Eleven years ago, a commercial airplane impeded itself right into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Many were killed and New York became a center of chaos, disorder and destruction. Destruction caused by the terrorists behind it. The symbol of the terrorist is one that has invoked fear in the hearts and minds of the American population for years since the September 11th attacks. Subsequently, this has caused an age of stereotype associated with such a symbol and the American government has had a huge role to play in the manifesting of such myth. The Presidental address, delivered by George W. Bush, himself, and an interview at Camp David with Vice President Dick Cheney both express views of class in conjunction with the 9/11 tragedy. They use their rhetoric as a means of swaying the people of the world into a patriotic state of mind benefiting in their favor.
President Bush starts his speech—which is more of a performance when it comes down to the nitty-gritty—with an attempt at awakening American patriotism within the hearts of the many people worldwide who may be tuning in. Immediately, he starts talking about the bravery of the Americans involved, expressing that: “We have seen it in the courage of passengers, who rushed terrorists to save others on the ground…”and throughout the speech he continues with praises of the American people, such as: “We’ve seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers…we have seen the decency of a loving and giving people who have made the grief of strangers their own.”
This patriotism evokes the image of the “working-class hero”; it glorifies concepts of brotherhood and togetherness and emphasizes that most who have had a hand in dealing with the terrorist attacks were indeed a working-class population. Three individuals throughout the piece are
exemplified, and some even put on display, in a sense, to convey an air of validity and reality. Todd Beamer is an example, who is mentioned very early on in the address. He is a civilian who gave his life in the attacks and his wife is asked to stand up in the crowd to show the audience. Others include George Howard, whose police shield was displayed by the president and Father Mike who was mentioned in the interview with Cheney. Father Mike died giving a burial service. In these heroic classifications, The United States is projected as the protagonist of the story, ultimately enticing the population of most of the world to pledge a certain loyalty to the U.S.
In addition, President Bush introduces individuals who will be aiding in the future security of the country as far as terrorists are concerned and he describes these individuals in a way that the common people can relate, implying that they have been hand-picked for the people through these descriptions. One such case is Pennsylvania’s Tom Ridge the new head of Homeland Security, a department that, up until a little after the September 11th attacks, did not exist. In addition to being a working man, Ridge is also portrayed as a hero. George Bush says this of him: “…tonight I announce the creation of…The Office of Homeland Security. And tonight I also announce a distinguished American to lead this effort, to strengthen American security: a military veteran, an effective governer, a true patriot, a trusted friend…” In Ridge’s military status is he portrayed as a hero, as a governer he is portrayed as a patriot and as a “friend” he is portrayed as being human and a man of society that everyone can identify with; after all, friends are everywhere.
In the role of the villain we have, most obviously, the terrorists—those individuals whom the government would say are members of the Middle Eastern Al Qaida. Vice President Cheney, in his interview with Tom Russert, is quick to point out that Osama Bin Laden is an aristocrat. In contrast to the “just-like-you” homely image of the U.S., the aristocrat represents something altogether mysterious and even evil. In popular culture, people like Adrian Veidt (a.k.a. Ozymandias), the super villain in Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Lestat from Interview with the Vampire and Dr. Frank N Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show are all villains who are portrayed with great wealth and high social status. Osama Bin Laden is used with American Propaganda in the same way—and those associated with him are the terrorists America is trying to condemn. Therefore, we have the association that aristocracy equates evil while being common equates good.
In the Dick Cheney interview, the vice president also associates the terrorist attacks on September 11th with evil genius. He says: “And the—so the sophisticated—on the one hand it’s very simple. It doesn’t involve a lot of hardware or complex devices that they have to bring into the United States. They, in effect, turned some of our own system against us, but its simplicity does, in fact also speak volumes in terms of planning, creativity, ingenuity in terms of how they go about these type of problems.” These characteristics—creativity, planning and ingenuity—are also present in those villains of popular culture described, who are of upper class and it is commonly a myth that those villains of wealth and prestige are also ingenious in their villainy. Therefore, the terrorists’ genius must be in direct correlation with Osama Bin Laden’s aristocracy. Again, Adrian, Lestat and Dr. Frank are good examples of this.
The evil aristocrat and the patriotic hero are archetypes that have been utilized by the American government to urge people everywhere to side with America and help fight against the tragedies that the “enemies of freedom” (terrorists) have achieved and have yet to achieve. The use of rhetoric in relation to class is one such tactic to accomplish this.