another threat, possibly on the order of 9/11.

Months after that long-ago day in September, the “news” leaked out that our government knew all about the attacks ahead of time. “An inside job,” whispered the knowledgeable few. With our nation gearing up for war and proposing to take the fight to the jihadists, whispers became the murmuring hive of a cottage industry: “9/11 Truthers,” with websites and videos and supposed sworn documentation from experts. We were going into Iraq for the oil, to enrich Wall Street fat cats who own this administration as much as they owned the last.

A classic conspiracy theory took shape, constructed on the deductive model of framing a big picture, then selecting facts to support it. The internet is a conspiracy gold mine: Every possible contributing factor is piled in a heap, and a good search engine makes tracking them down the work of an afternoon. A website and a string of academic credentials behind one’s name can make a case seem so convincing a reader could easily overlook how impossible it is on its face.

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For example: To pull off a conspiracy on the order of 9/11 would have required hundreds of carefully coordinated details and thousands of co-conspirators, all of whom have kept their silence. It also would have required a complicit media passing up the opportunity to discredit a Republican president. Given the government’s competence in administering programs new and old (see Obamacare and the VA), an “inside job” of this magnitude seems like a stretch. Occam’s razor applies: Among competing hypotheses, the one that requires the fewest assumptions is usually the best.

But I’ve been amazed how many intelligent, learned, godly acquaintances joined the ranks of truthers. “Governments always lie,” a dear brother told me. Indeed they do; lying is pretty much universal. The United States has tarnished its Shining City aspirations often enough, and it’s reasonable to expect people in power to be interested in more power. But “the U.S. government” is not a monolith; it’s a hodgepodge of agencies and individuals trying to justify their jobs while attending to appointed tasks. This is a terrible way to do business, but also a terrible way to run a conspiracy.  

Bowe Bergdahl was raised in a Calvinist homeschool family associated with a Reformed church. To judge by journal writings and emails, he harbored a profound cynicism about his country. I don’t know how he came by it, but he’s far from alone: The cynics come to church, live next door, sit at the family dinner table. They are responsible citizens who have become jaded. I understand their disillusionment with a federal government that has, especially lately, done much to disillusion. Still, the feds can’t manipulate world events—the outside threat is truly outside, and truly threatening.

America, with all its faults, still stands for a positive force in the world. To acknowledge this is not to put our trust in princes (Psalm 146:3) or indulge in mindless flag-waving. With the Middle East blowing up and violent hands seizing powerful weapons, backing off (morally, if not militarily) is not an option. But between the heedless majority and the disenchanted minority, America is in danger of losing both will and confidence. If that happens, God help us.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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