THINKPIECE: In wartime, powerful words can play a vital supportingrole to powerful military activity

It is tough to imagine a cigar-chomping general planning this

salvo, but American planes began this latest war by dropping not just

bombs on Afghanistan, but also food. While that image-softening tactic

may have never been taught at West Point, it reflects a strategic idea

that has evolved with the information age: In wartime, PR counts.

But words can go awry just as missiles can, and with so much at stake,

isn't it worth asking: How goes the PR campaign?

The country appears girded for conflict, with support for President Bush

nearly unanimous. Yet both the White House and the Defense Department

seem uncertain about what to say. The diplomatic scramble to build a

coalition and reassure the Muslim world may reveal why. We want not only

to be feared, we want to be liked.

And that's where the danger lies. Detente is one thing when the guns are

cold, but in a hot war it becomes folly. A decade of peace has left

America tranquil in how we use language to describe our conflicts. China

is not an opponent, it's a strategic competitor. Tropical Africa isn't

despotic, it's underdeveloped. Taliban leaders aren't backward, they're


But dialogue with zealots is pointless. So if this war is going to

involve words, then the oldest rule of combat certainly applies: Let's

shoot straight.

When staring down a threat, nothing resonates more than direct, candid

language. America has given more in foreign aid to the poor in the

Muslim world, including Afghanistan, than any other country. So say it.

We have come to the rescue of Muslim countries like Bosnia, Kuwait, and


Say that even louder.

What's harder, but even more crucial, is not having any hesitation about

demonizing our enemies. Yes, that's right. Call them evil and describe

it graphically. Tell the world that our enemies believe in stoning

others to death, are opposed to music, treat women savagely, and stage

mass public executions and amputations. That's demonic. We should shout

that fact and show the footage on national television.

Straight talk braces us against the horrors of war and staves off


During the inevitable down times, it will be tempting to wonder whether

it's all worth it. To that unsteady worry, the country must yell back a

battle cry.

So, whether it is caution or awkwardness, the administration's eagerness

to get off on the right foot shouldn't have to mean tip-toeing. In

war-time, you don't walk on eggshells, you stomp them.

- Eric Dezenhall is president of Nichols-Dezenhall Communications, a

crisis communications firm in Washington, DC. He served on the

communications staff in the Reagan White House.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in