Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Language and war

Our press corps will be gossiping and giggling for weeks over the controversy Gen. McChrystal just kicked up with one type of language: Gen. Stanley McChrystal Called to White House Over Derisive Remark; Aide Resigns Politics Daily 06/22/2010; Lauren Freyer, McChrystal Ordered Back to Washington Over Article AOL News 06/22/2010. The interview that stirred the controversy appears in The Runaway General by Michael Hastings Rolling Stone 06/22/2010.

But what I mainly want to highlight in this post is an article by Robert Fisk on war and the corruption of language, a perennial but always-current topic, Fighting talk: The new propaganda Independent 06/21/2010. He takes note of how the once-mocking phrase "winning hearts and minds" has now been rehabilitated:

We Western journalists – used yet again by our masters [here he means the Pentagon and the British Defense Ministry] – have been reporting our jolly generals in Afghanistan, as saying their war can only be won with a "hearts and minds" campaign. No one asked them the obvious question: Wasn't this the very same phrase used about Vietnamese civilians in the Vietnam War? And didn't we – didn't the West – lose the war in Vietnam? Yet now we Western journalists are using – about Afghanistan – the phrase "hearts and minds" in our reports as if it is a new dictionary definition, rather than a symbol of defeat for the second time in four decades. [my emphasis]
And he focuses on how "terror" has become a magic word and more:

We are in love with the word, seduced by it, fixated by it, attacked by it, assaulted by it, raped by it, committed to it. It is love and sadism and death in one double syllable, the prime time-theme song, the opening of every television symphony, the headline of every page, a punctuation mark in our journalism, a semicolon, a comma, our most powerful full stop. "Terror, terror, terror, terror". Each repetition justifies its predecessor.
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