Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Yesterday's 'Süddeutsche Zeitung' had an nice little article on how Obama is doing away with the clumsy ideological spin of the Bush era and young American cannon fodder in Afghanistan will be pleased to know that they are now dying in an "Overseas Contingency Operation" rather than in a "War on Terror". In drawing a comparison between the Nazis and the Bush administration, a comparision that he was careful to qualify, the reporter, Andrian Kreye dug out a quote from George Orwell,(1) which I remembered from my own reading of the said writer's article, "Politics and the "English Language", which was written in 1946, and in which Orwell says the following, "Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs.(2) If only it were so easy!
It is not going to be so easy not only because of the "hype" man's new "newspeak", the variation of the theme, the unadultarated drivel dressed up to the nines, the "emperor" wearing new clothes, but also because of something Sarah Chayes writes about in her book 'The Punishment of Virtue; Inside Afghanistan after the Taliban'. when she tells of how, on arriving in Afghanistan in October 2001 to begin her work as a journalist, she was soon made aware of the fact that the editors back home, "knew the story they wanted, and they told us what it was. We were just supposed ot dig up some stuff to substantiate their foregone conclusions."(3) There we have it; the spin, the "newspeak" will be in line with the prevailing "Zeitgeist"; the "news" will be "no news" as Bush gives way to "Bush lite", the "hype" man, and the reporters report what they are supposed to report, what they are told to report, and report it the way they are "supposed" to report it and, while I will continue to consign the drivel to "the dustbin, where it belongs" I am increasingly seeing my alter ego in one of Orwell's heroes and "It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen"(4) and, like Winston Smith, I too question the system in which I live. Big Brother is watching you.

1 'Die Süddeutsche Zeitung', April 1, 2009 front page
2 George Orwell, 'Politics and the English Language' (1946)

3 Sarah Chayes, 'The Punishment of Virtue' New York (2006) p13

4 George Orwell, '1984' (1949)


Anonymous said...

Very spot-on blog entry.
In the UK people object to Google vans taking snaps of their houses, but few raise a squeak of protest against the fact that they have the highest number of CCTV cameras in the world per head of population. Try asking the local council to blur your face, your car number plate, they'll give you short shrift.

Anonymous said...

Top-class comments, diplomatabroad, and as always razor-sharp and often provocative.

Language: say the sentences "We will provide a service" and "We will deliver a service", for example.

The first suggests carrying the whole process through with care and attention and consideration to the end, whereas the second, the one favored by managers and government bureaucrats, feels more like "We will bring this pile of doodah to your door and dump it steaming there, for good or bad".

Take the word "community" as a another example of deliberate language manipulation. In the UK you can never be an individual, instead you are always part of a "community", a word suggesting cohesion and unity, decency of combined purpose and reason, and thus manageablility, divide and rule, and outsideness all at the same time.

A registered member of the "Staying indoors on a balmy evening, sipping green tea and typing comments on someone's blog entry while the cat sleeps next to the keyboard" community. Mmm - doesn't it feel good to belong?

James Nelson said...

and when the anglo-saxons refer to the "international community" they, in fact, mean themselves and all those who are not rubbing them up the wrong way. to be outside that "international community" is to be "de facto" 'beyond the pale'.