First Bomb the Language, Then the Iraqis

by TERRY JONES

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.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
September 4-6, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Regime Change Refugees: On the Shores of Europe
Lawrence Ware
No Refuge: the Specter of White Supremacy Still Haunts Black America
Paul Street
Bi-Polar Disorder: Obama’s Bait-and-Switch Environmental Politics
Kali Akuno
Until We Win: Black Labor and Liberation in the Disposable Era
Arun Gupta
Field Notes to Life During the Apocalypse
Steve Hendricks
Come Again? Second Thoughts on My Ashley Madison Affair
Paul Craig Roberts
Whither the Economy?
Ron Jacobs
Bernie Sanders’ Vision: As Myopic as Every Other Candidate or Not?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and Crisis
Jeffrey St. Clair
Arkansas Bloodsuckers: the Clintons, Prisoners and the Blood Trade
Richard W. Behan
Republican Fail, Advantage Sanders: the Indefensible Budget for Defense
Ted Rall
Call It By Its Name: Censorship
Susan Babbitt
“Swarms” Entering the UK? What We Can Still Learn About the Migrant Crisis From Che Guevara
Andrew Levine
Compassionate Conservatism: a Reconsideration and an Appreciation
John Wight
Adrift Without Sanctuary: a Sick and Twisted Morality
Binoy Kampmark
Sieges in an Age of Austerity: Monitoring Julian Assange
Colin Todhunter
Europe’s Refugee Crisis and the Depraved Morality of David Cameron
JP Sottile
Chinese Military Parade Freak-Out
Kathleen Wallace
The Child Has a Name, They All Do
David Rosen
Why So Few Riots?
Norm Kent
The Rent Boy Raid: Homeland Security Should Monitor Our Borders Not Our Bedrooms
Michael Welton
Canada’s Arrogant Autocrat: the Rogue Politics of Stephen Harper
Ramzy Baroud
Palestine’s Crisis of Leadership: Did Abbas Destroy Palestinian Democracy?
Jim Connolly
Sniping at the Sandernistas: Left Perfectionism in the Belly of the Beast
Pepe Escobar
Say Hello to China’s New Toys
Sylvia C. Frain
Tiny Guam, Huge US Marine Base Expansions
Pete Dolack
Turning National Parks into Corporate Profit Centers
Ann Garrison
Africa’s Problem From Hell: Samantha Power
Dan Glazebrook
British Home Secretary Theresa May: Savior or Slaughterer of Black People?
Christopher Brauchli
Poor, Poor, Pitiful Citigroup
Norman Pollack
Paradigm of a Fascist Mindset: Nicholas Burns on Iran
Barry Lando
Standing at the Bar of History: Could the i-Phone Really Have Prevented the Holocaust?
Linn Washington Jr.
Critics of BlackLivesMatter# Practice Defiant Denial
Roger Annis
Canada’s Web of Lies Over Syrian Refugee Crisis
Chris Zinda
Constitutional Crisis in the Heart of Dixie
Rannie Amiri
Everything Stinks: Beirut Protests and Garbage Politics
Graham Peebles
Criminalizing Refugees
Missy Comley Beattie
In Order To Breathe
James McEnteer
Blast From the Past in Buenos Aires
Patrick Higgins
A Response to the “Cruise Missile Left”
Tom H. Hastings
Too Broke to Pay Attention
Edward Leer
Love, Betrayal, and Donuts
Louis Proyect
Migrating Through Hell: Quemada-Diez’s “La Jaula de Oro”
Charles R. Larson
Class and Colonialism in British Cairo
David Yearsley
Michael Sarin: Drumming Like Summer Fireworks Over a Choppy Lake