Tag Archives: September 11

Propaganda in Zero Dark Thirty

            The release of Zero Dark Thirty last weekend raised many concerns amongst U.S. foreign policy scholars and international observers.  Most of these complaints have centered on the film’s portrayal of American torture of al-Qaeda prisoners and other suspected militants in the years following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.  Other writers have analyzed the film’s portrayal of the usefulness of torture, the differences between torture and “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and the long-term affect that such torture has on the so-called War on Terror.  These are all necessary questions to ask and valuable discussions regarding the film, as it appears likely that many present and future Americans will see the film as defining American foreign policy in the War on Terror.  Zero Dark Thirty, however, permits an even larger problem that its audience is probably unaware of: the film portrays itself as historically accurate but only gives an American view of events.   The film depicts Usama bin Laden and al-Qaeda as attacking westerners because they hate western freedoms, though bin Laden clearly listed his political reasons for the attacks in the 1990s.  The film portrays al-Qaeda savagery in attacking western civilians, but ignores the fact the U.S. forces have shrugged off the murder of civilians during its drone assassination program.  The film even defines al-Qaeda savagery in describing the size of bombs used against C.I.A. agents but avoids discussing the size of bombs the U.S. has dropped on Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan’s civilian areas.   Zero Dark Thirty closely resembles basic pro-government propaganda in all of these ways, and viewers should keep its propaganda role in mind while watching and discussing the film.

            Propaganda can only be successful when its creators claim it to be an accurate depiction of fact.  Zero Dark Thirty makes this claim at the outset, telling the audience that the film is based on first hand accounts given by people involved in the story.  The film next legitimizes itself by immediately depicting the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City.  The screen stays black while the audience listens to many cell phone calls made by those that died in the Twin Towers.  Many callers are frightened, which inspires the audience to feel dread and revulsion in knowing that most of those voices were silenced that day.  This is an artistic and inspired way to remind people of the national mood on September 11th that focused on sympathy for the victims and a desire to exert revenge on those that caused such terrible violence.  However, audiences should also notice that the film only gives voice to American victims, completely overlooking the decades of violence the United States has supported throughout the Middle East.  The film does not permit its audiences to hear similar statements of fear, death, and popular anger resulting from American bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or many other Middle Eastern countries.  Zero Dark Thirty legitimizes American victims while ignoring the body count inflicted in the Middle East, contributing to an American myth of its own righteousness in fighting the War on Terror.

            Such overwhelming focus on the American perspective dominates the rest of the film.  One of the worst examples occurs in a scene depicting a C.I.A. office that runs a television in the background.  The scene begins focused on the television, where New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg conveniently states that al-Qaeda attacks the United States because such Muslim extremists hate the freedom that American enjoy in their daily lives.  The filmmakers clearly intend for the audience to hear these statements in order to define al-Qaeda as a savage, repressive force that attacks only in order to destroy personal freedom.  This depiction ignores al-Qaeda’s political foundations explained by Usama bin Laden since the 1990s.  Bin Laden said as early as 1996 that

Terrorising you, while you are carrying arms on our land, is a legitimate and morally demanded duty. It is a legitimate right well known to all humans and other creatures. Your example and our example is like a snake which entered into a house of a man and got killed by him. The coward is the one who lets you walk, while carrying arms, freely on his land and provides you with peace and security. (“Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” 1996, can be viewed at 


He argued the same point in 1998, demanding that

The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.  (“Fatwah Urging Jihad Against Americans,” published in Al-Quds al-‘Arabi on Febuary 23, 1998 at http://www.mideastweb.org/osamabinladen1.htm

Usama bin Laden argued throughout the 1990s that the United States attacked, controlled, and exploited Muslim lands in order to enrich its own companies.  Bin Laden clearly defined al-Qaeda as more than a simple terror organization trying to kill American freedom, but instead as a Muslim revolutionary movement trying to overthrow American tyranny and establish a truly independent Middle East.

            Such statements continued after the September 11th attacks.  Bin Laden’s video messages released in 2003 and 2004 (the exact years depicted in Zero Dark Thirty) openly declared leadership of a Muslim resistance movement. 

I say to the American people we will continue to fight you and continue to conduct martyrdom operations inside and outside the United States until you depart from your oppressive course and abandon your follies and rein in your fools. . . .  And may our mothers become childless if we leave any of you alive on our soil. (“Message to the US,” published October 18, 2003 by al-Jazeera English at http://english.aljazeera.net/English/archive/archive?ArchiveId=40700

Similar ideas were expressed in bin Laden’s offer of a truce to European governments that began removing their military forces from the Middle East:

[W]e would like to inform you that labelling us and our acts as terrorism is also a description of you and of your acts. Reaction comes at the same level as the original action. Our acts are reaction to your own acts, which are represented by the destruction and killing of our kinfolk in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. . . .  I also offer a reconciliation initiative to [Europeans] whose essence is our commitment to stopping operations against every country that commits itself to not attacking Muslims or interfering in their affairs – including the US conspiracy on the greater Muslim world. (“Truce Offer to Europe,” published April 15, 2004 by the BBC at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3628069.stm

Usama bin Laden defined al-Qaeda as a political/military resistance movement from its inception in the 1990s and continued with that definition after the September 11th attacks and the War on Terror that followed.  Zero Dark Thirty ignores all of these statements, choosing instead to focus on the common American misunderstanding of al-Qaeda as seeking to attack the United States out of pure hatred for American freedom.  Zero Dark Thirty therefore perpetuates an American myth born and still advertised by the United States government.  The film’s refusal to question that myth and the film’s portrayal of al-Qaeda’s motivations are hugely disturbing.

            Zero Dark Thirty also goes to great lengths in depicting the savagery of al-Qaeda attacks against civilian populations.  This is most powerful during the opening sequence of September 11th voices, the destruction of a peaceful neighborhood in the London bus bombings of July 2005, and the bombing of a popular American-style restaurant.  The images powerfully motivate audiences to correctly despise al-Qaeda’s willingness to kill civilians.  However, the film also implies American willingness to kill civilians, even children, during the War on Terror.  This is portrayed in several scenes.  The first scenes depicts a C.I.A. meeting in which the main character, a C.I.A. analyst hunting bin Laden, gets a statistical rundown and images of the house that bin Laden used for hiding in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  The analyst is told that the C.I.A. is certain of the age of many people living in the house thanks to satellite images.  The analyst is told that several children live at the compound; they even have pictures of the children playing sword-fighting games around the house.  Several women are also estimated to live at the compound, along with at least two adult men.  A later scene depicts the main character’s first meeting with the SEAL team that would eventually attack the compound and kill bin Laden.  The SEAL team leader seems reluctant to perform the mission because he says that they had been on other missions targeting bin Laden in the past that had been false leads.  The film quickly gives the analyst’s response: she did not even want to involve a SEAL team.  Instead, the female analyst preferred to drop a giant bomb on the house to kill everyone in it.  This statement seems intended as comedy for the audience (and many in the theater laughed at it), even while her face is deadly serious.  However, Zero Dark Thirty also shows its propaganda power: al-Qaeda is depicted as evil for killing civilians, but the C.I.A. is depicted with a righteous and even funny willingness to drop a giant bomb on a house that would likely have killed children and other anonymous adults along with the possibility of killing bin Laden.

            The filmmakers also give some details of terrorist weapons in order to demonize anti-American groups.  One emotional scene depicts the bombing of a C.I.A. interrogation group in Afghanistan, with later news reports defining the bomb used as being a powerful 2,000 pound device.  Other C.I.A. leaders frequently remind viewers throughout the movie that 3,000 American civilians were murdered on September 11th.  The filmmakers clearly included the bomb’s size and American death toll in order to convince audiences that the terrorists are brutal, merciless, and unconcerned for how many people die in their attacks.  However, Zero Dark Thirty again fails to provide context for such information.  The film conveniently skips past the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 along with the hundreds of bombs dropped and the thousands of Iraqi civilians massacred.  The film never discusses American use of unmanned drone airplanes that constantly fly over Afghanistan and Pakistan, dropping scores of bombs that have killed hundreds of civilians.  Emphasizing the American civilian death toll and the terrorists’ use of large bombs while simultaneously ignoring similar death toll and bombing statistics when killing other peoples reveals how closely Zero Dark Thirty resembles the American government’s perspective in the War on Terror.  Audiences can only conclude that the filmmakers made such decisions consciously, and that Zero Dark Thirty approaches government-sponsored propaganda.

            Zero Dark Thirty could be considered an artfully constructed war story due to its main characters’ emotional depth, the honest way that September 11th victims are represented, and for its descriptions of American motivations for fighting.  However, its major weakness emerges when one realizes that the film refuses to project any of these qualities or descriptions onto America’s enemies and the innocents killed in American attacks.  Middle Easterners in general, and al-Qaeda in particular, are portrayed as bloodthirsty, insane, brutal attackers seeking to destroy American freedom by killing as many westerners as possible with the biggest weapons they can get hold of.  Such depictions ignore al-Qaeda’s core complaint against the United States: that the Americans have occupied, oppressed, and exploited Middle Eastern lands and peoples for pure economic profit.  Zero Dark Thirty seems likely to define the War on Terror in the American popular mind, and it is a very scary thing indeed to realize that Americans will likely continue to misunderstand al-Qaeda’s fundamental goal.  Zero Dark Thirty claims to be historically accurate, but its failure to give basic information brings it closer to a piece of American government propaganda.  The C.I.A. should be proud of such an accomplishment.


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Plan for a Green Energy Economy

The world today faces economic challenges of a scale that used to be beyond imagination.  Modern industrial economies have been using oil as their major energy source since the early 1900s.  Political leaders and economists commonly believed that there was so much oil to be found, drilled, and used that worldwide supply would only run out in the distant future, if ever.  Unfortunately, researchers have been warning for the past few decades that the unexpected growth of industry has used up most of the world’s oil supply, to the point that oil is becoming scarce while the size of newly-discovered oil fields have dramatically shrunk.  Today, the world faces the harsh reality that we are running out of oil and will have to change the world economy from being driven by oil to using a new energy source.  Today’s worries over the pollution, health hazards, and climate change associated with fossil fuels makes the need for change even more desperate.

Scientists have been studying many different proposals for new energy sources over the past few decades, and these studies have picked up momentum in just the past few years.  Biofuels (liquid fuel made from vegetation), Ethanol (from corn), Natural Gas Vehicles, Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles (HFCVs), and Battery-Energy Vehicles (BEVs) have been proposed to replace our reliance on gasoline (an oil-based fuel) as the major transportation fuel.  Recent research has proven that Hydrogen (HFCVs) and Battery (BEVs) are most efficient and have the least amount of negative environmental results. (Mark Z. Jacobson, “Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security,” Energy and Environmental Science, 2009, pages 148-149.  The entire article can be read at http://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2009/EE/b809990c)  However, the use of HFCVs and BEVs required the increased use of electricity, which the United States mostly generates by burning coal, natural gas, and nuclear material.  All three of these American electricity sources are dirty, contributing huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) that lead to pollution and climate change.  When one considers that coal and natural gas will also run out eventually, just like oil, we realize that we must also largely replace these U.S. electricity sources with clean, renewable power.

The following pages present a plan to do just that: build a renewable energy infrastructure that would supply all American energy needs projected for the year 2030.  The Plan assumes that most vehicles will be BEVs, so much of the electricity produced will go to charging electric cars.  We can generate enough electricity by relying primarily on wind, water, and solar power, all of which are natural, clean, renewable, and will never run out.  The cost for building such infrastructure will be high (about $16.5 trillion), but well worth the investment.  When compared to U.S. government spending during World War II, the last time the American nation faced a national crisis and successfully overcame it, one realizes that the American government easily has the ability to fund Green Energy construction without breaking its budget.  In fact, after considering the psychological, military, and economic benefits of not having to rely on oil, one realizes that the United States cannot afford to avoid building the Green Energy system for much longer.


Meeting U.S. Energy Demand


Research shows that world energy demand will be 16.9 trillion watts (also known as “terawatts” or TW) by the year 2030.  Research further reveals that U.S. energy demand will be 2.8 TW, or 16.5% of total world demand.  (Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi, “A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030: Wind, water and solar technologies, can provide 100 percent of the world’s energy, eliminating all fossil fuels,” Scientific American, November 2009, page 60)  Jacobson and Delucchi also argue that the total cost of building a renewable energy supply system to meet all world demand will be $100 trillion.  (Jacobson and Delucchi, “A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030,” page 64)  Therefore, we can reasonably estimate the cost of building such a system in the United States alone from these three vital statistics, as the table below shows.

Energy Demand and Infrastructure Costs

Measure                                                   World                     U.S.

Energy Demand in 2030                 16.9 TW             2.8 TW

Percentage of World Demand        100%                   16.5%

Infrastructure Costs (trillion)        $100                    $16.5

According to recent projections, building a worldwide renewable energy system would cost $100 trillion.  If the United States demands 16.5% of world energy, then it will probably cost about $16.5 trillion to construct in the U.S. alone.  That is a huge cost, but within reach once we start planning on how to get the money.


Raising the Money for Green Energy Investment


$16.5 trillion is an intimidating amount of money, about the size of the entire U.S. economy today.  The Federal government is the only body capable of raising so much cash, but the government’s total Debt is already 100% of its economy – which worries many economists.  Therefore, government should not attempt to borrow the money.  Government must find other means of paying for building the massive Green Energy infrastructure, even when we consider that we could break the $16.5 trillion up into ten years of spending at $1.65 trillion per year.  Several options to raise the money exist.

The best funding option is to raise taxes on a group of people that can afford to pay a slight increase and who have enough overall wealth to fund the Green Energy project.  We could raise a 2% tax on Wall Street transaction that would give the government an estimated $1.4 trillion per year.  That leaves $250 billion.  That last amount can be found by creating a $20 tax on every metric ton of carbon pollution created by the fossil fuel industry – which would raise about $118 billion per year while also giving an incentive for energy companies to move away from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity.  That would leave about $132 billion in money to be found per year, which could be taken from the estimated $1.179 trillion per year in revenue raised from a Fair Tax code proposed in the Plan for a Rational Budget (pages 39-42).  In total, we can fully fund the Green Energy project by creating the following system:

Sources of Green Energy Funding

Source                                           Tax Rate                 Revenue (billions $)

Wall Street Tax                              2%                                    1,400

Carbon Tax                            $20/metric ton                        118

Fair Tax Contribution                                                               132

Total                                                                                              1,650

The Wall Street Transaction Tax is capable of raising the $1.65 trillion per year needed to building the Green Energy infrastructure in ten years.  A 2% tax will not destroy the Wall Street class of wealth that currently dominates much of American politics while paying little in current taxes.  Most of the rest of the country pays about 7% in sales taxes, so Wall Street should not complain about paying a 2% tax for 10 years.  In fact, a 2% tax on Wall Street Transactions would mean that an investor looking to buy $10,000 worth of stock would only have to pay $200 in tax!  Such a small fee is obviously affordable to for the rich and will pay most of the cost of building a renewable energy system that will benefit all Americans.  The remaining $250 billion per year can be raised by a new carbon emissions tax and by taking the last leftover amount from the increase in federal revenue if we implement a new, fair tax system suggested in the Plan for a Rational Budget.

The money is there.  We just need to build the political will to tax it and use it for a Green Energy project that will improve the lives of all Americans.  We know that such national will exists because we have seen examples of it during past national emergencies, most clearly and powerfully during World War Two.


The Nation at War


The United States won World War II so decisively because its population largely believed that the war was forced upon them and that it was necessary to rid the world of dictatorship.  Building an expensive and ambitious renewable energy system will require a similar amount of motivation and dedication from most Americans.  American soldiers fought World War II on real battlefields while the American “homefront” fought on a moral battlefield against enemies they viewed as evil.  Americans were particularly motivated by a rage against Japan for its sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in December 1941 (which many still use to justify the destruction of 67 major Japanese cities during the war and the atomic bombings of two more Japanese cities in 1945).  Americans understand that the United States today is faced with similar sneak attacks in the form of international terrorism that struck on September 11, 2001.  Middle-Eastern terrorists are obviously motivated by a desire to force the U.S. to end its meddling in Middle-Eastern countries.  Such meddling is only done to guarantee American access to Middle-Eastern oil reserves, so the best way to end that meddling is to build a domestic U.S. energy production network.  In short, we can defeat Middle-Eastern terrorism by investing in the Green Energy Plan, building an internal energy system, and withdrawing from the Middle-East – which would be far easier, productive, and humane than simply bombing terrorist groups into surrender.

Americans believed in the 1940s war effort because they wanted to save the world from Fascism and dictatorship.  Similarly, today’s Americans should realize that the oil economy creates possibly larger threats to human freedom because reliance on oil has clearly created nearly all of the United States’ current wars.  Oil is also getting more scarce, which means that energy prices (particularly gasoline) will rise dramatically.  Using oil has harmed humanity through pollution’s effects on human health and climate change.  Like World War Two, Americans should view the creation of a Green Energy system as a battle for the future of human freedom from war, scarcity, poverty, and health and environmental damage.

These ideas have been pointed out for many years, even by political leaders.  Even a U.S. president made these comparisons as far back as 1977.  President Jimmy Carter called energy conservation and rebuilding proposals “the moral equivalent of war” (Jimmy Carter, Address to the Nation on Energy, April 18, 1977, which can be read and watched at http://millercenter.org/scripps/archive/speeches/detail/3398).  We can and must win that war in the next 10 years.  We know how much energy we will need, we know the technology already exists to meet those needs, we know how to pay for building the infrastructure, and we know that Americans have risen above similar national challenges in the past.  We only lack the ability to force our political leaders to put the plan into effect.  We may have to change the U.S. electoral and budget systems to gain that power over our politicians.  My suggestions for such changes can be read for free at www.machineryofpolitics.com

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