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Friday, November 03, 2006

"War on Terror"


Yesterday, NPR did a story on the semantics of the phrase "war on terror." The shape of language is fascinating - the way it engages not only our thought but our future, the way it reveals our meaning. I think sometimes, we can fool ourselves and others, but if we listen closely to the words we say, they will tell us the truth.

For example, in March of 2003 Cheney told us that he thought this "war on terror" would go "relatively quickly...weeks rather than months." But if we thought about the enemy "terror" we understood that a "war on terror" is not a war with distinguishable boundaries, a beginning and discernable end.

Bush told us in May of 2003, when Sadam was captured, that the "mission is complete and major combat operations in Iraq have ended...The United States and our allies have prevailed." Did he intend to send the message that the "war on terror" was over? I don't know, but if we were thinking about the words "war on terror," we would realize that it was not a war against a man, but a war against an ideal. There is no distinguishable enemy, no army, or conventional opponent to be beaten.

Now Bush says he's not happy with the results in Iraq, but that we have to "stay the course." He says he's looking for a successful way to finish this "war on terror." But if you think about the words, you will find something different. You will think about how on earth it is possible to define success when fighting multiple adversaries. You will wonder if we have been set up for failure. You will wonder if, in the words of the NPR article, "the war on terror is, in theory, an endless war –- a war that approaches something closer to a way of life."

5 Comments:

Blogger Amy said...

Love these lines:

The shape of language is fascinating - the way it engages not only our thought but our future, the way it reveals our meaning. I think sometimes, we can fool ourselves and others, but if we listen closely to the words we say, they will tell us the truth.

beautifully said!

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with your opinions about the political word manipulation concerning the "War on Terror." But please realize that this is not some new political trick created by the Bush administration. It is politics in its own nature, having been used by both sides for at least the last 35 years. Take these labels: "Pro-life" (not anti-abortion or anti-choice) and "Pro-choice" (not pro-abortion or pro-death or anti-life). Also, let's talk about politicians who are against education...there aren't any. Everyone is for good education, good values, good economy, and freedoms of some kind. It's how you frame your issue. It happens in campaigns--for both candidates running for office as well as campaigns within government. Please don't resign this campaign to some kind of conspiracy on the part of this administration. I don't think it's ever been a big secret that a war on terror is not a war against one person. I don't think it takes a super-intelligent person to see past words of politicians or to see past politics as usual.

11:04 AM  
Blogger ap said...

no, it doesn't take a super intelligent person; just a halfway critical person. unfortunately, critical thinking is not in abundance.

good post, christin. check out www.letssaythanks.com for a use of imagery that belies deeper meaning than the simple act of sending a thank you card to US troops. i think one can appreciate the sacrifice of troops even though the cause they have been used for one does not support. (without tipping my cap either way.) the unfortunate thing is that all the images of the cards present a deeper narrative than just saying "thanks." that narrative is not one i subscribe to.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Christin said...

Anon - I'm not so naive as to believe that this is a new political trick created by Bush's administration. I wasn't talking solely about politics. My article was about the way language shapes our conceptions and in turn our reality. I think this is an amazing phenomenon. This particular administration and this war happen to be a good example. I hope that readers will take this one example and apply it universally. Not only to the language of politics in general, but to the language that we use day to day. None of us are innocent.

AP - Thanks. You know I heard an article on PRI that the Canadian military is having no trouble recruiting young Canadians for duty in Afghanistan. Unlike America's military.

Cool link to "Let's Say Thanks." Note that those deeper narratives are being drawn by children! They are such honest reflections of what we model to them.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Samuel Bills said...

Yes - and our reliance on the military industrial complex means that our life style will continue to depend on war - and fighting terror seems to me to be propaganda to support our need for war.
"We support your war of terror" - the language of war is certainly interesting.

11:57 AM  

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