L.I.E.S.    Language in Extreme Situations

A web against the use of Language as a Weapon of Mass Deception




La Guerra de la Palabra

Fighting war with words: Web site looks for a better way
(Michelle Locke, Associated Press, 25/3/03)

The young and sometimes boisterous anti-war movement in the United States is learning something linguists already know: When fighting a war with words, it's important to choose your weapons carefully.

So far, it seems like a struggle is being waged for the heart of the movement, with some choosing largely peaceful means such as the crowd of more than 125,000 who marched down Broadway in New York this past weekend. Others have opted for rowdier tactics, such as the daily attempts to tie up traffic by blocking the streets of San Francisco.

It's a demonstrator's dilemma. The mellow approach runs the risk of being tuned out. But harsher tactics may turn off -- as when anti-war documentarian Michael Moore is greeted with cheers as he accepts an Oscar and then booed as he upbraids the president.

Getting the message, and the tone, just right, is key, says George Lakoff, a University of California, Berkeley, linguistics professor.

"Language matters a lot and the way that demonstrations are carried out matter a lot," he says.

Writer and educator Susan Strong has explored the power of positive phrasing by way of the Metaphor Project, a Web site that pushes the power of such positive phrases as "Save America, spare Iraq," and "Peace is patriotic."

"We need to reclaim the right to civil dialogue about the courses of action that our government takes," says Strong, who has a Ph.D. in comparative literature and has taught college classes in literature and communication. "Just saying no isn't enough. We have to be able to say what we're for."

Lakoff, who opposes the war, sees problems in the growing movement against it, not least being the name "anti-war movement," a negative approach and a cognitive mistake that Lakoff illustrates to his students with the simple instruction: Don't think of an elephant.

Framing the movement as anti-war also suggests it will end when the fighting stops, Lakoff says. In fact, "war is only a symptom here. What the Bush administration is trying to do is push a conservative agenda both within America and throughout the world. Progressives have an opposite agenda and they need to express it positively."

Disruption "just makes people mad at you," says Lakoff.

But Father Louis Vitale, who is pastor of St. Boniface Church in San Francisco and an active anti-war protester, says there "is a need to stop business as usual when we're involved in something that's just really immoral and unjust. We would say to people, 'Don't drive. Don't even go to work. Stay home and think through what do we need to change in order to be a society that lives without wars."'

Vitale, who teaches at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, says he's not crazy about some of the language being used by protesters. But he points out that in any popular movement you have many different voices, and that's a good thing.

"Where there aren't rough edges, there's some stifling of creativity," he says.

Protesters trying to get their view of war across may not know it, but they're fighting deeply ingrained metaphors that shape people's views, says Lakoff, whose most recent book is "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think."

Metaphors can kill, argues Lakoff, citing the idea of a "nation as a person," that is, Saddam Hussein equals Iraq, and, by extension, the idea of the world as a community of adult and child nations. The child nations are countries that are developing or underdeveloped, he says. That creates a scenario in which "the job of the adult nations is to tell the children nations how to develop and if they don't do it, to punish them."

Another deadly metaphor, Lakoff says, is that the war against Iraq is about rescuing the Iraqi people -- an idea that overlooks the fact that many will die in the bombing.

Meanwhile, conservatives have appropriated patriotic language and symbols as their own -- and liberals have let them, say Lakoff and Strong.

"It is patriotic," says Strong, "to be really concerned about our country and where this all leads and what kind of country we are becoming."

On the Net:





Poema: No a la guerra
Life under the chief doublespeak officer
Dubya war glossary
Kid Row
Truth is strongest weapon in war
Loyalty oath
Did our leaders lie to us?
War watch. Claims and counter claims made during the war over Iraq
War-speak worthy of Milton and Chuck Norris
Metaphor and war, again
Language of war.Decoding the jargon of war
Fighting war with words
With God and the Bard on our side




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