9/11. The number still rings in the mind as if chosen to act as a Pavlovian trigger: Outrage, anger, paranoia, retribution. A shadowy band of religious zealots fly not one, but two commercial airliners into the heart of America’s financial community while others deal a deadly blow to the Pentagon. It was a Hollywood movie, an act of war rivaling Pearl Harbor. Why did it happen? Who would do this to Americans, to America? How could a band of ragged terrorists plotting from a cave in faraway Afghanistan have accomplished such a complex task given the size and pervasiveness of the largest and most expensive military/intelligence apparatus in the history of the world? And even more curiously, why would Islamic radicals give the ideology-driven neoconservative administration of George W. Bush exactly the pretext they needed to launch a bloody invasion and further occupation of the Middle East?
According to the official narrative, 9/11 was an attack on everything American and in so doing changed everything about America. Like Kafkaesque characters who’d suddenly found themselves on the other side of a Cold War “Iron Curtain” mirror, Americans would now have to “watch what they say and watch what they do,” open up to questioning or face jail when prodded by squinty-eyed border guards and forsake any hope of privacy or dignity in a new world of electronic spies and full body scans. Former National Security Advisor, Admiral John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness program would be enacted and a preexisting “Patriot Act” would be signed into law to clamp down on dissent and real or imagined domestic terrorism.
Some careful observers like Anthony Lewis of the New York Times hadalready noticed the bizarre coup-like changes coming over Washington in the months leading up to the attack as the George W. Bush administration inaugurated radical shifts in domestic and foreign policy that seemed un-American and alien to anything that had gone before. But those concerns would soon be forgotten in the race for revenge.
9/11 would ultimately give President George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisors all the public approval they needed to transform America and invade Afghanistan and Iraq to cleanse the world of evil in an endless “war on terror.” In the end it would turn America’s reputation for racial and religious tolerance, military invincibility and economic dominance on its head.
Looking back on the carnage of the last ten years it’s easy to see how the psychology of 9/11 changed America. What’s not easy to see is how a long standing campaign of covert psychological warfare built up since the early days of World War II had made the slow destruction of American democracy and the ascension of rule by secrecy inevitable, long before the planes ever left the runway on 9/11.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” -Dr. Joseph Goebbels
As chief propagandist for the Nazi Party, Joseph Goebbels system of black propaganda not only helped Hitler’s rise to power but kept him there by utilizing near-hypnotic powers over the German people even after the consequences of his disastrous failures had become obvious.
To counter Goebbels’ propaganda theatre emanating from Nazi party headquarters at Munich’s Braunes Haus (Brown House), an organization named Freedom House was founded in New York City in 1941. Fronted by American celebrities and public luminaries such as Eleanor Roosevelt, the brains behind the outfit was Leo Cherne, the psychological warfare specialist/co-founder of the Research Institute of America (RIA), which would much later be labeled the “CIA for businessmen.”
If anyone was a match for Goebbels mastery of the black arts of psychological warfare it was Cherne. In 1938 Cherne had published a guide to industrial mobilization in Adjusting Your Business to War, prophetically forecasting the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 and on September 1st of that year completed a 3000-page report titled, Industrial Mobilization Plans for World War II, the very day that German troops crossed into Poland.
That same year Cherne asked a young protégé named William J. Casey, the future director of the CIA, “How do you take a country like ours, stuck in depression, and convert it into an arsenal?” Their combined answer was the loose-leaf book called The War Coordinator. Cherne and Casey’s psychological warfare campaign would establish a narrative that didn’t just embrace freedom as its major theme, in their minds their ideas would actually become Freedom and through the use of propaganda would grow and harden over the decades into an impenetrable shield-like narrative of American triumphalism.
Cherne’s prophecies on war and business attained a near mystical quality and over the decades following World War II he would attract the most powerful and influential figures in American business and politics to his causes. A listing of Freedom House trustees on its 50th anniversary in 1991 includes people as diverse as Kenneth L. Adelman, Andrew Young, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Albert Shanker, Donald Rumsfeld and James Woolsey. It has since become an exclusive neoconservative bastion.
Freedom House’s narrative is no less than the narrative of the American century where, “It has fought on the side of freedom and against aggressors in struggles that can be evoked by simple words and phrases: the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, NATO, Hungarian Freedom Fighters, the Berlin Wall, the Prague Spring…” and of course Afghanistan.
We experienced Freedom House’s simple words and phrases and their dark influence on the major media in the spring of 1983 in a televised Nightline program following a trip to Afghanistan with Harvard Negotiation Project Director, Roger Fisher. We had brought Fisher to Afghanistan to explore the possibilities of a Soviet withdrawal of forces and discovered the Soviets were desperate to get out. But instead of expanding on Fisher’s efforts to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan, host Ted Koppel undermined the very premise of the discussion by introducing a political officer of the Jamaat-i Islami, which Koppel described as “an anti-communist resistance group based in Pakistan. He is here in the United States under the auspices of two American organizations, concerned with democracy in Afghanistan, the Afghan Relief Committee and Freedom House.”
Had Koppel and Freedom House really been concerned about democracy in Afghanistan, their choice of the Jamaat-i Islami could not be viewed as anything but the darkest of black propaganda, an outright lie.
Originally founded by the Pakistani theologian Abul Ala Maudidi in 1941, the goal of the Jamaat-i Islami was more than just that of gaining political representation for radical Islamists. The Jamaat was to be an all-embracing, extremist Islamic Society, crafted through the strictest interpretation of Islamic law, as a replacement for a modern western-style democracy.
Through the help of the mainstream media during the 1980s the psychological war promoted by Freedom House and Ronald Reagan’s C.I.A. director William J. Casey held the Soviets in Afghanistan for an additional six years, destabilized Central Asia, encouraged the growth of the largest heroin operation in history and enabled the rise of the very Islamic extremists that allegedly planned and carried off the attacks on 9/11.
Ten years after 9/11 Afghanistan remains the center of a growing Islamic insurgency and the longest war in American history. The success of America’s seventy year old psychological warfare campaign, where the lie became the truth and the truth became the enemy of the state, has now so disorientated America’s institutional thinking that we have reached the moment when the state can no longer shield the American people from the consequences of that lie.
Follow us as we go deeper into the creation of the Afghan narrative and the broader implications of the side effects of psychological warfare on the American people in our next piece, “Building the Afghan Narrative with Black Propaganda, The Process is Revealed.”
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are the authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story and Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire, both published in the Open Media Series by City Lights Books, www.citylights.com.