Posted by: Harold Knight | 12/07/2009

The Day That Shall Live in Infamy. Sarah Palin, Donald Rumsfeld, David Ray Griffin, and “My explanation is the Evidence”

In Miss Swanson’s fourth grade class at Longfellow Grade (not “primary”) School in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, I was the object of verbal abuse, being called “teacher’s pet” and worse by my friends (names related to my having begun to be fat). One day Miss Swanson complicated the situation by announcing to the class, with anger so great her chin trembled, that she did “not have favorites.” Her little white lie only made matters worse. By that time I was frequently having seizures, and, since I couldn’t tell anyone the way I felt, my spacing out then doing weird things to make myself feel connected to myself appeared to be inattentiveness in class. The seizures also gave me the gift of working fast so when they hit, I’d be finished with my work and not have to concentrate. I spent a lot of time in the library reading. 

One of my favorite books was an irreverent American history book. I wish I knew how to find a copy. It was unsettling and exhilarating to read. The gist of the writing was that almost everything we were learning in American history was candy-coated and perhaps plain wrong. The book had cartoon illustrations that probably gave me a truer picture of American history than any kid gets today. The one I remember most clearly was a couple of brothers duking it out in a boxing ring. The caption was, “Civil? Is this “civil?” referring, of course, to our use of language to make events appear to be what they are not. “Civil,” the book wanted me to understand, has more than one meaning, and we ought to be a little careful about attaching one meaning to any given word—attaching “civil” to “war,” for example. 

December 7, 1941, as every schoolgirl in America knows, the armed forces of the Empire of Japan attacked U.S. military installations at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Hawaii was, as every schoolgirl also knows, a “territory” of the United States. The annexation of Hawaii—a sovereign nation—was not a treaty between two nations, but as “resolution” of the Congress of the United States. The monarch of Hawaii had no say. Congress, at the request of a few Hawaiian corporation officials, voted the “resolution” in 1898, and forty-three years later came the Day of Infamy—because the American military was hunkered down in a place it should not have been? I know, it sounds like conspiracy theory all over again. Adm. Robert Theobald notwithstanding, that’s not what I’m saying. I doubt (I know) FDR did not plan the attack on Pearl Harbor. But imperialists will get what they deserve.

There. One topic in the title dealt with.

Sarah Palin went to college one semester at Hawaii Pacific College. She says in Going Rogue she stayed only one semester because “Hawaii was a little too perfect. Perpetual sunshine isn’t necessarily conducive to serious academics for eighteen-year-old Alaska girls.” In an article in The New Yorker, Sam Tanenhaus reports “the presence of so many Asians and Pacific Islanders made her uncomfortable.” He quotes Palin’s father Chuck Heath saying, “They were a minority type thing and it wasn’t glamorous, so she came home.” **

She could not stay in a place where all those minority folk “made her uncomfortable.” Anyone who follows politics knows about her racism. No blacks on her staff and proud of it. Never knew a black or an Asian in Alaska (even if her husband is “part Yupik Eskimo”). You know all of that (or do your own Googling). The point is, to quote a further catty comment from The New Yorker (being catty does not make it untrue),

Palin’s discomfort is easy to understand. Race is often the subtext of populist campaigns; their most potent appeal is to whites who are feeling under siege by changing economic and cultural conditions. Palin’s strength with this constituency can only have grown since the last election. ** 

Second topic dealt with.

The next topic. In a News Briefing at the Department of Defense on February 12, 2002 (notice the proximity in date to 9/11/2001), Secretary Rumsefeld said,

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones. ***

Third topic dealt with.

David Ray Griffin wants to prove what Donald Rumsfeld says is the most difficult information to prove: the information we don’t know we don’t know. Griffin is obsessed with “unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Griffin is adamantly convinced that we know (or would if we opened our eyes) what we don’t know: Donald Rumsfeld was (most likely) part of the conspiracy that planned the 9/11 attacks. The Second Day That Shall Live in Infamy. 

In an article outlining his belief that the “neo-cons” in the Bush Administration planned and carried out the attacks on The Second Day That Shall Live in Infamy, Griffin quotes a “report” of a commission headed by Donald Rumsfeld:  

History is replete with instances in which warning signs were ignored and change resisted until an external, “improbable” event forced resistant bureaucracies to take action. . . . whether, as in the past, a disabling attack against the country and its people—a “Space Pearl Harbor”—will be the only event able to galvanize the nation and cause the U.S. Government to act.****

Here’s Griffin’s “logic.” Because Rumsfeld’s report says “a disabling attack against the country” is the only way to galvanize the people to become an “empire,” it follows that Rumsfeld (or at least his buddies) planned the 9/11 attacks. The old Post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”) logical fallacy, of which every Freshman’s writing is replete. ***** 

The Day That Shall Live in Infamy, Sarah Palin, Donald Rumsfeld, David Ray Griffin, and “My explanation is the Evidence” all rely on two logical fallacies: “after this, therefore because of this,” (read any rhetoric textbook) and “arguments relying solely on unsubstantiated explanations are generally weak.”  ****** 

In their article (which I’ve quoted before) Brem et al aver that

The power of explanations to lead to overconfidence and error is termed the “explanation effect.” When participants generate an explanation to account for some event, the perceived probability that this event will occur increases substantially. Explanations are so influential that participants continue to give them weight even in the absence of supporting evidence or when the supporting evidence has been thoroughly discredited.

Congress voted in 1898 to explain Hawaii’s desire to become a US territory. Sarah Palin explained that the President is not a US citizen and health reform will result in “death panels.” Donald Rumsfeld explained that we simply cannot know what we do not know about the attacks of 9/11. David Griffin continues to explain that his explanation of the events for which Rumsfeld says we have no evidence is evidence. 

In the meantime we all go about living in the shadow of those whose explanations masquerade as the evidence that guides our social contract. Living?
** Tanenhaus, Sam. “North Star: Populism, politics, and the Power of Sarah Palin.” The New Yorker. December 7, 2009.
**** Report of the Commission to Assess U.S. National Security Space Management and Organization. (
***** Griffin, David Ray. “Neocon Imperialism, 9/11, and the Attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq.” Information Clearing House. 02/27/07
****** Brem, Sarah K., and Lance J. Rips. “Explanation and Evidence in Informal Argument.” Cognitive Science 24.4 (2000): 573.


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