Signs, Signs, Everywhere
‘Truth’ is the first casuistry of war. Truth in advertising (‘Iraqi Freedom,’ ‘War on Terror’), its capacious body bag. G.W. Bush and his loyalists, in waging war on the people of the world, wage war on language, speech, communication, too. The aim is artful evasion, coercion, and deception on all fronts, and they take no prisoners.
In an age of conservative demagoguery and military preemption, we are asked to make sacrifices not only of life, limb, treasury, and safety, but likewise we are compelled to trade in the terms and techniques of civil critique for the cable-ready inputs of the new ‘embedded’ journalism. Never before have the rights of free speech, press, and assembly been so confused with the rite of constrained consumption. Giddy with the thrill of ‘unprecedented access,’ network news correspondents (almost universally male) thankfully endure specially designed boot-camp training, then bond with the same military personnel who restrict what can be said, about what, and when. At the same time, the military threatens independent journalists and demands that they leave the war zone ‘for their own safety.’ A news media celebration—great footage, great TV—replaces news journalism. Tom Brokaw muses that we are probably “better off” not seeing the bad stuff anyway.
Anti-war protestors, admonished for questioning the truth of ‘just cause’ proclamations, are belittled as naïve and ineffectual cry-babies at best, threats to troop morale at worst. 21st century newspeak, twenty years later than Orwell predicted it, turns deception into an art form (the goal is to ‘free the Iraqi people’) and renders factual evidence powerless against the simple repetition of propaganda statements (‘Iraq is responsible for 9-11’). Meanwhile, pro-peace, pro-U.N., pro-diplomacy arguments are dismissed as adolescent ‘rhetoric,’ and not one major network journalist is ‘embedded’ to find out otherwise.
Terrorism, drug-trafficking, and (in some cases) immigration become synonymous, encouraging bi-national (U.S.-Mexico, for example) commitments to defending not nations but borders, and the former sites of land dispute are now protected sites of entrenched political and cultural divisions. The line between ‘soldier’ and ‘law enforcer’ blurs, and Mexican army personnel deploy to ‘police’ the border while the police departments of every major U.S. city are conscribed to defend "America" against international terrorist attacks.
Supportive governments—the ‘Iraqi Freedom’ coalition of 35-odd nations with an impressively combined GNP of about $1.5 trillion—nonetheless get none of the promised post-war booty, as suggested by the government’s decision to invite ‘only American corporations’ to bid on rebuilding contracts, with reconstruction financed in turn by the taxpayer. Saddled with the cost of destroying Iraq, we are then asked to pay for its reconstruction, supplemented by Iraqi oil revenue. ‘Freedom’ indeed comes at a price.
Conservative intellectuals (Wolfowitz, Perle, among others) are cited in the NY Times as the founding fathers of the new ‘lineage’ of radical preemption. The United States, the sole global ‘hyper-power,’ engages in ‘civilizing missions’ akin to those attempted by 19th and 20th century British imperialists. ‘Shock and awe’ becomes the battle cry of the new doctrine of ‘rapid dominance,’ and the 21st century mission of ‘democratic’ nations to civilize the undemocratic is sold to senior administrators and citizens alike as ‘mission capability packages (MCPs).’ Old world order, new world advertising slogans.
Poets, writers, journalists, playwrights, screen-writers, educators, bloggers, list-servants, web designers, and all other agents and artisans of language, speech, and communication enjoy no premium on truth. We can, however, pay close attention to the threats of invasive casuistry, and act accordingly.
[p.s. See Barret Watten on this as well: "We need to take the mechanized hardware of the language of war apart—by locating alternate evidence in multiple media, by questioning the pseudo-objectivity of its delusional conclusions, by unpacking its embedded metaphors and narrative frames, by thinking otherwise."]