Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was a non-teaching day for me. I was home when the phone rang at 9 A.M. It was my daughter, who was on a week’s vacation with her future husband. “Turn on the TV,” she said. “Why?” I asked. “Haven’t you heard? A plane hit the World Trade Tower.”
I turned the TV on and watched a plane crash into the Tower. I said, “They just showed a replay.” She quickly corrected me, “No, that’s another plane.” And we talked as we watched in horror, learning that it was the South Tower this time. Sitting next to my daughter was my future son-in-law; he had not had a day off from work in a year. He had finally taken a week’s vacation so they could go to Cape Cod. He worked on the 100th floor of the South Tower. By chance, he had escaped the death that claimed 176 of his co-workers.
That was my introduction to the attacks. Fifteen years have disappeared behind us, yet it seems like yesterday. And yet again, it seems like long, long ago.
Over the next few days, as the government and the media accused Osama bin Laden and 19 Arabs of being responsible for the attacks, I told a friend that what I was hearing wasn’t believable; the official story was full of holes. It was a reaction that I couldn’t fully explain, but it set me on a search for the truth. I proceeded in fits and starts, but by the fall of 2004, with the help of the extraordinary work of David Ray Griffin and other early skeptics, I could articulate the reasons for my initial intuition. I set about creating a college course on what had come to be called 9/11.
But I no longer refer to the events of that day by those numbers. Let me explain why.
By 2004 I was convinced that the U.S. government’s claims (and The 9/11 Commission Report) were fictitious. They seemed so blatantly false that I concluded the attacks were a deep-state intelligence operation whose purpose was to initiate a national state of emergency to justify wars of aggression, known euphemistically as “the war on terror.” The sophistication of the attacks, and the lack of any proffered evidence for the government’s claims, suggested that a great deal of planning had been involved.
Yet I was chagrined and amazed by so many people’s insouciant lack of interest in researching arguably the most important world event since the assassination of President Kennedy. I understood the various psychological dimensions of this denial, the fear, cognitive dissonance, etc., but I sensed something else as well. For so many people their minds seemed to have been “made up” from the start. I found that many young people were the exceptions, while most of their elders dared not question the official narrative. This included many prominent leftist critics of American foreign policy. Now that fifteen years have elapsed, this seems truer than ever.
So with the promptings of people like Graeme MacQueen, Lance deHaven-Smith, T.H. Meyer, et al., I have concluded that a process of linguistic mind-control was in place before, during, and after the attacks. As with all good propaganda, the language had to be insinuated over time and introduced through intermediaries. It had to seem “natural” and to flow out of events, not to precede them. And it had to be repeated over and over again.
In summary form, I will list the language I believe “made up the minds” of those who have refused to examine the government’s claims about the September 11th attacks and the subsequent anthrax attacks.
1. Pearl Harbor. As pointed out by David Ray Griffin and others, this term was used in September 2000 in The Project for the New American Century’s report, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (p.51). Its neo-con authors argued that the U.S. wouldn’t be able to attack Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. “absent some catastrophic event—like a new Pearl Harbor.” Coincidentally or not, the film Pearl Harbor, made with Pentagon assistance and a massive budget, was released on May 25, 2001, and was a box office hit. It was in the theatres throughout the summer. The thought of the attack on Pearl Harbor (not a surprise to the U.S. government, but presented as such) was in the air despite the fact that the 60th anniversary of that attack was not until December 7, 2001, a more likely release date. Once the September 11th attacks occurred, the Pearl Harbor comparison was “plucked out” of the social atmosphere and used innumerable times, beginning immediately. Even George W. Bush was reported to have had the time to allegedly use it in his diary that night. The examples of this comparison are manifold, but I am summarizing, so I will skip giving them. Any casual researcher can confirm this.
2. Homeland. This strange un-American term, another WW II word associated with another enemy—Nazi Germany—was also used many times by the neocon authors of “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” I doubt any average American referred to this country by that term before. Of course it became the moniker for The Department of Homeland Security, marrying home with security to form a comforting name that simultaneously and unconsciously suggests a defense against Hitler-like evil coming from the outside. Not coincidentally, Hitler introduced it into the Nazi propaganda vernacular at the 1934 Nuremberg rally. Both usages conjured up images of a home besieged by alien forces intent on its destruction; thus preemptive action was in order.
3. Ground Zero. This is a third WWII (“the good war”) term first used at 11:55 A.M. on September 11th by Mark Walsh (aka “the Harley Guy” because he was wearing a Harley-Davidson tee shirt) in an interview on the street by a Fox News reporter, Rick Leventhal. Identified as a Fox free-lancer, Walsh also explained the Twin Towers collapse in a precise, well-rehearsed manner that would be the same illogical explanation later given by the government: “mostly due to structural failure because the fire was too intense.” Ground zero—a nuclear bomb term first used by U.S. scientists to refer to the spot where they exploded the first nuclear bomb in New Mexico in 1945—became another meme adopted by the media that suggested a nuclear attack had occurred or might in the future if the U.S. didn’t act. The nuclear scare was raised again and again by George W. Bush and U.S. officials in the days and months following the attacks, although nuclear weapons were beside the point. But the conjoining of “nuclear” with “ground zero” served to raise the fear factor dramatically. Ironically, the project to develop the nuclear bomb was called the Manhattan Project and was headquartered at 270 Broadway, NYC, a few short blocks north of the World Trade Center.
4. The Unthinkable. This is another nuclear term whose usage as linguistic mind control and propaganda is analyzed by Graeme MacQueen in the penultimate chapter of The 2001 Anthrax Deception. He notes the patterned use of this term before and after September 11th, while saying “the pattern may not signify a grand plan. . . . It deserves investigation and contemplation.” He then presents a convincing case that the use of this term couldn’t be accidental. He notes how George W. Bush, in a major foreign policy speech on May 1, 2001, “gave informal public notice that the United States intended to withdraw unilaterally from the ABM Treaty”; Bush said the U.S. must be willing to “rethink the unthinkable.” This was necessary because of terrorism and rogue states with “weapons of mass destruction.” PNAC also argued that the U.S. should withdraw from the treaty. A signatory to the treaty could only withdraw after giving six months notice and because of “extraordinary events” that “jeopardized its supreme interests.” Once the September 11th attacks occurred, Bush rethought the unthinkable and officially gave formal notice on December 13th to withdraw the U.S. from the ABM Treaty. MacQueen specifies the many times different media used the term “unthinkable” in October 2001 in reference to the anthrax attacks. He explicates its usage in one of the anthrax letters—“The Unthinkabel” [sic]. He explains how the media that used the term so often were at the time unaware of its usage in the anthrax letter since that letter’s content had not yet been revealed, and how the letter writer had mailed the letter before the media started using the word. He makes a rock solid case showing the U.S. government’s complicity in the anthrax attacks and therefore in the Sept 11th attacks. While calling the use of the term “unthinkable” in all its iterations “problematic,” he writes, “The truth is that the employment of ‘the unthinkable’ in this letter, when weight is given both to the meaning of this term in U.S. strategic circles and to the other relevant uses of the term in 2001, points us in the direction of the U.S. military and intelligence communities.” I am reminded of Orwell’s point in 1984: “a heretical thought—that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc—should be literally unthinkable, at least as far as thought is dependent on words.” Thus the government and media’s use of “unthinkable” becomes a classic case of “doublethink.” The unthinkable is unthinkable.
5. 9/11. This is the key usage that has reverberated down the years around which the others revolve. It is an anomalous numerical designation applied to an historical event, and obviously also the emergency telephone number. Try to think of another numerical appellation for an important event in American history. The future editor of The New York Times and Iraq war promoter, Bill Keller, introduced this connection the following morning in a NY Times op-ed piece, “America’s Emergency Line: 911.” The linkage of the attacks to a permanent national emergency was thus subliminally introduced, as Keller mentioned Israel nine times and seven times compared the U.S. situation to that of Israel as a target for terrorists. His first sentence reads: “An Israeli response to America’s aptly dated wake-up call might well be, ‘Now you know.’” By referring to September 11th as 9/11, an endless national emergency became wedded to an endless war on terror aimed at preventing Hitler-like terrorists from obliterating us with nuclear weapons that could create another ground zero or holocaust. It is a term that pushes all the right buttons evoking unending social fear and anxiety. It is language as sorcery; it is propaganda at its best. Even The Journal of 9/11 Studies uses the term that has become a fixture of public consciousness through endless repetition. As George W. Bush would later put it as he connected Saddam Hussein to “9/11” and pushed for the Iraq war, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” All the ingredients for a linguistic mind-control smoothie had been blended.
I have concluded—and this is impossible to prove definitively at this time because of the nature of such propagandistic techniques—that the use of all these words/numbers is part of a highly sophisticated linguistic mind-control campaign waged to create a narrative that has lodged in the minds of hundreds of millions of people and is very hard to dislodge. It is why I don’t speak of “9/11” any more. I refer to those events as the attacks of September 11, 2001. But I am not sure how to undo the damage.
Lance deHaven-Smith puts it well in Conspiracy Theory in America. “The rapidity with which the new language of the war on terror appeared and took hold; the synergy between terms and their mutual connections to WW II nomenclatures; and above all the connections between many terms and the emergency motif of “9/11” and “9–1–1”—any one of these factors alone, but certainly all of them together—raise the possibility that work on this linguistic construct began long before 9/11. . . . It turns out that elite political crime, even treason, may actually be official policy.”
Needless to say, his use of the words “possibility” and “may” are in order when one sticks to strict empiricism. However, when one reads his full text, it is apparent to me that he considers these “coincidences” part of a conspiracy. I have also reached that conclusion. As Thoreau put in his underappreciated humorous way, “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”
The evidence for linguistic mind control, while the subject of this essay, does not stand alone, of course. It underpins the actual attacks of September 11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks that are linked. The official explanations for these events by themselves do not stand up to elementary logic and are patently false, as proven by thousands of well-respected professional researchers from all walks of life—i.e., engineers, pilots, architects, and scholars from many disciplines. To paraphrase the prescient Vince Salandria, who said it long ago concerning the assassination of President Kennedy, the attacks of 2001 are “a false mystery concealing state crimes.” If one objectively studies the 2001 attacks together with the language adopted to explain and preserve them in social memory, the “mystery” emerges from the realm of the unthinkable and becomes utterable. “There is no mystery.” How to communicate this when the corporate mainstream media serve the function of the government’s mockingbird (as in Operation Mockingbird) repeating and repeating the same narrative in the same language; that is the difficult task we are faced with.
Words have a power to enchant and mesmerize. Linguistic mind-control, especially when linked to traumatic events such as the September 11th and anthrax attacks, can strike people dumb and blind. It often makes some subjects “unthinkable” and “unspeakable” (to quote Jim Douglass quoting Thomas Merton in JFK and the Unspeakable: the unspeakable “is the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said.”).
We need a new vocabulary to speak of these terrible things.
This article originally appeared at the Journal of 9/11 Studies.
Edward Curtin is a sociologist and writer who teaches at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and has published widely.