Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Yes, Words Matter....

I've been writing a lot about the importance of language and how its misuse leads to dangerous misperceptions and distortions of our mission in Iraq and elsewhere. Now, via Eric Umansky with a hat tip to Kevin Drum, here are some recent comments from Lt. General Wallace Gregson, commander of all Marine forces in the Pacific theater and one of the nation's most respected officers:
This war has a popular label and a political label, but it’s not accurate. Terrorism is a means of power projection, it’s a weapon, it’s a tool of war. Think of it as our enemy’s stealth bomber. This is no more a war on terrorism than World War II was a war on submarines. It’s not just semantics. Words have meaning. And these words are leading us down to the wrong concept.
The link to the rest of the general's comments is here. Will this have any effect on those who need to hear it most? No. But it may help others understand why, by every indication, we'll continue to lose extraordinary amounts of blood and treasure for years to come while our political leadership worships cynically at the altar of the Thesaurus.

23 Comments:

Blogger Jake said...

I wonder if it's a bad script that the Right picked up from the Left: "Look at all the mileage the Democrats got out of the War on Poverty," they said, "Let's get us some of that good stuff."

Thinking clearly is hard enough without people deliberately trying to obscure issues and play word games. Grrrrr.

7/06/2005 7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting comments by the general. I wonder how they were taken in the Pentagon?

7/06/2005 10:41 PM  
Blogger James said...

This has been said before (by many -- including myself), but never so eloquently, definitively and so convincingly.

I think that the quintessential monograph on this point was "Bounding the Global War on Terrorism" from the SSI. In terms of manageability and success, this report really details the discussions that need to be going on (but are clearly not) in the Pentagon, Congress and White House about how to handle the threat from international terrorists.

The general is correct, terrorism is a technique (or "tool of war") rather than an ideology or political philosophy. It is the classic tool used by the the oppressed and underpowered minority to project power against an oppressive majority (asymmetric warfare). There is no practicable way to defeat "terrorism", as the techniques inherent in terrorism will always (until we all reach a utopia where nobody is oppressed) be applied to "defend the rights, goals, ideology, etc." of a group who appears to have no other tools at hand and is outmanned and outgunned (c.f. the PLO, Hamas, IRA, ETA, etc.).

7/06/2005 10:50 PM  
Blogger DrDave said...

How poignant are the General's words now?

7/07/2005 9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"General's comment: This war has a popular label and a political label"

Are they the same, "war on terrorism"?

I don't think you win a war on terrorism. I think you control terrorism, but it'll always exist.

james said: The general is correct, terrorism is a technique (or "tool of war") rather than an ideology or political philosophy

But he also said that "It's primarily ideologically driven, fundamentalists, and extremists."

Fundamentalism is bad no matter what flavor it comes in. We live in a modern world, and we need intelligent people to think with open minds about today's problems.

james said: details the discussions that need to be going on (but are clearly not) in the Pentagon, Congress and White House about how to handle the threat from international terrorists.

Absolutely! We got to be better than them in regards to humanity, smarter than them, etc. We can't aford to play into their hands. This calls for blutt unbiased honesty from our leaders; not political trickier, emotional hyperbole, or the unthinkable, lies. We need our government to show by positive example that there are better options for people. We need covert operations, not nuclear bombs. It is ironic, politically Bush/Rove needs our country divided, but our country needs us united. Which will Bush/Rove choose, politics or our country? Our lives depend on Bush doing the right thing, whether it fits their political agenda or not. Boy, do I wish our media was in better shape.

7/07/2005 11:04 AM  
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