4.0940 War and Rhetoric (2/100)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Fri, 25 Jan 91 00:06:05 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0940. Friday, 25 Jan 1991.

(1) Date: Wed, 23 Jan 91 10:28:50 MDT (43 lines)
Subject: Re: 4.0920 Responses: On War and Rhetoric

(2) Date: Thu, 24 Jan 1991 8:53:37 GMT+0300 (57 lines)
Subject: RE: 4.0920 Responses: On War and Rhetoric

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 23 Jan 91 10:28:50 MDT
Subject: Re: 4.0920 Responses: On War and Rhetoric

The argument that words determine thought has never made a dent on me;
for this reason, the Lakoff article struck me as without merit. Doug
de Lacey cites an instance. Perhaps he just grabbed one out of the
air, but I'll use it anyway to illustrate my criticism, then supplement
it with another example (so he won't feel picked on).

Yes Cromwell (and many others!) called the Irish savages. But this is
to put things backward. The English did not first call the Irish
savages and then proceed to treat the Irish badly. Rather, the English
had, by the 17thc, had centuries of experience fighting and living with
the Irish. The Irish used guerilla warfare, which the English found
savage. The clan-based ethics of the Irish, and their poverty,
disgusted the English. Now, much of that was because the English
wouldn't let well enough alone, but the point is that the English used
such words because those words described how the English _felt_ about
the matter. The words didn't justify English actions, it was their
assessment of what the Irish actually were that justified those actions.
Words are just words, folks.

On the radio yesterday I listened to a caller on a phone-in program
rail at the media and government for using depersonalizing words like
"collateral damage" to describe civilian deaths, and "ordnance" instead
of "bombs." This type of talk, the caller argued, was being done
consciously or maybe unconsciously to make the war more palatable and
less abhorrent. The implication was that, if we would only call a spade
a spade, we wouldn't go to war so readily.

The panel on the radio patiently explained that "ordnance" is a perfectly
good word that is used because it embraces more than just bombs -- it
includes bullets, artillery shells, and other such weapons. And
"collateral damage" covers any damage beyond the target. Sometimes that
included people, sometimes it included knocking out more of the airfield
than you were aiming for.

People make too much of these things. Words are words.

Ellis 'Skip' Knox, Ph.D.
Historian, Data Center Associate
Boise State University DUSKNOX@IDBSU.IDBSU.EDU
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------68----
Date: Thu, 24 Jan 1991 8:53:37 GMT+0300
Subject: RE: 4.0920 Responses: On War and Rhetoric (3/57)

Re: Douglas de Lacy's point: "call someone a beast, and you remove from
yourself the obligation to regard him as fully human" -- of course this
is one of the basics of propaganda. It reached its fullest flowering
in the Nazi writings on everyone whose nose was the wrong shape or hair
too curly, but it has been with us since long, long before that, from
the pens of both angels and demons. Take a look, for example, at
Conrad's little piece on the Censor of Plays (sorry, I forget the name,
but it's in many basic anthologies for undergraduates): a totally clever
and well-thought-out attack, from a writer I admire and on behalf of
a cause we (almost) all defend, which eschews all rational argument of
the subject in favour of propaganda. You can readily extract from it
the Principles of Propaganda used by all sons of light against sons of
darkness (which means of course by both sides in any conflict):

1. If your opponent is an abstraction (in Conrad's case, censorship),
personify it; preferably by choosing a human representative of it
(the Censor of Plays).

2. Dehumanize him (as a woman and moderate feminist I may refuse to
massacre the English language in the name of Equality, as my poor
male colleagues are obliged to). This is Douglas' "beast" stage.
I venture the opinion that one may go in either the "beast" or
"demon" direction; the former if one feels stronger than one's
opponent, the latter if HE is stronger. Conrad, whose play had
just been decimated and who was therefore under no misapprehension
as to which of them was stronger, chose to demonize.

3. Ridicule him. If he is a demon, this is a necessary third stage
leading to the conclusion: "let's get together and we can beat
him, he isn't insuperable." If he is a beast and you're stronger,
it's a luxury which may be omitted; and if you intend to massacre
him, you're probably better off not reducing the threat he represents
by ridiculing him first.

It has always saddened me that Conrad chose this path, when all he had
to do was to dress up Milton in modern words. But returning to the
present, it is fairly obvious that Saddam will be described as beast-like
when Bush needs popular and Congressional support. (I don't remember
him being demoniacal, even though his actions in Kuwait and the attacks
on Israel could equally well, for propaganda purposes, be described in
those terms; perhaps because the U.S. government does feel in control.)
In any case, this is clearly a propaganda war. We had a little piece
on the Israeli media a day or two ago about the role of Disinformation;
the point was that the Iraqis are using it freely, the Americans
scarcely at all.

Forgive my amused smile. The piece was itself a volley on behalf of the
Good Guys (meaning you and us).

NB thanks for the Patriot that shot down last night's Scud. You rattled
my windowpanes like hell, but everyone's house is still standing.

Judy Koren, Haifa.