The Illustrated 9/11 Commission Report: It’s not a comic book! It’s a graphic adaptation!

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You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

Over recent days, as yet another 9/11 anniversary has come and gone, I have been trying to trace back how my thinking has evolved since that murky event. Two decades is quite a big chunk of anybody’s life and one’s thinking is bound to evolve. Mine certainly did. Not just about 9/11, mind you, but making sense of that event definitely played a huge role.

Eighteen years ago, my thinking about politics and history was really quite conventional. That is surely why it took me so long to question what we were told. Well, to be clear, I did question things, in particular the so-called “War on Terror”, right from the very start. I recall conversations, tense ones even, in which I told people that the invasion of Afghanistan (and Iraq all the more so) made no sense as a response to the “attacks” of 9/11. However, I now realize that my critique was all within a conventional, approved framework. I did not question the 9/11 narrative itself. For at least six or seven years, I took the official story completely at face value. I must have known vaguely that there were these “9/11 Truthers” out there but I guess I accepted the official line that these people were just a bunch of kooks, “crazed conspiracy theorists”.

So, to my everlasting shame, for about ten years after 9/11, I did not allot even a couple of hours (which is about all it takes) to examining the Truthers’ case. I find that painful to think about but I think it is useful to reconstruct the timeline — and to do so honestly. When I finally did look at the material from Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth it was just absurdly obvious that they were telling the truth.

Well, like most people reading this, I did eventually get there. I finally crossed the proverbial Rubicon, but I can’t say with any certainty why that happened when it did. After all, if I could ignore 9/11 Truth for ten years, presumably I could have ignored it for twenty years or thirty years, right? But, for some reason, I didn’t. Self-observation is very difficult and error-prone. As best I can guess, I finally took the step I did, of factually studying the question, because, in the preceding decade, tensions had been building up in my mind and they reached a critical point that they had to be resolved. Most of that process probably occurred subconsciously.

My Epiphany in a Bookstore. Roger Rabbit prefigured?

In this vein, I have a distinct memory of being in a huge bookstore in downtown Vancouver. This must have been the summer of 2009. One part of the store had various bins of books being sold at deep discounts. It was largely a technical bookstore so a lot of those books were older computer books since those books, in particular, become obsolete so quickly. However, one of the bins was full of copies of the 9/11 Commission Report. I don’t recall the price it was selling at. It must have been a bargain bin price, but I didn’t buy one, though I must have been thinking about it. I recall that I picked one up and was leafing through it for a while, reading different passages, even checking the footnotes. I distinctly recall having a sudden insight: “This is all bullshit! It’s just storytelling!

Actually, I might have even blurted that out loud. To myself. I sometimes do that. If I did, I’m pretty sure nobody was listening. I also recall conversations from around that time where I would ask people: “Doesn’t Osama Bin Laden seem much more like a villain from a James Bond movie than a real person?” In retrospect, I was already on the line of thinking that ultimately led to my first in-depth essay about such topics, where I coined the term “Roger Rabbit narrative”, and spoke of the mental world populated largely (but not exclusively) by cartoon characters. I wrote that essay in early 2016, but the idea had been forming in my mind for some time. I could see that this 9/11 Commission report was dressed up to look like a serious document, extensively footnoted, but I’m sure I knew even then, on a gut level, that any attempt to verify any of it factually would just be a wild goose chase.

Again, it is a bit disturbing to reconstruct the timeline. From that epiphany in the bookstore, it still took me over two years to investigate the claims of the 9/11 Truthers. So, by 2009, eight years after the event, a side of me knew that the 9/11 narrative was “just storytelling” but that was still just at an intuitive level. I knewkinda, sorta… but progress was still slow, maybe because there was another side of me that didn’t want to really know. So I dawdled for another two years — more like two and half years, truth be told, before really engaging in the hard facts about steel-framed high-rise buildings and controlled demolitions, and drawing the unavoidable conclusion.

That’s not a Comic Book! It’s a Graphic Novel!

Last week, a rather whimsical purchase finally arrived in my mailbox. Yes, a copy of the 9/11 Commission Report! But not the one I had scanned through in that bookstore a decade ago. This was the Illustrated 9/11 Commission Report. It is sitting on my desk right now.

I had noticed that a third party bookseller was selling a copy on amazon.co.uk for 1 pound. (About $1.20 US.) Well, the catch was that delivery (to Spain, where I live) was the princely sum of 4 pounds. Even so, I feel I got my money’s worth. Just for starters, I never heard of any government commission report being put out in comic book (excuse me, pictorial) format, so already, on those grounds, it seemed like a novel enough artifact that it ought to be worth owning one. I figured I could leave it on a coffee table and it would be a surefire conversation starter. It also vaguely occurred to me that the book would contain some visuals that could be used as a humorous visual counterpoint in some serious articles. Things like this:

Supposedly, in the time shortly before 9/11, President Bush received a report warning him that “Bin Laden was planning to strike America”. However, he seems to have ignored it, or so they say. Perhaps the moral of the story is that the report should have been in comic book format. Heck, for all I know, with Trump as president, this is now the standard policy. With visuals like this, how could any president ignore the terrorist threat?

To be clear, this illustrated edition of the 9/11 Commission Report is not some rogue effort. It was done with the official backing of the 9/11 Commission and was first published not long after the regular report. There is even a foreword by the commission’s co-chairs, Kean and Hamilton. The foreword is odd because, taken at face value, it could even seem to contain some surprising admissions:

… we are pleased to have the opportunity to bring the work of the 9/11 Commission to the attention of a new set of readers. We commend the talented graphic artists of this edition… We believe that you will find the story of 9/11 a gripping one, whether in narrative or pictorial form… (My emphasis)

Yes, Kean and Hamilton refer to this as a “story”, a “narrative”. Not just a story, but a “gripping” one, no less. Granted, I assume that, if pressed, they would hasten to add that it is a true story. Still, I wonder whether people on the brink of their own “this is just storytelling” epiphany on 9/11, when faced with this comic book pictorial version of the 9/11 Commission Report might be pushed over the edge. When I was in the bookstore, thumbing through the original dense report, I already was suspecting that the whole thing was a comic book, but if the thing actually had been a comic book… literally…

It really does make my head spin. Kean and Hamilton’s foreword ends like so:

… we hope that this graphic version will encourage our fellow citizens to study, reflect, and act.

Offhand, I don’t know what Kean and Hamilton meant by “encouraging their fellow citizens to act“. What do they mean by that? Going shopping? As for studying and reflecting, well, those are good things but one should not overdo it, eh? They must have realized that the original commission report just had too many damned words. (Probably some annoyingly big-ass words too…)

We should encourage our fellow Americans to study and reflect, but we must not overestimate their attention span.

Is there not a strange, ironic aspect to all of this? Of course, Kean and Hamilton are right to say that the pictorial version will reach a swathe of the public that would never read the original report. But is this not double-edged? Granted, on a straight factual level, the 9/11 Commission Report is the same utter bullshit whether in traditional or pictorial format, but on another level, the comic book version is actually conveying (albeit unintentionally) a deep truth that the original document does not. The whole thing is just a story! A story for children… or at least, one directed at rather immature adults… a comic book!

Moreover, that may be the real conceptual hurdle, far more than any details about controlled demolition or the melting point of steel —  just coming to an understanding that this is just storytelling. And that does not apply solely to 9/11 either! The whole thing seems to have an unintentional subversive message. (Or is it unintentional?)

That’s not a doll! It’s an action figure!

Perhaps needless to say, the Illustrated 9/11 Commission Report is never referred to as a “comic book”. That reminded me of something else and a quick search on Google confirmed the suspicion I already held.

I have no idea how many of you ever had one of these:

As I already suspected, Hasbro, the manufacturer of the above-pictured popular toy always took great care never to refer to it as a “doll”, but as an “action figure”, which was a term that they themselves invented! As per Wikipedia:

The conventional marketing wisdom of the early 1960s was that boys would not play with dolls and parents would not buy their sons dolls which have been traditionally a girl’s toy; thus the word “doll” was never used by Hasbro or anyone involved in the development or marketing of G.I. Joe.

The more general Wikipedia page on “action figures” states:

These figures are usually marketed toward boys and adult collectors. The term was coined by Hasbro in 1964 to market G.I. Joe to boys.

Though Wikipedia can be quite unreliable on some subjects, I see no reason to doubt them on this one. To me, it totally rings true that Hasbro (or somebody in their marketing department, to be precise) came up with the term “action figure” to avoid using the dreaded taboo word “doll”.

Boys do not play with dolls. It might look like that, but don’t believe your lying eyes. These are not dolls. They are action figures.

Just as boys do not play with dolls, America does not torture prisoners. This is not torture. It is enhanced interrogation.

So, the Illustrated 9/11 Commission Report is definitely not a comic book. As I recall, a comic book marketed at people who are too old to be reading comic books is usually called a graphic novel, but it’s not that either, because the word “novel” would be admitting that it is a fiction, no? So, this is called a graphic adaptation. The full title on amazon.com is The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. I now realize that my copy is a British edition from Penguin Books that, for some reason, is just called the Illustrated 9/11 Commission Report.

Getting back to G.I. Joe, I am hardly surprised that the product line is now “diverse”. However, I would have guessed that, originally, you could get G.I. Joe in any color as long as that color was white. But actually, I now see that the G.I. Joe product line was first launched in 1964 and the first colored negro black African-American G.I. Joe dates back to 1965. Is it a coincidence that this is about when America’s involvement in the Vietnam war was ramping up? Maybe the Pentagon told Hasbro that black boys should also get the message that war could be lots of fun for them too.

However, I am pretty sure that the Osama Bin Laden action figure only comes in one color.

As for my rhetorical question of whether Bin Laden is a cartoon character, well…

Get with the program! The War on Terror is no cartoon! It’s an animated feature!

Comments from the Discussion Forum

  1. One can get a good, quick education on 9/11 just by reading the reviews on Amazon of readers who gave it just one star: https://www.amazon.com/11-Report-Graphic-Adaptation/product-reviews/0809057395/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_hist_1?ie=UTF8&filterByStar=one_star&reviewerType=all_reviews#reviews-filter-bar. Pity the poor, benighted 5-star reviewers, that is, those who are not paid shills. One must wonder what the ratio is between those two. To have produced a “non-comic” book, the creators have interestig backgrounds:

    Sid Jacobson was the managing editor and editor in chief for Harvey Comics, where he created Richie Rich, and executive editor at Marvel Comics.

    The artist, Ernie Colón , has worked at Harvey, Marvel, and DC Comics. At DC, he oversaw the production of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Blackhawk, and the Flash; at Marvel, Spider-Man.

  2. And while speaking of official 9/11 cartoons, don’t forget Osama bin Laden’s “Mountain Fortress,” which Secretary of Defense took very seriously on Meet the Press:

    Russert: The Times of London did a graphic, which I want to put on the screen for you and our viewers. This is it. This is a fortress. This is a very much a complex, multi-tiered, bedrooms and offices on the top, as you can see, secret exits on the side and on the bottom, cut deep to avoid thermal detection so when our planes fly to try to determine if any human beings are in there, it’s built so deeply down and embedded in the mountain and the rock it’s hard to detect. And over here, valleys guarded, as you can see, by some Taliban soldiers. A ventilation system to allow people to breathe and to carry on. An arms and ammunition depot. And you can see here the exits leading into it and the entrances large enough to drive trucks and cars and even tanks. And it’s own hydroelectric power to help keep lights on, even computer systems and telephone systems. It’s a very sophisticated operation.

    Rumsfeld: Oh, you bet. This is serious business. And there’s not one of those. There are many of those. And they have been used very effectively. And I might add, Afghanistan is not the only country that has gone underground. Any number of countries have gone underground. The tunneling equipment that exists today is very powerful. It’s dual use. It’s available across the globe. And people have recognized the advantages of using underground protection for themselves.

  3. Actually, the whole piece was sort of dancing around a big issue, which is the relationship of the military industrial complex with a whole set of things – comic books certainly, but also lines of toys like G.I. Joe… all kinds of movies as well. Of course, you have the movies that are adapted from comic books, but also there are the action movies. I mentioned James Bond and one thing that those films foster is a kind of obsession with military gadgets, like all the bleeding edge gadgets that Q gives Bond at the start of the movie.

    Or video games, which are a huge business, surely much bigger than the “action figures” which apparently were inaugurated in the sixties. How many of those video games have plot lines about evil terrorist organizations and so on? The video games can exert a much stronger grip on people’s minds than G.I. Joe dolls, I’m sure. But it all may be part of a whole, this sort of mental fabric being woven that corresponds very much to a sort of militaristic world view.

    So, this point about the authors of the 9/11 comic book being important people at Marvel Comics… one gets the feeling it’s all part of a larger whole. That’s a huge topic, and probably the reason that I only hint at all this is because I actually don’t have any particular insider information about the relationship of the MIC to all these things. Actually, come to think of it, maybe rather than talk about all this as having a relationship to the MIC, maybe it’s more precise to say that it simply is part of the MIC. It’s a tough question because we all grew up with these things, and a lot of these movies and such are quite entertaining, but there is maybe this sinister side to all of it too.

  4. Yeah, that graphic of OBL’s mountain fortress is really something that emerges more from the mental world of a comic book or a James Bond movie than reality. So, for the person who can realize that, and who hears Rumsfeld being interviewed and talking about this cartoon construct as something real, that could cause an epiphany of sorts, I suppose. I added a bit of text today. This part was not there yesterday when I first posted this:

    Is there not a strange, ironic aspect to all of this? Of course, Kean and Hamilton are right to say that the pictorial version will reach a swathe of the public that would never read the original report. But is this not double-edged? Granted, on a straight factual level, the 9/11 Commission Report is the same utter bullshit whether in traditional or pictorial format, but on another level, the comic book version is actually conveying (albeit unintentionally) a deep truth that the original document does not. The whole thing is just a story! A story for children… or at least, one directed at rather immature adults… a comic book!

    Moreover, that may be the real conceptual hurdle, far more than any details about controlled demolition or the melting point of steel — just coming to an understanding that this is just storytelling. And that does not apply solely to 9/11 either! The whole thing seems to have an unintentional subversive message. (Or is it unintentional?)

    I had mixed feelings about adding that, because I wasn’t 100% sure it improved the piece, because maybe it could be better just to leave that that point unsaid and let the reader infer it. But finally I said it outright. In a sense, there is something subversive (not intentionally or consciously I suppose) about presenting the official 9/11 story as a comic book, no? How many people could have an eureka moment as a result, like… “Yeah man! That’s what this is! A comic book!”

  5. Interesting story of discovery. Can you remember the specific heureka moment - what part of the 9/11 report exactly you were looking at when it struck you that it was just fiction?

    For me, it was running into a video of the WTC 7 collapse - I guess that is the most common way that people wake up. It is interesting that nobody seems to be really trying to get this thing purged from Youtube.

  6. Can you remember the specific heureka moment - what part of the 9/11 report exactly you were looking at when it struck you that it was just fiction?

    Well, I recall thumbing through the book and reading random passages here and there, but now that I really try to remember more specifically, I think it was particularly passages kind of like: “So-and-so and so-and-so went to Afghanistan and met with Bin Laden and Bin Laden told them that the date of the attacks needed to be advanced and…”

    Things like that… I’d be thinking to myself… Where does this information come from? The hijackers would be dead now so who was at this meeting and reported on it? But, you know, these things are typically footnoted and you look at the footnotes, and… It dawned on me that the whole thing was a kind of self-referential web of storytelling. There was nothing real there.

    Of course, that’s what you’ll find if you try to seriously investigate all sorts of official fairy tales, I suppose. Not just 9/11!

    But anyway, it’s not (to use a dubious automotive analogy) that I went from 0 to 60 in so many seconds. This was already maybe 8 years after the event, and all these doubts had surely been forming in my mind.

    For me, it was running into a video of the WTC 7 collapse…

    Well, in my case, I think what happened is that, by the time I really resolved to look at the scientific case on the building collapses, I had a strong intuitive sense that AE911Truth must be telling the truth, and my finally looking into it, at least 10 years after the event, was kind of just to affirm what my own intuition was telling me about the whole thing.

    It occurs to me just now that something similar happened with the whole Holocaust revisionism issue. Probably by the time I actually resolved to read the revisionist authors, people like Robert Faurisson or Germar Rudolph, I was already close to certain that they were telling the truth!

    That was more recent than 9/11 even. I think my own personal full resolution of the issue was something like 2014 or so.

    Here is something I just remembered. In 2011, the previous time I was in Bavaria actually, in Deggendorf, I visited a high school teacher friend who was chaperoning some American high school students on this language exchange thing, and he mentioned, I think we were sitting in a pastry shop. I think he said to me something like: “You know, some people say…” And I vehemently expressed my belief in the standard Holocaust narrative and he quickly changed the topic.

    What must have happened in the three following years was that I started looking at revisionist history of WW2 generally, and again, I must have had numerous “This is just storytelling” sorts of moments and eventually, you realize that the revisionists are doing real scholarship, and the official historians are more like village priests repeating their bible stories.

  7. Happy 9-11 Jon. And thanks for the essay. That the story is sold for one pound shows, I guess, that the momentum of 9-11 has passed. The story is no longer relevant. But of course it is relevant, as relevant as the sinking of the US Maine is, the Hay market affair, the Tonkin incident, Nayra, etcetera. But it passed anyway. You may not be through with the past, but the past is through with you. Time to move on.

    Now I have easy talking, since I never really cared about 9-11. My interest went to that other event that happened at 10-12. Which is a different incident, as it is a stand alone, a true retalliation of western wars in Muslim countries, perpetrated by some nutcases. After I sorted that out in 2007, I went into a long hibernating sleep, which I told you about, only to wake up when Charlie Hebdo happened. And then I still did not care about 9-11, as I was mesmerized by Chomsky’s argument: ‘Who Cares’ (who did 9-11), but for the wrong reasons. I, on the one hand, really did not care who did 9-11, only that at the time of Charlie Hebdo I sort of lost interest in the official story. On the other hand is Chomsky’s ‘not caring’, which is different. He only does not care when the US government is not held accountable for 9-11. The moment one suggests otherwise, he suddenly cares a lot! Which is the reason why Chomsky’s books are sold at airports, and David Griffin’s books are not.

    Asking who ‘did’ 9-11 and why it has happened, how many bombs were used, who made a killing out of it, is like asking who ‘did’ the bombing of Dresden. Read Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, and you know who ‘did’ 9-11, which is similar as to who ‘did’ Dresden. We all know, even though all of that information is classified as ‘top secret’.

    I really like your analogy that stories like 9-11, Bin Laden, etc are cartoonish stories, maybe even ‘toy stories’. They have their function though, that is: it feels so good to believe in them. Which is a big reason why people do not really look into who did 9-11, or whether people really went to the moon, or whether those nasty Nazi’s truly put 6 Million Jews in the gas chamber. Movies like starship troopers really get it right. That is if you want to make people feel really happy, you have to give them a reason to feel really happy about the flag and the country they serve. It is the whole ‘we are good, they are bad’ motive that makes people feel good about themselves and their country. Why destroy that good feeling? - Maybe it is better to move on and believe another story like the one that the Iranian people are making American life truly expensive as they bomb petrol factories in SA. Doesn’t really sell it for me, but who knows what happens when Petrol stations start to ask 5 euro per liter fuel, because ‘the Iranians made them do it’

    Which sums it up for me: the news of the world, is daily sold at the petrol station where they show how much petrol now costs.

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