Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Facing a Faceless Enemy

by Risa Peris (writer), Los Angeles, October 21, 2006


The Republican Party appears deft at crafting phrases and inventing rhetoric that linger in the mind and incite emotions

The White House, particularly George Bush, has a difficult time grasping language and its shades of meaning. However, the Republican Party as a whole appears deft at crafting phrases and inventing rhetoric that linger in the mind and incite emotions. The most recent example of this surrounds the new bill that came before and passed (253 to 168) the House regarding extensive rules governing the questioning of terror suspects and bringing them before military tribunals. The bill would allow seizure of evidence in the United States without a search warrant, allowing evidence obtained through cruel and inhuman treatment, and denying relief or appeal to those convicted.

Republican Senator Bill Frist, as he opened the debate insisted that the "time to act is now." Representative John Boehner of Ohio said “it was outrageous [how the Democrats] continue to oppose giving President Bush the tools he needs to protect our country. "Representative Duncan Hunter maintained that we are dealing with an enemy in war." In a time of war it is not practical to apply the same rules of evidence that we apply in civil trials or court martials for our troops. "Representative Mac Thornberry insisted that, information is the key we have to prevent them from killing us."

The Democrats were far more tepid and less vivid in their disclaiming of the bill. Representative Steny Hoyer said, "[our] moral standing is eroded." Senator Patrick Leahy simply chimed "that it [the bill] was unconstitutional and contrary to our interests."

The Republicans swat at Democrats statements as if they were dispelling annoying yet inconsequential flies. Across all the media channels the Republicans dramatically spoke of America and Americans "facing a faceless enemy" that skulks in the shadows like some otherworldly presence. This enemy requires "a new way of thinking." Despite the semantic and actual physical difficulties in "facing a faceless enemy" that phrase forms a powerful imaginative image and the fact that I need to think differently in order to hold that image in my head and counteract the force of that image seems positively beguiling.

George Orwell once wrote, in an essay from 1946 entitled Politics and the English Language that, "most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse." Why? Why should languages collapse along with civilizations? Orwell considered this more carefully in 1984. He arrived at a deceptively easy conclusion "propaganda controls language and language controls thinking. An eroded language equals an eroded civilization."

The Bush Administration and the Republicans, although they proclaim that our enemy is faceless, are nevertheless waging an ethnic war. It is a classic battle of "us" and "them". The current Administration has recognized tragic international incidents, such as 9/11, as key opportunities for asserting power by manipulating language.

In Nazi Germany, the Germans became unified by identifying an enemy, real or imaginary. Once the enemy was isolated it gave them a strong sense of ego enhancement and self-confidence. The government was able to justify extreme measures in social policy, such as the narrowing of civil liberties, economic exploitation and the general support for the war because of the shadowy presence of an enemy. In so doing, the government was able to achieve power over the Germans. Of course, it could not do any of the above effectively without riddling the German language with phrases of emotive significance that thereby controlled the very thinking processes of the Germans. The German Reich was meant to last a Thousand Years. The erosion of the German language led to the erosion of the Nazi government in less than fifteen years.

Are we then, as Americans, supposed to sit back and wait for the demise of the Administration or the demise of our civilization? How do we counteract evocative imagery, propaganda and grasp hold of our ability to think accurately rather than ethnically about the current situation regarding terrorism? In World War II it was the Allied propaganda that pummeled the Axis propaganda. Given that, it leaves the Democrats little choice but to step up their own propaganda campaigns that need to be more vivid than simply accusing the Republicans of being"unconstitutional". That is hardly a shocking statement any longer. What would be shocking and instrumental is actually spurring a"new way of thinking" by presenting equally evocative but counteractive images. The Democrats need to refresh the political language and address ethnicity and civil liberties bravely. What is at stake is the only faceless enemy that needs to be faced - not terrorism but lack of thinking.

About the Writer

Risa Peris is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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4 comments on Facing a Faceless Enemy

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By Annonymous on October 21, 2006 at 02:29 pm
very well constructed article. Good job.
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By Kay C on April 24, 2007 at 12:42 pm
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By GreatMinds on June 01, 2007 at 03:44 pm
So, in short, you want us to arrive at an accurate way of conceptualizing our conflicts by a "sharper image" that is sharpened by its strength of counterproductivity relative to Republican propaganda instead of by its independent truthfulness? Seems to me you're just begging for better browbeaters and are not really concerned with an "accurate" view of things as you are a more powerful expression of your own view. Let me ask you this: Is not the inability to sharply define a viewpoint (by word or image), or at least to cast a sharp relief of the opposition by an equally compelling word or image, an indication of the logical, political or (dare I say) moral weakness of a position from the get-go?? Just an honest question.
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By Annonymous on November 06, 2007 at 12:42 pm
I would posit a different application of Orwell's essay. The Republicans' rhetoric of threat is not new, but it's effective because it employs recognizable metaphors. It doesn't challenge the population but caters to their fears. The rhetoric of the Republicans on this (and many issues) is an object model for precisely what is wrong with politics and the English language. Whether it's Bush's homey and unthreatening inability to articulate a complicated idea, or the more polished and theatrical hyperbole of the Republican machine, neither is doing anything to move Americans to think differently. Revolutionary thought is rarely popular because it threatens most of what we believe and requires a language that is unfamiliar if not foreign. The threat we face from Islamic fundamentalism is a threat that we created and sustain by our reliance on oil and a long history of meddling in the politics of the Middle East. The reason why Democrats really can't combat the Republicans rhetorically is because, fundamentally, they're part of the same ideological system. Sadly, the only politician who seems to get this has distanced himself from politics. Al Gore's focus on the environment enables him to transcend the argument of "continue the fight" or "a timetable for withdrawal" and say that our focus is misplaced. The problem is our reliance on oil and our consumption (and disposal)-based culture.
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