War of the Words
"In a Knight Ridder poll, 44 percent of Americans reported that either ‘most’ or ‘some’ of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. The answer is zero." (Christian Science Monitor, March 13, 2003)
October 30 marks 65 years since a 23-year-old Orson Welles set off a nationwide panic over a fictional Martian invasion. The Sunday evening radio show began with this announcement: "The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the air in ‘War of the Worlds’ by H.G. Wells." But who listens to such details? What the public did focus on was "Professor Farrell of the Mount Jenning Observatory" talking about explosions detected on the planet Mars followed by reports of a large "meteor" crashing into a farmer’s field in Grovers Mills, New Jersey.
—- Fifty-one percent of Americans believe it very likely that Saddam Hussein has provided assistance to Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network. (September 2003) —-
Gathered rapt around their radios, Americans learned a Martian had emerged from a large metallic cylinder at the New Jersey crash site. "Good heavens," the actor/reporter declared, "something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now here’s another and another one and another one. They look like tentacles to me…I can see the thing’s body now. It’s large, large as a bear. It glistens like wet leather. But that face, it…it…ladies and gentlemen, it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it; it’s so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate."
The broadcast continued as Martians mounted walking war machines, fired "heat-ray" weapons, sprayed poisonous black gas, and quickly disposed of 7,000 National Guardsman. By the time it was reported that similar Martian cylinders landed in Chicago and St. Louis, the panic had begun.
—- Thirty-four percent of Americans said they believed that the US had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. (June 2003) —-
According to the Museum of Hoaxes website, "Some people loaded blankets and supplies in their cars and prepared to flee the Martian invaders. One mother in New England reportedly packed her babies and lots of bread into a car, figuring that ‘if everything is burning, you can’t eat money, but you can eat bread.’ Other people hid in cellars, hoping that the poisonous gas would blow over them. One college senior drove forty-five miles at breakneck speed in a valiant attempt to save his girlfriend."
An Indianapolis woman ran into a church screaming, "New York has been destroyed! It’s the end of the world! Go home and prepare to die!"
—- Sixty-nine percent of Americans said it was likely that Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. (September 2003) —-
Dorothy Thompson wrote about "The War of the Worlds" broadcast in the New York Tribune: "All unwittingly, Mr. Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater of the Air have made one of the most fascinating and important demonstrations of all time. They have proved that a few effective voices, accompanied by sound effects, can convince masses of people of a totally unreasonable, completely fantastic proposition as to create a nation-wide panic. They have demonstrated more potently than any argument, demonstrated beyond a question of a doubt, the appalling dangers and enormous effectiveness of popular and theatrical demagoguery."
MICKEY Z. is the author of Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of "The Good War". He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.