Thursday, August 09, 2012

I Guess I'd Kill For a Friend Like That

The Washington Post -- truly, a company paper in a company town -- serves again as an ongoing illustration of the prophetic genius of George Orwell:
America, once regarded by the Syrian opposition as a natural friend in its struggle for greater freedoms against a regime long at odds with the West, increasingly is being viewed with suspicion and resentment for its failure to offer little more than verbal encouragement to the revolutionaries.
I interrupt this excerpt for a moment so I can call your attention to this opening sentence.  To you or me, words are ways to convey an idea to a reader.  But to a propagandist, words are more like weapons or drugs; they are used purely to produce a desired effect in the reader.  The Washington Post is a great big grown-up prestigious newspaper, is it not?  When it tells us that the West is being upbraided "for its failure to offer little more than verbal encouragement," we have to think that the writer and his editor are propagandists, and that the dictionary looks to them like an ammunition box.

But, to go on:
In the nearly 17 months since Syrians joined the clamor for change that swept the Middle East last year, Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans have voted in elections, chosen new leaders and embarked, however messily, on democratic transitions.

Syria, by contrast, is hurtling ever deeper into an all-out conflict with no end in sight, “and all we get is words,” said Yasser Abu Ali, a spokesman for one of the Free Syrian Army battalions in the town of al-Bab, which lies 30 miles northeast of Aleppo.

The rebels say they don’t want direct military intervention in the form of troops on the ground. But they have repeatedly appealed for a no-fly zone similar to the effort that helped Libyan rebels topple Moammar Gaddafi last year and for supplies of heavy weapons to counter the regime’s vastly superior firepower, say rebels and opposition figures.

When the regime falls, as the rebel battalion spokesman assumes it eventually will, Syrians will not forget that their pleas for help went unanswered, he said.

“America will pay a price for this,” he said. “America is going to lose the friendship of Syrians, and no one will trust them anymore. Already we don’t trust them at all.”
Well ... I guess that doesn't sound like propaganda, does it? The clamor for change that swept the Middle East.  Oh, my.  And how delicate we are: however messily.  Well, here's how messily "however messily" was.

As Orwell said, in his essay "Politics and the English Language:"
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
 "While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement." 
The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.
 Anyway, let's see if I've got this straight. Free Syrian Army "spokesman" Yasser Abu Ali tells us that he and his confreres are mightily ticked that our supervisors have not yet begun murdering his Syrian opponents as wholeheartedly as he'd like.  He says that if our supervisors don't start killing soon, he and his associates won't like us.  But then, he says, they already don't like us.  So, here's an idea: since we've already paid the price by forfeiting the bloody-handed esteem of the Free Syrian Army, how about we just, you know, kind of ... sit this one out?  Let's just call in and say we're not coming to the war today, because we're feeling too well.

Yes, I know.  Not happening.  But I can still dream, can't I?


Cal said...

It's actually worse than how you make it. America and Britain have been dumping money in a fund for the Syrian resistance for awhile now.

It's like a little kid whining that his mom gave him her credit card instead of going out and buying the toys herself.

Jim Wetzel said...

Yes, which is why I wrote " ... have not yet begun murdering his Syrian opponents as wholeheartedly as he'd like." As you say, we're already involved. But our Syrian "friends" aren't that easily pleased. They want us involved exactly when and how they want us involved.

What a deal.