Winds of Change.NET: Liberty. Discovery. Humanity. Victory.

Formal Affiliations
  • Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto
  • Euston Democratic Progressive Manifesto
  • Real Democracy for Iran!
  • Support Denamrk
  • Million Voices for Darfur
  • milblogs
Syndication
 Subscribe in a reader

War of the Words

| 38 Comments

Orwell, thou should'st be living at this hour.

A war and an anti-war driven by a politicized mass media and a media-gaming political class naturally devolves to a place where words and clichés trump realities.

The new SecDef seemingly had to pass only one confirmation test: Use the words "not winning in Iraq" in front of Congress. Anti-war types get all apoplectic over whether Bush calls it a "war" or not. "Stay the course" ... "mission accomplished" ... "cut and run." Everybody knows these; what kind of war is it where everybody on the home front can bicker about slogans and no one can name a hero?

Words like "neo-conservative," "civil war," WMD," "democracy," "treason" inhabit the core of the public discussion about Iraq -- and no two people who use them daily can agree on what they mean. Are 20-year-old Sarin gas artillery shells WMDs? Is Dick Cheney a neo-conservative? Is Iran a democracy?

Every 100 deaths in Iraq is a "grim milestone," by fiat of the media. It is the most overworked cliché of local journalism since, "Rain couldn't dampen the spirits/enthusiasm of _____ graduates of _____ high school during last night's commencement ceremony as they looked to the future and pondered the past."

It requires no thought or reflection. It treats round numbers as the definition of reality. This has been a media trope since the first shots were fired ("After days of intense searching by ground and air, U.S. forces on Saturday found the bodies of two soldiers missing north of Baghdad, as the toll of American dead since the start of war topped the grim milestone of 200 ..." -- Associated Press, June 29, 2003). I doubt anyone who wrote any of these headlines could explain to you why death number 3,000 was enormously more significant than death number 2,997. Certainly not to the parents of number 2,997.

Does it help you to know these numbers divorced from context? Are there not many Americans who would consider, say, every 1,000 abortions nationwide a "grim milestone?" Even if you set 1,000 battle deaths (not the AP's preferred 200) as the benchmark for "grim milestones," you had a grim milestone every five days during America's involvement in World War II with nary a "grim milestone" headline to show for it.

The Associated Press coverage of Bush's recent speech on Iraq played up his admission of mistakes more than what he actually proposed:
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush acknowledged for the first time last night that he erred by not ordering a military buildup in Iraq last year and said he was increasing U.S. troops by 21,500 to quell the country's near-anarchy. "Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me," Bush said.
Because it's become a media/anti-war trope that "Bush never admits mistakes." But he sometimes does. Does he admit fewer than Roosevelt did in public? Than Reagan? Than Lincoln? Than John F. Kerry? How would you know that? Does the media even care? Now it's surge.
One thing is clear: Using the word "surge" to describe President Bush's forthcoming plan for reshaping U.S. efforts in Iraq has ignited a fiery political brouhaha.
Thus the LA Times. What's missing there? The sentence has no subject. "Who" is "[u]sing the word 'surge' to describe President Bush's forthcoming plan ..." The media, including the LA Times." In a laughable bit of journalistic commentary, the Times has a Roseanne Rosanadana moment and slips this into the article well down in the text:
The controversy has not been diminished by the fact that Bush and senior White House officials have steered clear of “surge” themselves.
And this well after the paper has allowed a Bush critic to blame it all on the president and his minions:
"I've noticed a complete acceptance on the part of most of the MSM [mainstream media] (and Congress) to accept the White House nomenclature," blogger Nicole Belle wrote in a complaint posted on crooksandliars.com.
Other anti-war pundits take umbrage at "surge" because their definition of "surge" is the real one and pouti that those evil neo-cons are stealing their language.
"This need not be complicated. A 'surge' suggests a brief increase in troops.
... "Well, enough of this. Liberals, journalists, I'm calling on you. We must never talk about a surge unless we're actually talking about a surge -- a temporary infusion of troops. We should resist that as well. But now, if the proponents of escalation have escalation on their agenda, we must bring this out in the open and defeat it. Deal?"
Let's look at that ol' dictionary, shall we?

1. to rise and fall actively : TOSS [a ship surging in heavy seas]
2 : to rise and move in waves or billows : SWELL [the sea was surging]
3 : to slip around a windlass, capstan, or bitts -- used especially of a rope
4 : to rise suddenly to an excessive or abnormal value [the stock market surgeed to a record high]
5 : to move with a surge or in surges [felt the blood surging into his face -- Harry Hervey] [she surged past the other runners]

Nothing in there about brief, small, or short. Nothing about "temporary." When "she surged past the other runners" there's no implication that they then all overtook her again.

These are not peripheral words in this national debate. They are its heart, and that heart is philological mud. Reactionary "progressives" and illiberal "liberals" rail at "conservatives" who couldn't find a single touchstone of philosophical conservatism with a Geiger counter.

38 Comments

Callimachus -- That's actually a pretty funny article.

I am beginning to think that any news organization that does a "Counting" story should have their diplomas taken away for journalistic malpractice.

"3000 Deaths Reached in Iraq" the headline reads, yet what the #$#@ is that supposed to mean? Is that bad? The implication is that it is. Why else would it be a headline? But do they run "Heart Disease Death Toll Reaches 50,000"? Nope. Why not? Because they're making a political statement, not reporting news. They're purposesly trying to stir the pot up, get the fight going so they can have more to report.

The last couple of years has been a philological nightmare. A "war" is having one solider get blown up by a bunch of thugs on a street corner in some farawary land. A "surge" is really an "escalation". First the generals were right, then they were wrong, then they were right, now they're wrong again. (I might have lost track there somewhere) We've got senators stumbling over themselves to vote on tactical war issues, which is almost certainly pointless and unconstitutional. But it looks good on TV!

I'm beginning to think the words themselves don't matter any more. Maybe we should just all go get some torches, light 'em up, and storm through the streets looking for the latest Frankenstein monster to burn. Who is it this week? Rummy? Nope. They got him. Condi? Gates? Bushilter?

I visit other general purpose sites like Digg and I really feel sorry for some of the people who post on there. Half the titles don't match the articles, and there is an almost complete lack of understanding of what the heck is going on in the world. As long as they know that Bush is bad and out to take all of their freedoms, they're happy to rant. It's pathetic. Sad. Somebody should be getting a refund for the education dollars that were spent. I listened to some guys rant on an online live chat program a while back about how we should just appease the crazies. "But that won't work in the modern world guys," I said, "the Enlightenment has to mean something."

The response was -- "What's that supposed to mean?" 120 people in the room, and I was the only one who knew the relevence of the Enlightenment to the discussion on Islamists. But hey, they all had really bad things to say about the current administration. It's really quite funny, and humbling to think that The Great Experiment just keeps rolling along, carrying all those folks with it.

Now that I think about it, it should have been obvious that a war in the media, a battle between narratives as the lefties put it, would make the words important. Lefties at Kos and DU have been assiduously focusing on their narrative, on their choice of words, on ways of gaming the media system and the psyche of American taste-makers. In the meantime, those of the left, right, and center who believe the Counterjihad must be pursued vigorously have been blundering along blindly, thinking and writing about ideas as if ideas by themselves will win a battle in the media. They won't. Stories might. Words like "surge" and "quest" will help stories get out there. For another example, "counterjihad" is a good word. It's both accurate and unpolluted.

In my studies of American history, I cannot identify another time when both political parties were of such small ideals, little intellect, less vision and greater selfish interest than both parties are now. The American people are more poorly served by our national political figures now than ever.

This statement also resonates for your post Callimachus. It may be expanded to include the so called MSM, who are media but not, I feel, mainstream. They represent the 'elites' and 'progressives' of the Right and Left coasts but have no resonance with the real 'mainstream' of America. They heve us bickering about quagmires and surges when the real debate should be about whether our culture and civilization will survive. The politics of faction dictate that as long as the real mainstream is debating the meaning of meaning the elites can continue their subversion of all that we are and win the 'culture' war being fought against the 'mainstream' of America and the West.

I thought I was a liberal in the 60s when I was a Democrat. You know liberty, justice, self government for every one on the planet. FDR stuff.

In the '00s I still have those core beliefs. Yet I'm a Republican now because the Democrats no longer even pay lip service to those beliefs.

I think you captured that with reactiionary Democrats.

How do words and cliches trump reality, exactly? I mean, of course, outside of the discourse in which they are used. (Inside of discourse, obviously, we would expect words, if not necessarily cliches).

Sticks & stones, Callimachus. Reality, in Iraq we're talking about, goes on along its own course quite as regardless of what people write in blogs as of what people read or write in the NYT.

There is nothing new, save perhaps in the amount available, about folks using words to describe and discuss in public, in print, a war, that war's validity, that war's necessity, that war's wisdom--and in so doing using language in way that best suits their purpose, that they find most persuasive.

But only rarely do such discussion's affect reality (rember the Maine!); and certainly in the case of Iraq they do not. Public opinion may be doubtful of this war, may even be against this war, but it is having no affect upon the actual prosecution of the war. Reality has not been trumped.

AP offers its version of reality; you offers yours. Yours is less persuasive.

Callimachus,

I've re-read your post several times. I don't get. What is your complaint here? That the daily media does not engage in broad, deep philosophical anlysis? Have they ever? Shoud they? That politicians and their supporters employ propoganda-laced arguements to entice others to their point of view? Has it ever been otherwise?

I think you might be comparing the cream of the past with the daily garbage of the present, forgetting that the past's daily garbage was simply taken out and dumbed by history; a fate that no doubt awaits today's daily garbage.

BTW, surge, even in the definitions you chose to use, implies something of a temporary nature. The rise is followed by a fall. One assumes the blood rushing to the poor fellow's face will eventually return to normal. All the definitions imply a change of state that is not expected to remain in the new state forever. Even the runner's surge will end when the race is over. I would say the chief elements of "surge" that distinguish it from mere "change" are suddeness, increase, and acceleration, which implies not lasting, as few things accelerate indefinately. Once the accelertion is over, so is the surge. The expectation is of a return to normal. A surging sea is not a calm sea.

mark - Just the point.

How do words and cliches trump reality, exactly?

When the lefties try to make the debate about the meaings of things rather than the things themsleves. Everything now has a -phobia associated with it. When the phobia is invoked, debate ends because to continue then defines the one continuing the debats as a 'hater'. As in "Islamophobia". None who speak about Islam is scared of it other that having the fear they may be marked by some radical jihadi for 'death' becasue of thier unflinching views. Once the 'hater' label is applied them the target becomes a 'bigot' and debate is ended.

As a white American I cannot discuss my views on the black-white racial issues because immediately I am labeled then discounted as a racist. At least with anything other than the 'party' line of the left. The same applies for Islam and Islamic militants. The debate becomes defensive before it can even start. And because I am automatically counted as one of the oppressors, I cannot participate openly and freely. That is the nature of what the Leftists and Progressive arm of the Democratic Party has done by manipulating the politics of faction in the last 50 years.

As a 'white' American I was raised in a town where I was a minority. And I took the beatings from members of the majority for years. Yeah, it really did happen that way. I try not to dislike the members of the majority, I try not to be a hater, but I sure do not trust a member of that racial group for shit. And as a present day registered Republican (you can say neo-con) I try to be balanced, but I know first hand the deceptions of the Leftist Progressives. This is more truth - Dad was a lifelong Communist and Mom a Progressive Democrat - so I know first hand the philosophy.

mark, I may not be expressing this correctly, but stiffling the debate of the serious issues facing Western Civilization right now, which is what the Left is trying to do only makes the end battle all the more serious. And winning it all the more important.

We have a determined, patient and vicious enemy in the world who only wishes us to submit or die. The useful idiots of the Left are busy debating what surge means. How wasteful, but they play right into the hands of the enemy and do not even realize it.

The real debate here is not that the CIC is surging the troop numbers, but that there is a sea change in the philosophy of how we are going to fight this part of the battle. The Iraqis are on notice to "put up or shut up". We are going after the enemy, call them whatever you like, insurgents or terrorists, it does not matter, with a new set of ROE that will hopefully untie the hands of our soldiers and they can fight the skirmishes to win. And that means lots of dead people. Hopefully it will be them, not us.

The Hobo

Hobo,

"We are going after the enemy, call them whatever you like, insurgents or terrorists, it does not matter,...."

Exactly. What we call them does not matter nor does it change our actions. This seems to contradict the rest of your post and Callimachus's original post.

How can you claim the debate is stiffled when you are posting that claim on a free debating site open to all. It is true that your racial views may belong only to a tiny minority of Americans, but you are entitled to air them, not to have them become popular.

It does matter how you call things, or people.

One of the first objectives of Marxism was to empty of any significance language. The MSM have adhered to this tactic, I am afraid.

They are its heart, and that heart is philological mud. Reactionary "progressives" and illiberal "liberals" rail at "conservatives" who couldn't find a single touchstone of philosophical conservatism with a Geiger counter.

(Applause)

Words matter a lot. Look at the recent dust-up over whether Iraq is a civil war or not. Once the MSM decided it was, the next step was to ask "Why are we sending our troops into the middle of a civil war?" A question that could not have been asked 4 months ago.

Words are killing us. I've ranted quite a bit on the definition of a war (Iraq is not one, at least not in the sense we've traditionally defined wars. Iraq is a Peacekeeping Mission) the definition of "winning" and "losing" (wrt Iraq, we don't have clearly defined goals, so we can neither be winning or losing) and the definition of "moral responsibility" (We have a responsibility to let Iraqis vote. They did. We now have a STRATEGIC interest in keeping a regional war from starting, so we're hanging out in Iraq, providing a stabilization presence) You can even go into what the definition of an "army" is -- is it to impose national will by use of force? Or is it to provide money to smart DoD contractors and programs?

Yet at the same time, we're in a war (The GWOT). We started it, so we should be prepared to finish it at whatever cost it involves, or whatever language is involved. That's the way wars are supposed to work. I beginning to have a lot more respect for John McCain, who today said that when he voted to send the troops in he wasn't going to change his mind and abandon them.

But the pen beats the sword every time. The same folk who ranted about Bush just doing the same thing and "Staying the course" are now ranting that nothing has changed, which is ludicrous considering that a new strategy, new tactics, and new commanders have been announced. But the sound bite works, so it will continue being used no matter what the reality on the ground is. The narrative is that Bush is blind to criticism and won't change, even when he acknowledges mistakes and changes! It's really quite funny. The left should start doing stand-up comedy.

I've got a better one for you. In the past three weeks, I've heard many Dem politicians on TV talk shows say something like "Nobody is talking about leaving Iraq completely" even thought that's EXACTLY what some Dem politicians are talking about! But does the press call them on it and ask follow-up questions? Heck no! The language fits their narrative, so it's ho-hum, ho-hum.

Words are very important. What we call things makes a big difference.

How naive is everybody to think that words could be 'used' pollitically? Shock! I'm sure Queen Elizabeth I would have been appalled at the state of politics today! Chill out everybody, this is human thing, get used to it.

Robo-hobo:I'm sorry for your past, but PCism is not just a leftist problem. It's rampant in both pollitical parties. There is currently a war out there to create emotional ties to words such as 'surging', 'pro-life', 'pro-choice', 'compassionate convservative', 'liberal'... and it is being waged by all politicians. For example: Republicans were up in arms over the 'Privatiziation of Social Security'. It's not a horribly inaccurate term, but they knew populace would react badly to that term and vehemently opposed it.

They do this because they know that creating emotional ties to language is more effective than actually debating the issues. This is why the founding fathers hated pollitical parties, and the problems orwell was speaking of in Notes on nationalism

And the media is merely along for the ride. They tend to avoid actual 'investigation' of material, preferring to merely replay sound bites and hook on to easy 'headlines' that will keep people listening. '1,000 dead!' or '85% vote in Iraqi elections' are very simplistic, exciting headlines, but both mute out the complications (pro & con) on the ground.

Markham: Really? What is this new strategy? What are these new tactics? ... So all we have is the presidents word that things are changing. Who are these new commanders? Oh, yes, they're the people that agree with him. What a shock, could not have seen that one coming. The fact that the president keeps using these words without any real show of change is a clear indication that he is using the same system that Callimachus rants about liberals. (Gasp).

We are in 2-party vice here. Until everybody stops looking through both eyes, we're going to continue to have uglier debates over the meaning of 'words'.

This gets funnier and funnier.

Alchy writes

"Markham: Really? What is this new strategy?" The new strategy is to protect the population first. The old strategy was to train Iraqis first.

"What are these new tactics?" The new tactics are to clear, hold, and build. The old tactics was armored patrolling.

"So all we have is the presidents word that things are changing." You've asked a question that has a clear answer, ignored it, then used the opportunity to ask "why should we trust Bush" LOL. Yes, yes. It IS Bush, isn't it? It's all Bush, all the time.

"Who are these new commanders? Oh, yes, they're the people that agree with him." The new commander is the one who RECENTLY WROTE THE FREAKING BOOK ON COIN. But I'm sure the book was just an elaborate effort to suck up to the CIC. LOL.

Politics is full of creative language. I love it. But then again, I usually don't confuse real analysis with political BS either.

"The new strategy is to protect the population first. The old strategy was to train Iraqis first."

Is it not possible to do both? What does that say about the success of training Iraqi's if after 3 years, there are almost no functional Iraqi battalions...

"The new tactics are to clear, hold, and build. The old tactics was armored patrolling."
It's taken 3 years to make that tiny little change? This is what took months of thought? This little common-sense idea was so difficult that he had to wait and present it to the american people? Sigh.

So all we have is the presidents word that things are changing." You've asked a question that has a clear answer, ignored it, then used the opportunity to ask "why should we trust Bush" LOL.

Fine what is my 'clear answer'? Look up and down this website. Very few writers are 'bush-haters', and yet almost all of them are unconvinced by Bush's latest speech. Bush will have to do better, will have to make headway in Iraq, and will have to show that 20,000 troops and his 'new strategy' really solves any problems.

It's not just me, polls show most americans don't trust him either.

"Is it not possible to do both?" Strategies are about priorities, not false dichotomies.

"It's taken 3 years to make that tiny little change?" You've lost your point that "The fact that the president keeps using these words without any real show of change" so you're trying to make it a "little tiny change". LOL. It's an entirely different way of looking at what we're supposed to be doing, more in line with traditional COIN operations. Denigrating the size of the change does not make the fact that change occured go away.

"polls show most americans don't trust him either" -- fine and dandy, but the issue was whether the words were used in various ways to obscure the reality of the situation. Both sides do it and it's funny. You can now continue with your attack on Bush, his poll numbers and weaknesses however the current media narrative provides. The war will still be here when you return.

I'll still be watching. And I imagine we'll still be fighting it more or less the same way. I'll remember this chat 6 months from now.

Me too.

When in six months, the "surge" has been called a "failure" (even though it'll probably be more like maintaining the status quo, which is not the same) we can continue talking about the peacekeeping mission as the Dems try to cut the funding. The GWOT will be around in ten years. We can look back, say, in 2017 and ask ourselves if we really tried to hold Iraq against Iranian crazies, or if we were more interested in pandering to internal politics. I think a decade or two will be required to give our recollection some real context. Gulf War III will be a lot of fun -- I can't wait to hear the Dems blame Bush for all of the problems. Gosh! If we only had kept Saddam around! LOL.

I'm confused. Bush is criticized for not sending enough troops, and then criticized for "surging" troop levels and foolishly placing troops into "the middle of a civil war". So if higher troops levels were required to quell the original insurgency, who has made the determination (and on what basis) that the insurgency has now grown to the point that it can no longer be quelled? Did we pass that milestone while I was gazing in another direction? It seems to me that the same people who've been calling things a "mess" since the beginning are simply doing so now.

The truth is that this is a hard war to fight, and harder still to maintain with momentum. And to make things worse our eyes haven't yet grown accustomed to the darkness and haze, so we don't know what really matters? To that extent the hoopla over "benchmarks" makes sense.

It actually took us awhile to come to terms with the nature of the Cold War as well, and the strategy of containment first proposed under Truman came after years of unheeded warnings by Churchill. So there's really nothing for it but to continue to refine the focus and survey the landscape, hoping that the nature of this struggle starts to sink in before it sinks us.

As for strategy, is there any other proposal than to sew the seeds of liberal democracy? What else is it that we do that could so effectively counter a jihad? I can't even think of a contender. Anyone?

The reports may have exaggerated the death of the "neocon agenda". Only for so long can you maintain the fiction that a pile of sticks is a house.

Wow! Great points being made all around. I want to touch on just a couple.

mark - you say:

"It is true that your racial views may belong only to a tiny minority of Americans, but you are entitled to air them, not to have them become popular."

It looks to me that you have made my point for me. It appears to me you assume my views would be denigrating to those who I would express them about. Just the opposite is true because of my background. I want true equal opportunity for everyone. My view is that under the present system as administered by the OEO it cannot happen. Certain racial groups are favored over others by administrative fiat. We have equality of results forced upon us.

Also, you say I claim that debate is stifled while I debate freely on a site on the internet. And I will still maintain to express views like mine in the public forums of this country gets me marginalized very quickly. See above....

J Aquilar - As you say, words matter. The Communists would remove meaning to have them meaningless and therefore control the debate as they wish. We are almost there in this country.

alchemist - I am not sorry for my past, so don't you be. It has made me who and what I am today, which from where I sit is pretty damn good. I was trying, maybe not well, to make a point that I may have failed to make. The point was that by my appearance (white boy), if I begin to opine on the Black-White issue of race, I become marginalized very quickly because I am a "member" of the oppressor class. My ideas are immediately invalidated and I am labeled as racist whether those ideas are valid or not.

Words matter. The real meaning of those words matter. To argue about surging the troops in Iraq is counterproductive to the real debate. We are in a clash of civilizations, cultures or whatever, for our very existence. We cannot be distracted from the tasks at hand. Someone said above that we started the GWOT. I disagree, we did not. It is visited upon us from those outside who hate us merely for what and who we are. They use their religion to justify their savage behavior.

I will say it again, we have an enemy that wishes only one of two things from us, we can either submit or we can die. Like the alien from "Independence Day" who has this tentacle on the throat of the dead scientist and is asked what he wants of us, his reply is "Die!" That is what our enemy wishes of us, that we negate everything we are and submit or give up on what we are and die. The end result is the same, then end of Western Civilization.

Daniel Markham,

All you are arguing is that words have an affect upon the discussion regarding the conflict in Iraq, i.e., how Americans characterize various aspects of that conflict. You never offer an example of how these opinions or words actually affect the realities in Iraq or how they have affected US actions.

Yours--and others'--is a complaint about public support--or, to you, lack of public support. Your belief seems to be that public support is lower than it should be because those who oppose the war have successfully persuaded others by using unfair rhetorical tricks such as using words or phrases that show good things in the worst light and bad things in the best light.

I would argue two things: 1) it is not the words that shape public opinon, but the reality behid them; 2) both sides are equally culpable in the attempt to use words to their advantage in the battle to shape public opinion.

Let's start with my 2nd arguement. The war supporters, which, since they include the adminstration, are the ones actualy conducting the war and thus the only side with any actual influence or power in this matter, for a very long time objected to and resisted the use of "insurgency" to describe the collective actions of those Sunni Iraqis who were using violence to oppose US interests. They resisted this term because of the unpleasant implications regarding the US effort. They preferred instead things like "a handful of deadenders" "desperate thugs" things like that that would indicate a small fire that would easily be put out and not spread. They decried the antiwar crowd for using such a loaded, motivated term.

Now, however, we seem to be in need of this guy Gen. Petraus, the great counter-insurgency expert. The man who wrote the great manual. It seems to me that had the administration admitted the insurgency two years ago, and devised tacticts and strategy accordingly, we wouldn't be in this mess.

The other side, having no ability to conduct the war, has no ability to use words to affect policy--only support, which seems to have absolutely no effect upon the administration's conduct of the war.

My post is way too long already--no one will read this far--I will address argument #1 above in another and, one hopes, shorter post.

"All you are arguing is that words have an affect upon the discussion regarding the conflict in Iraq"

It's a democracy, Mark. Public debate and opinion controls the path of the nation. When you see R Congressmen peeling off from GW, it's because of the polls and the recent election, which was a result of the national debate. Debates have language as a primary component.

" 1) it is not the words that shape public opinon, but the reality behid them;"

Tell that to Johnny Cochran, or the people who pay good money to sell you things on TV you don't need, or political consultants, or PR consultants, or debate coaches -- had enough? Like for me to go on? Word matter, even more than reality, because words can control perception, and perception IS reality.

"2) both sides are equally culpable in the attempt to use words to their advantage in the battle to shape public opinion." This seems like you are saying I'm right, but since everybody does it we can disregard the effects. You're a smarter guy than that.

Word are a beautiful thing, Mark. They can take an idea like "Let's leave England" and turn it into the Declaration of Independence. They can take a womanizing, libelous, perjurous president and make him into a civil rights hero. They can make a man who killed his wife in cold blood walk free. Remember "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit"?

Words are it, Mark. Words are it.

Daniel Markham,

In a sense, I am, indeed, saying you are right. On the one hand, you are making a claim that is so obvious and so universal as to be meaningless. Yes, words are used in debates and people debate to persaude. In a democracy public opinion choses policy over time.

On the other hand, where I believe that you go off track is when you jump from that safe platitude to the position that one particular side in the debate we are discussing-the war in Iraq--is guilty of using language in the service of its cause (I suspect only because they are more successful than their opponents); Whereas you, you Daniel Markham are doing--or at least attempting to do--the exact same thing, only in service of your cause. You use the manipulations of language to persuade others that your beliefs are the more sound.

I am not saying that words don't matter in general. After all, I am using words right now. I am saying that in the context under discussion, the words of the anti-war crowd have had no affect upon the reality of the war's prosecution.

The reality behind the perception is that the US efforts in Iraq have so far not been successful. Up till now, the administration has been trying to hide that reality behind a long series of words. But the reality has seeped through to the US public, who now oppose further involvement.

That reality is this: violence has increased, not decreased in Iraq. US troop involvement has not diminished over time. These realities are weighed against expectations. Judements are then made.

Your problem in this context is that you are worried that diminished public support for the war will eventually lead to US disengagement which you view as a serious mistake. But you insult others--like me--when you argue that our disagreement with you is because we have been hoodwinked by words rather than because, after examaining the same facts available to you, we have have come to a different judgement than you.

I don't care if you call it a civil war, an insurgency, a peacekeeping effort, or an apple pie. It is what it is. I do not oppose it because of labels attached to it. I oppose what's in the bottle.

"Your problem in this context..."

Mark. Thank you for pointing out my problem! I am so happy now. LOL

I don't have forever and a day to take apart your rhetoric, but let's start with something simple.

You are presupposing that I have a position I am trying to defend. While I have a position, my intent is not to defend it, it is to point out the silliness in the way we bandy about terms without regards for their meanings. We like how they "feel" in context much better. That's true of all positions. It's human nature, and it's funny. Get over it.

I've learned a long time ago that if you have a good time and laugh at yourself and others, there will always be somebody who just doesn't get the joke.

YOUR problem, Mark, is that you're trying to have yet another argument about the Iraq war. Geesh. Take a breather every now and then, dude.

Philosophically, your position that reality matters more than words is so easy to take apart as to almost be childish. Words are our abstract symbols and syntactical relationships that we use to describe reality. In fact, complex situations like Iraq are impossible to describe without using words. Even if you are the charades champion of the world, you can't talk about complex things without words. So "reality", in the context you are trying to use, doesn't work. It's, in a philosophical sense, nonsense. That is, it is a symbol without any reference.

Let's say you are against something. Common sense would have you say, "Hey, let's not do that." But that's not the way the real world works. First, you explain how it is really complicated. Once you complicate the issue, then the choice of language symbols you choose to characterize the reality begins to color in the listener's mind the gist of the reality itself. As the adjectives drift from benign to loaded -- "dead-enders" to "civil war", for instance -- it becomes easier to persuade people of your original position. You could never do it all at once: Johnny Cochran couldn't have just stood up in court and said "It doesn't fit, so you must acquit". That's not the way these things happen. They take time.

Now you can make the argument that O.J. was innocent all along, or that the Iraq war was a civil war from the start, or a bad idea, or whatever. In THAT context, the drift of language is just the conversation moving to a more realistic understanding of the realities involved. So really, it's all in your perception. But to deny the drift is silly.

Robohobo: Point taken. But I don't beleive we are in an endgame here. I think it could be, but we're not at defcon 5 or anything here. And please; when we talk about the meaning of how words are often misrepresented, please don't bring up Independence Day, quite possibly the worst sci-fi film of the last 20 years. And I don't want to hear any more analogies to LOTR for the war on terror. Please, just in general, no more fiction analogies to real combat situations. It's just silly.

Mark thanks for giving a better explanatino of my point; but a few beers and Sunday football made my argument too pointed and less comprehensive.

one last thing...

Robohobo: I agree: the real meaning of words matter, which is why single words are such horrible carriers of ideas. They get mangled, because we each have our own view of 'that word'. This why I like this blog so much, we get a chance to use long debates to find where we agree (occassionally) and disagree (often vehemently) and fine tune our understanding of the world outside of loaded terms like 'civil war', 'suge', and 'Terrorism' or even 'Jihad' (sorry wolf, the word Jihad is often used out of context, which make counterjihad even less accurate).

When we debate in detail what we really mean, we all learn something. Yes, the civil rights movement has fallen into the trap of using loaded words, as have many other pollitical groups. My point was that loaded words are an inherent part of pollitical culture, of human culture, and we all have to keep in mind that using these words often skew what we really mean, and create a poor understanding on both sides.

Daniel Markham

Gee. My mistake I guess. I was laboring under the illusion that this thread was about the use of language in the debate over Iraq. In my defense, let me just remark that Callimachus' intial article was about Iraq--as was your first post in response--and pretty much every post since then. But, of course, what I wasn't aware of--and what you have since straigthened me out about--is that this reality--like all realities--is not as important in determining what is and is not true as your words, which attempt to describe that reality.

But know that I know that the attempted description of reality is more important than the underlying reality, i.e. the thing words attempt to describe, my daily life should get a lot easier.

One last (we can only hope) thing:

"my intent ... is to point out the silliness in the way we bandy about terms without regards for their meanings."

Here is another illusion which you have disabused me of. You see, I had long thought the the way we bandy about terms was the very process by which their meanings were arrived at intially, and were susequently changed over time. I didn't realize that words had pre-fixed meanings.

You wrote above that Iraq was not a war. I guess that's because it doesn't involve a wooden horse filled with soldiers carring swords and spears. Now THAT was a war! heh? back when words really meant something. Not like this crazy postmodern world where gay means homosexual instead of what it supposed to mean; I mean if we called them homos then maybe there wouldn't be so damn many of them. But you know this leftist agenda, always trying to change reality by shuffling words around. It is just so dizzying.

Mark! I wish you well in your journey to absolute reality land. Somehow I think you have it populated with people that believe just as you do.

And for your reference, the title of the thread is "war of the words" of which I made an oblique statement to the fact that not only is Callimachus correct, watching the discussion is fun. Much more fun than having to explain the joke to somebody ad infinitum.

"I didn't realize that words had pre-fixed meanings."

Gosh do I have incredible news for you, Mark. There's this book at the library. They call it a dictionary. It's got all kinds of words in it. With definitions right beside them. Might want to check it out sometime.

As for the evolution of meanings and the inner truth reflected in language, read some Chomsky or check out the Saphir-Whorf hypothesis. Might learn something else new for your time today. There's a great debate there that has yet to be completely resolved. And no, the Saphir-Worf hypothesis does not involve Klingons.

Regarding your lame attempt at correlating war to wooden horses, the first use of war comes in Enlgish from about 1154. It came to English by way of William the Conqueror from the old North French "guerre." Romanic peoples did not want to use a derivitive of the Latin bellum, because of its assocation with "beauty" Cognates suggest the original sense was "to bring into confusion." Which seems a very appropriate way to leave you.

Daniel Markham,

Thanks for the tip about these dictionaries, the ones you say give us the fixed meanings of words. As it happens, I own a few...for some reason they keep re-issuing them from time to time. I guess they are just correcting mistakes they made in earlier editions. Well, nobody's perfect.

One of my fav's is the OED.The reason I like it so much is that it's fun to read the changes words go through over time. Sorry that process has to change. Those Romanics that you mentioned seem like a lucky group. They got to pick new words because they didn't care for the connotations of old words. Wish we could do that, too, Dude. But I concede your point that we're not allowed to. We don't want to have to print any more new dictionaries. Save trees, and all that.

Now I'm going to unplug my computer from the surge protector since that's not really what it's protecting my computer from. Damn! Why didn't they call it a spike protector. If they'd called it the right thing, then maybe it would work better.

"But I concede your point that we're not allowed to."

My point was that analysis and political BS were two different things. Comment #12 "Politics is full of creative language. I love it. But then again, I usually don't confuse real analysis with political BS either."

Hello Mark! Hello! Are you reading my posts, or simply responding emotionally to the fact that I "dissed" your choice of words vis-a-vis Iraq?

There is no "right" or "wrong" thing to call anything. There are simply more or less effective ways to convey your internal model of reality to the reader. Yes words evolve, and I tried to point out to you that there's a lot for you to consider in this regards. Did you even Google Saphir-Whorf? Are you going to spend any time learning, or do you just like arguing too much?

If we are endeavoring to understand the structure of things and their nuances, we are performing analysis. That's the neat part about it, Mark. It's not that words do not have fixed meanings -- they certainly have meanings around which we all must share some common community. It's more like the meanings of words exist as an intersection of contexts, much like threads being woven on a loom. Great thinkers and speakers weave those threads to make something of beauty that wasn't there before. Analysis seeks to pull apart the threads to get a better handle on existing or new words that might be more appropriate or insightful. Rhetoric weaves the cloth that analysis deconstructs and re-weaves. Alchy's comment to another poster about not wanting to hear any more sci-fi references struck me as strange, in that all we have is stories and words to describe other words. Perhaps these stories and words do a better, or worse job. To alchemist, they were doing a very poor job, but to the other poster, those metaphors and similes may have symbolically stood for greater concepts that they had difficuly making more precise or terse. The weaver keeps weaving, as it were.

Gosh, if you read a little more, and posted a little less, you might do better at this old internet commentary thing. Your meme that "words don't matter" has been slapped down and buried deep. You've taken a nice, jovial comment about how funny it is that words are so creative and powerful and made it into a self-insulting polemic. Give yourself a break, dude.

The misuse of the term 'war' to describe what has transpired in Iraq is at the root of the current American dilemna. If you redeploy [AKA withdraw] you lose the 'war'. This raises the spectre of all the calamitous consequences that losing a war brings: rape, pillage, enslavement, the very end of the American way of life - not the sort of outcome the American public can be expected to endorse. But the U.S. has never really been at war - the pre-emptive police action in Iraq was to prevent the alleged impending attacks that Saddam Hussien was supposed to be planning with his nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction - remember? Start thinking of the Iraq debacle as a misdirected police action, the ending of which will do more to improve American security than further military involvment in that country. In general, assessing the success or failure of any undertaking cannot become an 'ad hoc' exercise where the goals are designated and revised as a function of 'events on the ground'. Clearly stated goals at the outset are the standard against which to evaluate the success or failure of any mission, and that evaluation can probably tell you when it is time to call a halt to something as deadly as the current military involvement in Iraq.

Daniel Markham,

"As long as they know that Bush is bad and out to take all of their freedoms, they're happy to rant. It's pathetic. Sad. Somebody should be getting a refund for the education dollars that were spent. "

But, of course, YOU, Daniel Markham, are not ranting.

"Words are very important. What we call things makes a big difference." (end of your #10, stand alone paragraph.) Compare with "There is no "right" or "wrong" thing to call anything. " (first sentence of your #28).

"YOUR problem, Mark, is that you're trying to have yet another argument about the Iraq war. Geesh. Take a breather every now and then, dude."

Do me one small favor. Go back and re-read your posts in this thread and then come back and tell me honestly that you are not having an argument about the Iraq war.

If you can't be honest about what you are doing, there's no point in further discussion.

Your views about language-as expressed here--are remarkably one sided.

The problem, Ian Coull, is that there were, as usually are, multiple rationales and goals for the war. In fact, there were several, if not dozens, given here. It is also reasonable that new objectives or goals reveal themselves over time.

OTOH, this suggests that the case is not one of complete failure or undimmed success.

"But, of course, YOU, Daniel Markham, are not ranting." Of course I'm ranting! LOL

""Words are very important. What we call things makes a big difference." (end of your #10, stand alone paragraph.) Compare with "There is no "right" or "wrong" thing to call anything. " (first sentence of your #28)." -- YES. YES. What we choose to call things makes a big difference to the perceptions of other people. But among any group of people there is not a right or wrong way to freaking communicate! Hence my discussion about Alchemist and the LOTR poster. Am I not communicating, or are you dense? The reason words matter is because they can be used in various contexts to sway the reader. In any one context we have various standards to use to understand the writer if we are unsure, but they are not absolute, and context and art matter as much or more than literal meanings. Words matter because of their effect on the consumer, not because of some esoteric discussion about literal truth that you wanted to have.

"tell me honestly that you are not having an argument about the Iraq war."

Like I said, you're peeved that I had a different viewpoint than yours, and instead of saying "yes. We all have different viewpoints," decided to go after me on some wild philological goose chase. Well the chase is over, Mark, and you ain't got no goose.

If I were making an argument about the Iraq war, I would make a statement, like "This isn't really a war, it's a peacekeeping mission" and then SUPPORT that statement with various allegories, facts, metaphors, or logical reasoning. I did no such thing. What I DID do was to use as an example of something I thought was funny an item that challenged your little worldview. I did so because how better to make the point that words can drive folks to distraction and not promote reasoned analysis than to wind you up and watch you dance.

QED

I know I am absoutely sure there is no absolute. You have every right to think I am wrong, though I think you are wrong to think this. Are you are a person of color or homosexual? If so, you are probably more equal with your opinion, though I doubt it.

I feel strongly both ways, mostly.

Possibly a stupid question, but... You say,

bq.In a laughable bit of journalistic commentary, the Times has a Roseanne Rosanadana moment and slips this into the article well down in the text:

bq.The controversy has not been diminished by the fact that Bush and senior White House officials have steered clear of "surge" themselves.

How is that a "Roseanne Rosanadana" moment? Did you mean "Emily Litella" ("never mind")? We gotta keep our radneriana straight...

#29 Ian:

The misuse of the term 'war' to describe what has transpired in Iraq is at the root of the current American dilemna. If you redeploy [AKA withdraw] you lose the 'war'. This raises the spectre of all the calamitous consequences that losing a war brings: rape, pillage, enslavement, the very end of the American way of life - not the sort of outcome the American public can be expected to endorse.

Suppose we just say "battle"? Does that help? I mean, isn't the issue whether or not this action/battle/war is critical to the outcome? You say it's not, huh? Why's that? And is there even one credible military or foreign policy person who agrees with you that this... whatever... isn't critical? Murtha doesn't count. He's no more an expert on war tactics and strategy than you are.

The issue at the Battle of the Wilderness wasn't whether it was different in kind from other battles, it was that Grant and Hook figured out that simply attempting to outflank the enemy made Union forces less vulnerable, and that over time we'd eventually pull it off. So from then on it was a matter of "getting around". It was over 13 months between the Battle of the Wilderness and Appomattox. Imagine a similar situation today. 13 months of trying the same thing over and over, with steadily rising casualties...

About your only argument is that, somehow, Iraq is really peripheral to the WoT... and again, you'll be hard pressed to make that case. If the enemy believed it, they'd leave.

The calculation here is simple, and it doesn't involve allowing legislators to micromanage the military. Do we need to win in Iraq or not? If so, how do we accomplish it? If not, let's cover our withdrawal and take the fight elsewhere. I'm sure you've thought this through.

#36 Demosophist:
You are quite right I have no expertise in war tactics or strategy; but my point is meant to be more about the 'end', and not so much the means to achieving that end. You are much closer to my point when you ask whether or not this action/battle/war is critical to the outcome? Importantly, this sentence assumes that one has carefully defined what the desired 'outcome' is, in order to be able to make the assessment. What I remember is that the invasion of Iraq was presented as a much deliberated response to the clear and present danger presented to the U.S. by Saddam Husseins WMD. So ... the desired outcome, and hence the measure of 'success/victory' was clear: remove one or both of these components of the threat. Mission accomplished, ... now go find Osama. The unfortunate non-existence of the WMD would almost imply that the whole invasion was folly. This politically and patriotically unacceptable conclusion has engendered the rationale of the week we now endure: bringing democracy to the Iraq populace (who appear somewhat taken with theocracy); stabilizing the region (yah I can see the stability settling in from here); how about empowering women?; eliminating poverty?; Strengthening family values?; you choose.

It is an axiom of the experimental method, that you have to specify your theory, and hence your expected outcomes before the experiment is conducted, not as a function of the results obtained. I think that the same principle applies to the assessment of the success or failure of the Iraq mission.

As for the case of whether Iraq is really peripheral to the WoT .. I remember Colin Powell tried to make that case once... and the resounding international support he failed to receive argues against your assumption that it was, or somehow still is, self-evident. I believe even a few members of congress have reversed themselves on the validity of the idea.

You made it to the Language Log site! See here

Recent Comments
  • TM Lutas: Jobs' formula was simple enough. Passionately care about your users, read more
  • sabinesgreenp.myopenid.com: Just seeing the green community in action makes me confident read more
  • Glen Wishard: Jobs was on the losing end of competition many times, read more
  • Chris M: Thanks for the great post, Joe ... linked it on read more
  • Joe Katzman: Collect them all! Though the French would be upset about read more
  • Glen Wishard: Now all the Saudis need is a division's worth of read more
  • mark buehner: Its one thing to accept the Iranians as an ally read more
  • J Aguilar: Saudis were around here (Spain) a year ago trying the read more
  • Fred: Good point, brutality didn't work terribly well for the Russians read more
  • mark buehner: Certainly plausible but there are plenty of examples of that read more
  • Fred: They have no need to project power but have the read more
  • mark buehner: Good stuff here. The only caveat is that a nuclear read more
  • Ian C.: OK... Here's the problem. Perceived relevance. When it was 'Weapons read more
  • Marcus Vitruvius: Chris, If there were some way to do all these read more
  • Chris M: Marcus Vitruvius, I'm surprised by your comments. You're quite right, read more
The Winds Crew
Town Founder: Left-Hand Man: Other Winds Marshals
  • 'AMac', aka. Marshal Festus (AMac@...)
  • Robin "Straight Shooter" Burk
  • 'Cicero', aka. The Quiet Man (cicero@...)
  • David Blue (david.blue@...)
  • 'Lewy14', aka. Marshal Leroy (lewy14@...)
  • 'Nortius Maximus', aka. Big Tuna (nortius.maximus@...)
Other Regulars Semi-Active: Posting Affiliates Emeritus:
Winds Blogroll
Author Archives
Categories
Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en