Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Language of the War on Terror: Take 3

Bill at Thoughts on the Eve of the Apocalypse points out a well-reasoned, passionate and reconstructive look at the language of the War on Terror

It reminds me of the series of essays by the linguist George Lakoff at Alternet that looks at the metaphors of the War on Terror.

Dion Dennis over at CTheory has been similarly examining the imagistic language of the current regime.

Bill, after my first posting of this piece, also suggested that the interested reader consult a pair of essays by Renana Brooks, PhD, who according to a Nation bio, is a "clinical psychologist practicing in Washington, DC. She heads the Sommet Institute for the Study of Power and Persuasion and is completing a book on the virtue myth and the conservative culture of domination." The essays, The Character Myth and A Nation of Victims, examine the carefully constructed myth of George Bush as the "moral" hero and Bush's mastery of "emotional language as a political tool."

This gross manipulation of language and symbols for political ends has become so blatant that many staunch defenders of America have abandoned the Bush cause because they realize that this position only further radicalizes groups of people to oppose the U.S.

Independent Media in a Time of War

Check out this excellent questioning of whether we have a free, democratic media. This is a powerful documentary and is very disturbing/painful to think about.

(Website description) Part scathing critique, part call to action, "Independent Media In A Time Of War" is a hard-hitting new documentary by the Hudson Mohawk Independent Media Center. This film is composed of a speech given by Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! illustrated by clips of mainstream media juxtaposed with rare footage from independent reporters in Iraq. The documentary argues that dialogue is vital to a healthy democracy. "Independent media has a crucial responsibility to go to where the silence is," says Amy Goodman, "to represent the diverse voices of people engaged in dissent." She makes
a compelling argument that the commercial news media have failed to represent the "true face of war."

Watch Independent Media in a Time of War

Watch other Democracy Now Videos

Similar questionings of the media can be seen in Spin (1995) by Brian Springer

The cumulative effect of this video is startling... we know this is how the mediatized world is produced and reproduced, but it is surreal and disturbing to step behind Oz's screen and see how the machine operates.

Video Data Bank description:
Pirated satellite feeds revealing U.S. media personalities’ contempt for their viewers come full circle in Spin. TV out-takes appropriated from network satellite feeds unravel the tightly-spun fabric of television—a system that silences public debate and enforces the exclusion of anyone outside the pack of journalists, politicians, spin doctors, and televangelists who manufacture the news. Spin moves through the L.A. riots and the floating TV talk-show called the 1992 U.S. presidential election.

Illegal Art description:
Using the 1992 presidential election as his springboard, documentary filmmaker Brian Springer captures the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of politicians and newscasters in the early 1990s. Pat Robertson banters about "homos," Al Gore learns how to avoid abortion questions, George Bush talks to Larry King about halcyon -- all presuming they're off camera. Composed of 100% unauthorized satellite footage, Spin is a surreal expose of media-constructed reality.

Watch Brian Springer's documentary "Spin":

Stream Real Video



So then what we have to ask is do we have to become Propaganda Critics and Disinformation Experts in order to understand anything about the world?

For more information, opportunities and critiques check out the Indy Media Movement


Chris Hedges is a veteran war correspondent who wrote a very important book called War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2003). It is a passionate call for us to reconsider the roots of the human addiction to war through a careful consideration of the realities of warfare and our necrophiliac relationship with the symbols, rituals and displays of military culture.

Chris Hedges later gave a commencement speech at Rockford college that was disrupted and caused a nationwide controversy. Hedges showed great courage in sticking to his beliefs and not backing down. He is no simple-minded pundit attempting to manipulate the masses for profit and power, but a considerate, thoughtful, former divinity student, shocked by the violence he has seen in the world, but hopeful that we may still change.

Chris Hedges' controversial May graduation speech at Rockford college:


AlterNet now has an interview with Hedges online: The Silencing of Dissent on Graduation Day.


Democracy Now interview:


Excerpts from “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”:


More writings by Chris Hedges:

Hedges' Writings

1 Hour audio lecture on “The Mythology of War”:

Audio Lecture

TomPaine.com interview:


Chris Hedges and “Enforced Conformity”:

Enforced Conformity

Interview a month before the speech on “Dangerous Citizen”:

Dangerous Citizen

PBS interview about “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”, includes streaming video of the interview:

PBS Interview

Further sources:

Barbara Ehrenreich's Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passion of War (1998)
Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism (1973)
Erich Fromm's The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1992)
Carolyn Marvin's and David Ingle's Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag (1999)
Alexander Laban Hinton's edited collection Annhilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide (2002)
Rubenstein, Richard L. The Cunning of History: The Holocaust and the American Future. NY: Harper Colophon, 1978.

{Thivai—pages 12-21 examine the judicial process that led to the development of the death camps and mass extermination. Important in this legalistic development was the designation of “apatrides or stateless persons” (12) at the end of WW1. These were people who had been denied any official standing in the nation and thus could be prosecuted or jailed at any time for no reason at all. Also the process of denaturalization or denationalization was increasingly used during and after the 1920s to deal with unwanted minority groups within the European states. This was an effective stripping of any rights whatsoever. Concentration camps first appeared across Europe to deal with apatrides (or refugees).}

The concentration camps for the apatrides served much the same purpose as did the original Nazi camps in 1933 and 1934. In the popular mind, the first Nazi camps conjure up images of wild sadism by brutal brown-shirted storm troopers. The images are, of course, well deserved, but they tend to hinder precise understanding of the development of the camps as a legal and political institution. (Rubenstein, 15)

Initially, the concentration camps were established to accommodate detainees who had been placed under “protective custody” (Schützhaft) by the Nazi regime. Those arrested were whom the regime wished to detain although there were no clear legal justification for so doing. Almost all of the original detainees were German communists, not Jews. Had the Nazis’ political prisoners been brought before a German court in the first year or two of Hitler’ regime, the judiciary would have been compelled to dismiss the case. This was not because the German judiciary was anti-Nazi, but because it was bureaucratic in structure. In the early stages of the Nazi regime, there was no formula in law to cover all the political prisoners the Nazis wanted to arrest. This problem was solved by holding them under “protective custody” and setting up camps outside of the regular prison system to receive them. Incidentally, the American government did something very similar when it interned Japanese-American citizens during World War II. They had committed no crime. No court would have convicted them. Prison was not the place to detain them. Happily, as bad as were the American concentration camps, they were infinitely better than the German counterparts. (15-16)

One of the least helpful ways of understanding the Holocaust is to regard the destruction process as the work of a small group of irresponsible criminals who were atypical of normal statesmen and who somehow gained control of the German people, forcing them by terror and the deliberate stimulation of religious and ethnic hatred to pursue a barbaric and retrograde policy that was thoroughly at odds with the great traditions of Western civilization.
On the contrary, we are more likely to understand the Holocaust if we regard it as the expression of some of the most profound tendencies of Western civilization in the twentieth century. (Rubenstein, 21)

In order to understand more fully the connection between bureaucracy and mass death, it will be necessary to return to the apatrides. They were the first modern Europeans who had become politically and legally superfluous and for whom the most “rational” way of dealing with them was ultimately murder. A majority of the apatrides had lost their political status by a process of bureaucratic definition, denationalization. (Rubenstein, 31)

Men without political acts are superfluous men. They have lost all right to life and human dignity. Political rights are neither God-given, autonomous nor self-validating. The Germans understood that no person has any rights unless they are guaranteed by an organized community with the power to defend such rights. They were perfectly consistent in demanding that the deportees be made stateless before being transported to the camps. They also understood that by exterminating stateless men and women, they violated no law because such people were covered by no law. Even those who were committed by religious faith to belief in natural law, such as the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church, did not see fit to challenge the Nazi actions publicly at the time. (Rubenstein, 33)

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