Hidden Meanings – a Subtle Propaganda

You can tell at one glance what a journalist thinks of a country by the words he chooses to describe it.  A country with a government is a place you’d take a chance on visiting.   You might like it there when you arrive, or you might not, but at least you know it’s civilised, with its nice, friendly, western-style government.  Regimes, on the other hand, are evil and oppressive.  There are no regimes in Western Europe or North America, only governments, but in the Middle East, regimes are everywhere, apart from Israel.  And of course the Gulf oil states, which we like to stay on friendly terms with.  Even though they are not democracies, they don’t have regimes.  Instead, they have ruling families.  Not vile despots, tyrants or dictators.  These places are run by uncles and aunts and grandmothers, brothers and sisters, and the heads of state are kings.

Everyone knows, a king is not a dictator but what’s the difference?  Well, the obvious one is that a king’s family have ruled a country longer than the family of a dictator.  While it’s true that all kings started out as dictators, you don’t  just become a monarch overnight.  It takes a while.

We need hardly concern ourselves with that other class of ridiculous autocrat: the Tinpot Dictator.  Everyone agrees that we can support him as long as he’s useful and then send in fifty well-trained men with boot-polish on their faces to decommission him at four in the morning.

Until he became a despicable tyrant in western eyes, Muammar Gadaffi was the Libyan Leader.  While Saddam Hussein did America’s bidding, he was the Iraqi Leader, but then he tried to trade his oil in euros, and suddenly he became a brutal despot who must be toppled.  (Note: tyrants and despots are always toppled, never removed or deposed).

Back in the 80s, all the Warsaw Pact countries had regimes headed by dictators with brutal interrogators, while we, on the other hand,  had governments with intelligence services.  And they didn’t have a civil service like us either.  They had a State Apparatus.  Bashar al-Assad has his secret police, a thoroughly swarthy and unshaven bunch of assassins, unlike the clean-cut, sharply-dressed agents of Homeland Security, or the affable old Etonians in MI5.

What happens when an invader arrives?

Well that depends on who the invader happens to be and who’s being invaded.

When the Nazis invaded France and Poland, a well-organised resistance movement grew up.  Resistance.  Not guerrillas or even insurgents.  Certainly not terrorists.  The left-leaning Greek partisans were hailed as freedom fighters until Germany surrendered, and then they became dangerous Commie terrorists to be crushed by the victorious Allied forces.

Iraqis fighting against the invasion of their country, needless to say, were never called Resistance.  They were insurgents (a term that only acquired pejorative overtones after the US invasion).  They were near the top of the vileness scale : worse than activists, worse than extremists, worse than fanatics, they were terrorists., and what an interesting word that is.  Terrorist.  One who uses terror as a means of furthering a strategic objective.  That, of course, would not include Sir Arthur Harris, who regarded the flattening of German cities as a relatively humane method , nor would it include Curtis leMay, who masterminded the fire-bombing of Japan.  Nor would it include Dick Cheney, even though he did all in his power to sell the US public a huge lie, that Iraq had something to do with the 9-11 attacks.

What’s a militant?  Does it include people like Donald Rumsfeld or Tony Blair or GW Bush who started two wars?

It all depends what language you speak and what uniform you wear.  When the media spoke of foreign fighters in Iraq, we all knew they didn’t mean the American soldiers from the other side of the planet.   They were talking about neighbouring Arabs from two hundred miles up the road.

Insurgent, terrorist, freedom fighter, militant, resistance member, extremist

Extraordinary rendition was not torture, because you were simply handing your prisoners over to a friendly state, whose interrogators, unfortunately, have fewer moral scruples than your own, and fewer legal restrictions on what they might do to a captive.  Locking people up in Guantanamo was not imprisonment without trial — anathema to American notions of liberty.  It was internment of suspected terrorists, and when the T-word comes into the equation, all other considerations may be abandoned.

I remember a few years back, Robert Fisk describing the constant Israeli use of the word terrorist to describe anyone they disagreed with, or who criticised them.  In his book Pity the Nation, he told of a car with three or four foreign journalists being strafed by a warplane.  The incident was later reported in the papers as an engagement with a vehicle carrying terrorists.

As Fisk put it terrorist, terrorist, terrorist.  The mantra that silences all argument.

It even comes down to the physical objects used by soldiers, or fighters or insurgents, or activists, or extremists, or militias or defence forces or warring factions.  Take your pick.  Each carries its own layer of innuendo, with defence forces at the very top of the virtue tree even when they happen to be bombing a crowded civilian neighbourhood into rubble.  They’re defence forces, and they carry nice friendly M-16 carbines, unlike the Soviet-made Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles used by their evil, Islamic fundamentalist extremist terrorist enemies.

Of course, it works the other way round too, doesn’t it?  In the eyes of people like Iran’s Ahmedinejad, America is the Great Satan and Israel may be extinguished without a second thought.  Osama bin Laden saw no contradiction between his Islamic beliefs and his mass murder of thousands.  Brutal dictators like Saddam and Gadaffi didn’t blink at the thought of inflicting total war on their own people.  Bashar al Assad, the cultured, urbane ophthalmologist, is content to unleash on innocent civilians his security forces, or army, or militias, or shadowy armed groups or fighters sympathetic to the regime.  Whatever flavour you’re having yourself.  Naturally, there’s no reporting of the other side in that conflict, which is that the UN observers are being withdrawn because the freedom fighters / resistance / insurgents / activists / militias are shooting at them.

It’s never simple.  Facts are always blurred and nuance is always added by the choice of words.

Propaganda isn’t always obvious.


31 thoughts on “Hidden Meanings – a Subtle Propaganda

  1. Is a “murderer” only someone in civilian clothing or can they also be in military uniform?

  2. Enemies in uniform are always murderers. Occasionally, one of our people turns rogue, becomes a renegade or slips through the net and also becomes a murderer, but we put him in jail and that proves we care.

  3. In WWII the Germans murdered many people (no debate needed there!), while for everyone else it was “collateral damages”?

    On a side note, I heard the ULTIMATE line on Hitler a few weeks back from a retired lady. “Shur didn’t Hitler give people jobs, he got them out of their houses”

  4. Even the venerable Limerick Leader isn’t immune from occasional bouts of chronic hyperbolitis. A few weeks back they ran a hysterical story about greyhounds in Ballygran that were ‘slaughtered’. After a few scathing comments on their forum, such as it is, they wound it back to ‘killed’ and eventually they described it accurately – shot.

  5. @ Bolted Nut: the dogs were shot, not slaughtered? Well that’s OK then. I suppose they weren’t “dumped” in a quarry either, they were “relocated” there.

  6. And what I’m saying is, why shouldn’t the Leader say the animals were slaughtered if that’s what happened? If there’s any flaw in the reporting, it’s bowing to a little pressure from a few keyboard warriors and backing off to saying they were merely “shot”.

  7. Let’s try and keep it less parochial, if that’s ok. Let’s keep it on what the post is about. If that’s ok.

  8. Granted it’s a parochial matter but I thought it was relevant to the post how the choice of words affects the way events are perceived… also how the way the story was portrayed changed due to outside pressure.

  9. Bock the victor writes the history,or his/her version of it.It has always been thus.

  10. @Sheskin
    True, then it follows that as we belong to neither winner or loser we need to find the language to describe reality for ourselves, without the loaded terms forced on us by those ‘winners and losers’. Somewhere between both accounts lies some semblance of the truth of the situation, and it is our duty to seek it out, not just subscribe to one or the other version of reality.

  11. Daddy-owe you are spot on,but as you know not all people apply any sort of logic to these arguments.

  12. @Daddy-Owe [i]then it follows that as we belong to neither winner or loser we need to find the language to describe reality for ourselves[/i].

    True, but in reality, we’re in the EU, we digest British & US film and television. The greater part of our exports go to the UK. There’s millions of us in the States.

    I think it’s fairly obvious on which side we come to rest. And hence – the “western” commentary is our commentary. For better or for worse. (hint – it’s not better).

    Al Jazeera is worth a watch every so often to re-magnetise the needle on your moral compass.

  13. Even though I’d say of most of your readers are aware of this use of language, its great to see it spelt out in black & white and in all its glory. Orwell said that if you can control people’s language and vocabulary, you can control the way they think. He was right too.

  14. I hear you loud and clear but you are preaching to the converted Bock. It is good to know that someone in Ireland is still switched on and watching what is crass hypocracy at work. Irish people are not all dumb robotic and compliant consumers. It is in our character to be awkward and tell the truth

    This stuff is as plain as the nose on the faces of anyone who chooses to look to international media rather than the offerings from the maniac O’Brien and the state broadcaster

    Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

    Like you said it works both ways and they are worried because newspaper sales are plummeting. Hip hip

    Haw haw haw.

    I am glad you penned this article and hope you pen more dealing with international issues rather than parochial yawnfests

    Your intelligence and wit is wasted on the likes of Irish politicians and arrogant cardinals of the roman enclave

    Keep up the good work sir and goodnight to you

  15. Thanks for the good wishes but I’d be very worried if anyone thought this site was about parochial issues.

  16. Another one.

    The bad guy lives in a weaponised compound or heavily fortified palace. The good guy lives in the While House ( The most weaponised, heavily fortified compound on the planet), Downing Street etc etc.

  17. Compound is a good one alright, but what about the craven dishonesty of calling dead kids in a bombed hospital ‘Collateral Damage’. It turns my guts that one.
    @ The Other Ron:
    I don’t agree that because we speak English and watch American movies that we’re automatically on their side in terms of what lies we choose to believe. I do agree with what you say about ‘re-magnetising the moral compass’ -although i would hate to have to rely solely on Al-Jezeera for that. They have an agenda too.
    Analysing current affairs based on Newspeak propaganda sound bytes is intellectually very difficult, not only is your source material intentionally misleading but you must also resist your own urge to believe what you want to believe. The recent Arab spring events were a perfect example -oh the things i wanted to believe…

  18. @FF1
    I havent listened to the clip yet but i will. I just wanted to say that that is exactly why my TV has remained un-tuned for nearly five years now. I only watch DVDs on it now. The manipulation of our minds by the news media is bad enough, but the ads on TV just kill me, i can feel it eating in to my brain, that black ooze creeping into my skull to unseat reason and poison independent thought. Every fifteen minutes another assault of bright flashing crap being foisted upon you by the spawn of satan.
    But it’s easy, i just turned it off, through away the rabbit ears. Now no more reality TV, no more x-factor, no more Nine O’clock news read slowly to me like i was a drugged mental patient.
    I read a lot more now, and finish things sometimes.
    I really recommend it.

  19. Yesterday’s terrorist can become today’s statesman. Makarios of Cyprus and Kenyatta of Kenya are historical examples. Yesterday’s liberator can become today’s tyrant. Nkrumah of Ghana, Mugabe of Zimb and some Bolscheviks from the Russian revolution are examples of that.

    Some Latin American dictators have been real sons of bitches, but have been redeemed in the eyes of US foreign policy decision makers whenever they have been “Our SOBs”.

  20. Masterful as always Bock. An at least I can read it safe in the knowledge that it hasn’t been contaminated by the straw man arguments and ad hominum BS of TSW….

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.