It is not at all unreasonable to conclude that the suspected national identities of the hijackers -- 15 Saudis, one Egyptian, one Lebanese, and two from the United Arab Emirates -- must have been heard or read by everybody on at least several occasions. From there the raw information must have made its way to innumerable lunch rooms, bars and family dinner tables across the country, where it was debated and discussed. Though it was somewhat subversive and unpatriotic to ask why, there was an insatiable national hunger to know who. Even the realpolitik diplomatic strategy of the Bush administration -- to play down the frequency of dots leading to Saudi Arabia -- should not have penetrated sufficiently to impede free access to information that was clearly in the public domain.
So most Americans knew that there weren't any Iraqis involved, but (if the polls are representative) were persuaded into revising this knowledge by emotional conditioning, and repeated association of Iraq with terror by authority figures; a textbook example of the effectiveness of persuasion techniques at editing the public memory; owing equal parts to Noam Chomsky and Robert Cialdini.
To the behavioral psychologist, the truth about the hijacker's nationalities might seem a victim of a chronic state of inattention. Conditioning has rendered Americans hyper-responsive to emotional and sensory dynamics triggered by the news media, and relatively uninterested in intellectual content. Nobody understands this better than Rupert Murdoch, who has created an empire out of punchy anti-intellectualism. And few understand better how to use it to their advantage than the Bush White House. George W. Bush is, after all, the anti-intellectual's president.
It was a case of psychological transference on a national scale. The transformation came not by cognitive argument, but by emotional association -- Iraq was described persistently in the emotionally charged post-9/11 vocabulary and context, most often by an association with fear, anxiety and alarm.
Meanwhile, the involvement of that staunch bulwark of Truth, Justice and the American Way, Saudi Arabia, has been deemphasised, to the point where most Americans, aware only that the Saudis are Our Allies, would subconsciously edit out any ecollection of cognitively dissonant facts (such as that 15 of the 19 hijackers hailed from the sternly fundamentalist desert kingdom).
(Oh, and remember that British Intelligence dossier which proved beyond doubt that Iraq is guilty? Well, it turns out that it was plagiarised from academic articles about the 1991 Gulf War.)
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