The smoking gun in this situation isn't a mushroom cloud but a systematic effort to link all dissenters of that era with the 9/11 hijackers. In effect, many people who looked at the Dixie Chicks felt as if they were looking at terrorists.
Viscerally they were one and the same.
To understand that there was a major distortion going on at the time all you have to do is remember when ordering French fries became a treasonous act. The US congress went so far as to dub the French fries in their cafeteria Freedom fries so they could do what they always did but do it in the name of patriotism.
When ordering French fries became an act of sedition something had gone off kilter big time.
What had previously been meaningless and harmless became more threatening than a right-winger sending death threats or stockpiling enough munitions to blow up a city block.
This change wasn't caused by 9/11 itself, but by efforts to get people's memories and terror related to 9/11 to be seen as nothing compared to the fast approaching menace. By bombarding the public with linked images (Saddam, 9/11, mushroom cloud, Saddam, 9/11, ...) the facts behind that linkage became so sinister that to reveal the links would endanger life as we knew it. But we had a hero who would go against the world to save us if we'd only do what he wanted.
If obedience equaled salvation then the equivalent of disobedience was obviously damnation.
When people respond without critical thinking and healthy skepticism they become easy to manipulate. They become the willing pawns of those who seem to keep their hands clean because they don't give specific instructions to destroy everyone who disagrees. Instead they shrug their shoulders and let others scream "Traitor!" and benefit from the atmosphere of fear and suspicion that someone near them is plotting to destroy our country.
Because this hysteria is dependent on unquestioning emotion and because the mob mentality is inherently unstable, sooner or later the manipulation will be seen for what it is.
Shameless exploitation of people who have been traumatized.
But like the molester with a history of being molested, we can't call those who do wrong after being manipulated mere victims. Between stimulus and response there is always at least one decision.
At the very least we as a country can see the crushing of dissent as a red flag which indicates that the very freedom we want to defend is being eroded in the name of freedom.
To get an idea of how surreal the experience was for the Dixie Chicks and many others watch the commercial for the documentary about the Dixie Chicks, Shut up and Sing which opens in NY & LA this weekend and around the country on Nov. 10.
UPDATE: From Variety it's been reported that NBC and CW have rejected the commercial for Shut Up and Sing. From some of the political ads I've seen lately which are getting aired in support of the Republicans and in opposition to Democrats, this ad is tame.
According to the Weinstein Co., NBC's commercial clearance department said in writing that it "cannot accept these spots as they are disparaging to President Bush."
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