It evokes a tragedy that marks an epoch. From
the outset, the warfare state has exploited "9/11," a label at once
too facile and too laden with historic weight – giving further power to
the tacit political axiom that perception is reality.
Often it seems that media coverage is all about perception, especially when
the underlying agendas are wired into huge profits and geopolitical leverage.
If you associate a Big Mac or a Whopper with a happy meal or some other kind
of great time, you're more likely to buy it. If you connect 9/11 with a
need for taking military action and curtailing civil liberties, you're
more likely to buy what the purveyors of war and authoritarian government have
been selling for the past half-dozen years.
"Sept. 11 changed everything" became a sudden cliché in news
media. Words are supposed to mean something, and those words were – and
are – preposterous. They speak of a USA enthralled with itself while reducing
the rest of the world (its oceans and valleys and mountains and peoples) to
little more than an extensive mirror to help us reflect on our centrality to
the world. In an individual, we call that narcissism. In the nexus of media
and politics, all too often, it's called "patriotism."
What happened on Sept. 11, 2001, was extraordinary and horrible by any measure.
And certainly a crime against humanity. At the same time, it was a grisly addition
to a history of human experience that has often included many thousands killed,
en masse, by inhuman human choice. It is simply and complexly a factual matter
that the U.S. government has participated in outright mass murders directly
– in, for example, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Panama, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan,
Iraq – and less directly, through aid to armies terrorizing civilians in
Nicaragua, Angola, East Timor, and many other countries.
The news media claim to be providing context. But whose? Overall, the context
of Uncle Sam in the more perverse and narcissistic aspects of his policy personality.
The hypocrisies of claims about moral precepts and universal principles go beyond
the mere insistence that some others "do as we say, not as we do."
What gets said, repeated, and forgotten sets up kaleidoscope patterns that can
be adjusted to serve the self-centered mega-institutions reliably fixated on
maintaining their own dominance.
Media manifestations of these patterns are frequently a mess of contradictions
so extreme that they can only be held together with the power of ownership,
advertising, and underwriting structures – along with notable assists from
government agencies that dispense regulatory favors and myriad pressure to serve
what might today be called a military-industrial-media complex. Our contact
with the world is filtered through the mesh of mass media to such a great extent
that the mesh itself becomes the fabric of power.
The most repetitious lessons of 9/11 – received and propagated by the
vast preponderance of U.S. news media – have to do with the terribly asymmetrical
importance of grief and of moral responsibility. Our nation is so righteous
that we are trained to ask for whom the bell tolls. Rendered as implicitly divisible,
humanity is fractionated as seen through red-white-and-blue windows on the world.
Posing outside cycles of violence and victims who victimize, the dominant vision
of Pax Americana has no more use now than it did six years ago for W.H. Auden's
observation: "Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return."
We ought to know. But we Americans are too smart for that.