In George Orwell’s 1984, we read of a totalitarian state where the government monitors all aspects of the citizens’ lives. The world of Big Brother introduces the reader to an entirely new vocabulary, including:
- Doublethink – the power to hold two completely contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accept both of them.
- Newspeak – a propagandistic language designed to diminish the range of thought; all words describing ‘unorthodox’ political ideas have been removed to limit the range of ideas that can be expressed.
A modern word has been formed combining their meanings:
- Doublespeak – deliberately evasive language that says one thing but means another, usually the opposite.
This evasive language is often used by our politicians to expand power or avoid responsibility. Joseph Goebbels knew the power of doublespeak very well, as propaganda minister for the Nazis. A few terms he came up with were:
- concentration camp = labor/death camp (joycamp in Newspeak)
- protective custody = imprisonment without due process of law
- Verschärfte Vernehmung = German for ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques (for which some were found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death)..sound familiar?
I would like to highlight some of the new vocabulary commonly used by ourselves and by our leaders in the present day.
- War on Terror – implies a ‘good vs. evil’ mentality that our imperialism is fighting for freedom while ‘terrorists’ are fighting against freedom
- War in Iraq – in reality an unprovoked, illegal invasion and military occupation, not a war
- patriotism – unquestioning loyalty to the administration’s interests
- freedom fighter – terrorist supporting America’s interests
- terrorist – political rebel working against America’s interests
- ally – client state
- terrorist insurgency – seemingly everyone we kill is reported a ‘terrorist’ or an ‘insurgent’, which implies there is no Iraqi resistance; in reality about a million Iraqi civilians have been killed.
- Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Just Cause, Operation Enduring Freedom, A War to Liberate the Iraqi people, and the like – political slogans for military operations
- Support the Troops – approve of war no matter what; in reality, it should be to keep our troops safe
- freedom – supposed to be “what we’re fighting for” yet Bush has enacted programs curbing freedoms
- the Patriot Act – legislation responsible for trimming the Bill of Rights and limiting our civil liberties
- unlawful enemy combatant – term used to deny prisoners the writ of habeus corpus
- advanced interrogation techniques = torture
- extraordinary rendition – deportation of prisoners by one country to another not burdened by following international laws, for the purpose of torture (“The USA does not torture” = we take them to Syria for that)
- national security letter (NSL) – document used to bypass judicial warrant for search and seizures
- self-injurious behavior incidents – Pentagon’s phrase for suicide attempts by prisoners
- material witness – someone jailed without probable cause
- security alert level – arbitrary system of colored code designed to scare the general population
- stop-loss program (back door draft) – changed voluntary service to involuntary service after 9/11 to prevent soldiers from leaving
- national security – term used to justify countless actions
- security directives – secret laws made by unelected officials that we are not allowed to see
- US Department of Defense – up until 1949 it was called the Department of War
- regime change – forceful change of government by a foreign power
- manifest destiny = imperialism
- No Child Left Behind – school program of standardized tests that under-funds districts that need it most
- down-sizing – massive employment termination
- privatization – transfer of former public sector services to management by private firms
- pacify someone – subdue him by force
- propaganda – information from an opposing viewpoint
- embedded journalists – reporters invited to war that live with the military, usually restricted in what they can report and who they can talk to
- spin – an effort to portray events in a light favorable to the presenter
- fair & balanced – Fox New’s slogan when it is nothing of the sort
- truthiness – knowing things intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts (thank you Stephen Colbert)
We truly live in a world of Orwellian doublespeak as our perception of reality is framed by choice of words. Perform an experiment by listening to Bush talk about the war; see how many times he mentions the words freedom, peace, democracy, and terror. Bush uses the word ‘freedom’ to draw the most significant distinction from the word ‘terror’. He thus frames the fight against al Qaeda as a ‘struggle between freedom and terror’, a battle of ‘good against evil’.
These methods dramatically oversimplify the complicated arena of world politics; in fact, they are potentially dangerous in arousing jingoist sentiments and emotions. His “you’re either with us or against us” mentality blindly creates enemies where we haven’t any.
Politicians excel in the art of doublespeak, so try to call it out when you see it. If you’d like a test case, watch any of the presidential debates.
In Orwell’s world, it was the Ministry of Truth that concerned itself with lies, the Ministry of Peace with war, the Ministry of Plenty with starvation, and the Ministry of Love with torture. The motto of their country was: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.”
And down is the new up.
(For a good, readable article on Political Framing, please click here.)