Friday, September 16, 2005

The War in Iraq

I've never liked the term "the war in Iraq". It's clunky. You have to use an entire phrase, rather than the noun "war" with an adjective. It's a non-standard formulation. The Korean War. The Vietnam War. The Civil War. The Revolutionary War. The First (and Second) World War. The Russo-Japanese War. As I was pondering this, I have, after all, a degree in communications, I realized that this awkward phrase was a profound bit of propaganda.

The standard phrasing that "the war in Iraq" uses is a geographical designation. The war in the Pacific. The war in the Atlantic. The war in the trenches. It is used to refer to fighting contained in a particular location within a larger war. Thus, by saying, "The War in Iraq", we are including it within the larger "War on Terrorism" every time we speak. If you think that this is too subtle to have any effect, I reply that subtlety is the mark of fine propaganda. Overt propaganda is rarely effective, and is usually the target of sarcasm. Overt propaganda is self-contained counter-propaganda. Such subtle, covert propaganda can influence our thinking and leave us none the wiser. I was bothered by it, but for the wrong reason. I realized that something was wrong, but not what was wrong. At any rate, it influenced my thinking.

Another aspect of this phrase is that, by treating "Iraq" as mere geography, rather than a political entity, we have granted ourselves wide leeway in determining who we are actually fighting. If we attacked the Iraqi state as a whole, we needed only capture or kill Saddam and overthrown the Ba'ath party. Since Iraq means only a place, not a thing, we can stay as long as we wish to fight the "War on Terrorism".

However, the "War on Terrorism" is also a non-standard phrase. It doesn't follow the typical pattern for declared wars listed in the first paragraph. Rather, it takes the phrasing of a political campaign--the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on crime. This however, makes sense. It is the use of "war" as a metaphor which attributes the seriousness of purpose with which we approach the problem, although this one is much more militaristic than were previous "wars on".


Blogger Hamlette said...

And just think how different our perceptions would be if there was just one tiny letter changed: "The War On Iraq" instead of "The War In Iraq"...

9:19 PM  
Blogger Noumenon said...

I was just coming in here to say that since this post I had started noticing different people calling it "The War With Iraq" and "The War On Iraq." It does make a difference.

6:11 AM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

It's really amazing how much of an influence it can have. Bix, for example, doesn't believe any of my watered-down Whorf-hypothesis crap (not his term, but, if he knew the theory, I'm quite confident he would consider it such), but the way you word things does change the way you think about things.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Noumenon said...

Another example is "We're supporting our troops" versus "We're supporting the government troops."

10:02 AM  

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