A User’s Guide to America’s New War
Edited by John Collins and Ross Glover
New York University Press, 2002.
Language is the
instrument by which we understand the world – and thus act in it.
If our instrument is flawed then we will inevitably act in ways
that will not achieve what we intend.
To be able to act
properly we need to understand the world as it is.
We need to understand language and its proper use.
It is not surprising that the preeminent linguist of our time,
Noam Chomsky, is also a major voice against the abuse of power.
This book is a
collection of 14 essays by the same number of authors looking at the
use, and misuse, of the following terms in public discourse in the
United States today: Anthrax,
Blowback, Civilization versus Barbarism, Cowardice, Evil, Freedom,
Fundamentalism, Jihad, Justice, Targets, Terrorism, Unity, Vital
Interests, and The War on ___ .
As might be expected from a book with many authors, the essays
vary in quality, but all have important things to say.
The editors say in the
Language is a
terrorist organization; and we stand united against terrorism.
language a terrorist organization to illustrate the real effects of
language on citizens, especially in times of war.
Language, like terrorism, targets civilians and generates fear
in order to effect political change.
When our political leaders and media outlets use terms like
Anthrax, terrorist threat, madmen and biological weapons, a specific
type of fearfulness emerges, both intentionally and unintentionally.
We are all targets for this type of language, and we are all
affected by it as well. …
terms and phrases emerge during war to describe, justify, and explain
a nation’s actions to the people of that nation. The
U.S. political-military lexicon utilizes terms in particular ways to
produce desired responses from its citizens. […] (W)e have an
obligation, as citizens of a democratic state, to question, critique,
and understand the language given to us by those who claim to
represent our interests.
essays in this book […] begin from the premise that language matters
in the most concrete, immediate way possible:
its use, by political and military leaders, leads directly to
violence in the form of war, mass murder (including genocide), the
physical destruction of human communities, and the devastation of the
natural environment. …
Let’s look then at
the last chapter, “The War on ____” by Ross Glover.
In this chapter the
author looks at the predilection in U.S. politics to attempt to deal
with a perceived problem by declaring a “war” on it.
In my memory we have had the War on Poverty, the War on Crime,
the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror(ism).
Each succeeding “war” has become grander in its scope and
goals. What is there about
declaring a war on something that is so appealing to us?
What would we think, for example, if France were to declare a War
on Genetically Modified Foods?
Yet “wars” have
become a popular enterprise of this country.
War is good. War is
the way to solve things. War
gives unity of purpose. A
war doesn’t need much thinking, only following.
This nation still lives in the myth of World War II which was the
good war, and was “won”. But
these recent incarnations are not like any conventional war; the enemy
is not discrete and easily identified.
Rather the targets are conceptual and vague.
Not only are these wars un-winnable,
but they represent instead a permanent enhancement and exercise
of centralized state power - to the detriment of social concerns and
As Ross Glover
concludes in this chapter:
’The War on
____’ is a war against the dispossessed, a war against nonwhite
races, a war on poverty of the worst kind, killing the impoverished to
support our own wealth.
The degradation of
language is a reflection of a larger problem in modern commercial
culture, where language is used more and more to achieve a desired
effect, absent the actual meaning of the words.
Consider advertising, for example, which is mostly content free,
but emotionally loaded.
Language is what forms
our thoughts and actions. We
need to understand how it does so.
For our very sanity, we must recognize and actively oppose its
David White, 5/26/03