Silly word games
Democrats – against GWOT, for TWAT
April 5, 2007
The Washington Post reports:
Erin Conaton, the Democratic staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, urged aides in a March 27 memo to “avoid using colloquialisms,” such as the “war on terrorism” or the “long war,” and not to use the term “global war on terrorism.” In preparing the annual defense authorization bill, the staff is directed to be more specific, such as referring to operations in Iraq.
“Colloquialisms”? That is rather unfair to the finely machined Unspeak that resurrected Reagan’s “war against international terrorism”, or WAIT, but gave it a hipper, snappier makeover in the form of the “war on terror”, alternatively known as the GWOT, or as WIIIAI rightly calls it, “The War Against Terror”, or TWAT.
Rep. Ike Skelton, the committee chairman and Conaton’s boss, defended the memo. “GOP objections to our efforts to clarify legislative language represent the typical Republican leadership attempt to tie together the misadventure in Iraq and the overall war against terrorists,” Skelton, D-Mo., said in a statement Wednesday.
Oh, so there is still something that answers to the name of “the overall war against terrorists”, or TOWAT? How’s that one going?
“The Iraq war is separate and distinct from the war against terrorists, who have their genesis in Afghanistan and who attacked us on 9/11, and the American people understand this,” Skelton said.
“The war against terrorists”, or – hey! – TWAT, is aimed, in Skelton’s understanding, at people who “have their genesis in Afghanistan”. Eh? Their genesis? In Afghanistan? I suppose it is easy to forget about that tiny and insignificant backwater Saudi Arabia, although there might be subtler political reasons for not reminding us right now that Sudan was the base of Al Qaeda activities in the the early 1990s.
Well, at least the Democrats have noticed that “war on terrorism” is deliberately conflationary, although they apparently don’t mention the preferred form – not war on terrorism but war on terror. “War on terror” is better because it allows you to creatively confuse state terror with acts by non-state groups. Thus it was oft said that Al Qaeda practised “terror” (where it would be more usual to say “terrorism”); and also that Saddam Hussein practised “terror” against his own people. Naturally, all practitioners of “terror” were in it together, and so Iraq had something to do with Al Qaeda from the start. Some people may still dimly remember the sordid spectacle of John Kerry in 2004 robotically promising that he would “do a better job of fighting the War on Terror”, thus crawling humbly right into George W. Bush’s propaganda cave and moaning a little before expiring on the earthen floor.
But the other major implication of “war on terror”, that it is a fruitful idea to try to fight a “war” against terror, or terrorism, or terrorists, howsoever defined (and they are defined rather howsoever, aren’t they?) doesn’t appear to bother these Democrats a bit. In effect, they’re letting Bush keep at least half the propaganda peach, leaving him munching happily on it, handsfree, with juice dripping down his chin. What is presented by these Democrats as a righteous stand against Unspeak is little more than a testy complaint about the Iraq war in particular. A point worth making, no doubt, and one that would have been even more worth making four years ago. (There is a lot more, if you can bear it, on the contemporary language of “terror” in Unspeak, Chapter 7.) But anyway, let’s hear it for the firm Democratic stand against GWOT and, er, in favour of TWAT:
Stacey Farnen Bernards, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Republicans were playing “silly word games in an attempt to score political points” in the debate.
Oh dear. Again the Democrat is submissively gulping down Republican FUD-juice, where the notion of scoring “political points” contemptuously demotes what is “political” to the level of mere cynical manoeuvring. And the idea that the careful promulgation of phraseology such as “war on terror” constitutes “silly word games” is poignantly wide of the mark, too. “Silly word games” would be a bit of refreshing light relief. If George W. Bush were a secret fan of Call My Bluff, he would rise massively in my estimation, like some sort of engorged primate linguolude. What the Democrats have blearily half-woken up to is that the administration’s brilliantly engineered slogans have already done their job. These were serious word games, and we were all losers.