First Bomb the Language, Then the Iraqis


It was interesting to hear Colin Powell accuse France and Germany of cowardice in not wanting to go to war. Or, as he put more succinctly, France and Germany ‘are afraid of upholding their responsibility to impose the will of the international community’. Powell’s speech brings up one of the most outrageous but least examined aspects of this whole war on Iraq business. I am speaking about the appalling collateral damage already being inflicted on the English language.

Perhaps the worst impact is on our vocabulary. ‘Cowardice’, according to Colin Powell, is the refusal to injure thousands of innocent civilians living in Baghdad in order to promote US oil interests in the Middle East. The corollary is that ‘bravery’ must be the ability to order the deaths of 100,000 Iraqis without wincing or bringing up your Caesar salad.

I suppose Tony Blair is ‘brave’ because he is willing to expose the people who voted for him to the threat of terrorist reprisals in return for getting a red carpet whenever he visits the White House, while Chirac is a ‘coward’ for standing up to the bigoted bullying of the extremist right-wing Republican warmongers who currently run the United States.

In the same vein, well-fed young men sitting in millions of dollars’ worth of military hardware and dropping bombs from 30,000ft on impoverished people who have already had all their arms taken away are exemplars of ‘bravery’. ‘Cowardliness’, according to George W. Bush, is hijacking an aircraft and deliberately piloting it into a large building. There are plenty of things you could call that, but not ‘cowardly’. Yet when Bill Maher pointed this out on his TV show, Politically Incorrect, he was anathematised and the sponsors threatened to withdraw funding from the show.

Something weird is going on when not only do the politicians deliberately change the meanings of words, but also society is outraged when someone points out the correct usage.

Then there’s ‘the international community’. Clearly, Colin Powell cannot be talking of the millions who took to the streets last Saturday. The ‘international community’ he’s talking about must be those politicians who get together behind closed doors to decide how best to stay in power and enrich their supporters by maiming, mutilating and killing a lot of foreigners in funny clothes whom they’ll never see. And while we’re at it, what about that word ‘war’. My dictionary defines a ‘war’ as ‘open, armed conflict between two parties, nations or states’. Dropping bombs from a safe height on an already hard-pressed people, whose infrastructure is in chaos from years of sanctions and who live under an oppressive regime, isn’t a ‘war’. It’s a turkey shoot.

But then the violence being done to the English language is probably the price we have to pay for cheap petrol.

Language is supposed to make ideas clearer so that we can understand them. But when politicians such as Colin Powell, George W. Bush, and Tony Blair get hold of language, their aim is usually the opposite. That’s how they persuade us to take ludicrous concepts seriously. Like the whole idea of a ‘war on terrorism’. You can wage war against another country, or on a national group within your own country, but you can’t wage war on an abstract noun. How do you know when you’ve won? When you’ve got it removed from the Oxford English Dictionary?

When men in power propose doing something that is shameful, wrong and destructive, the first casualty is the English language. It would matter less if it were the only casualty. But if they carry on perverting our vocabulary and twisting our grammar, the result will spell death for many who are now alive.

TERRY JONES is a founder member of Monty Python.


November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
Sam Husseini
A Thanksgiving Day Prayer
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”