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There Is No “War on Terror”


 When you stop and take a look at usage of the phrases ‘war on terror’ and ‘war on terrorism’ across a great many public records over many years, something curious turns-up:

 

                                   

                               [A]  Factiva Database — All Items

 

                                         ‘war on terror’
                                         or ‘war on terrorism’

                                     

June 1, 1980 –

September 10, 2001:              1,333

                                              

 

September 11, 2001 -

December 31, 2007:           482,760

 

 

 

                              [B]  New York Times — All Items

 

                                         ‘war on terror’
                                         or ‘war on terrorism’

 

June 1, 1980 –

September 10, 2001:                352      

 

September 11, 2001 -

December 31, 2007:              4,199

 

 

 

These tables depict results using (A) the Factiva database to search for all items archived by it that mentioned the phrases ‘war on terror’ or ‘war on terrorism’ (or both) during the periods defined by the left-hand column, and (B) the Nexis database to carry out the same search but strictly for the pages of the New York Times alone.  The dividing line is determined by the four terrorist events of September 11, 2001: Hence, we have, so to speak, a before 9/11 and an after 9/11.   Before 9/11 (i.e., from June 1, 1980 through September 10, 2001), the Factiva database tells us that it can find among the material loaded into it as many as 1,333 items that mentioned either ‘war on terror’ or ‘war on terrorism’ (or both).  But after 9/11 (i.e., beginning with September 11, 2001, and arbitrarily ending with December 31, 2007), Factiva finds a total of 482,760 items that mentioned one or both of the same phrases.  Likewise with what the Nexis database reports about the New York Times.   Before 9/11, 352 items mentioned either ‘war on terror’ or ‘war on terrorism’ (or both); after 9/11, 4,199 items. 

 

(A quick caveat about these databases: The results mustn’t be taken as anything more than approximations — even if, upon closer inspection, they turn out to be very good approximations.  The reason is that the databases are notorious for counting some items more than once.  One way to eliminate this inexactness is literally by double-checking 100 percent of what the databases report.  As in the present case I have not done so, we must be content to live with the databases’ own findings. — Also, as more material is loaded into these databases or removed from them, the media universes which they archive and search will change over time, and so will the results.)

 

Looking over the dramatic upward-spike in the overall usage of the phrases ‘war on terror’ and ‘war on terrorism’ during the post-9/11 period, the point that I’d want to make is not that it was during this period, and on account of the terrorist attacks of September 11, that the United States and its many allies launched what the American President would soon baptize a war against the "enemy of America," the "radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them," a "war on terror [that] begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there," nor will it "until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."  ("Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People," White House Office of the Press Secretary, September 20, 2001.)

 

On the contrary.  It shows that political figures and historians and journalists and commentators of every stripe simply followed Washington’s lead and started thinking about and talking and writing about the contemporary world according to a greatly expanded system of propaganda in which wars on terror or terrorism are very much in vogue — and dripping from so many mouths.  But that is all.

 

As always, this is a story about the conformity that reigns among the professional classes.  Their groupthink.

 

"There Is No ‘War on Terror’," Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, Electric Politics, January 20, 2008

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