PAUL HOLMES: The Pentagon's engagement in words of war provides fodder for students of propaganda

Ah, the language of war. The campaign in Iraq has only just begun, and already there are a half-dozen words I hope to never hear again.

Ah, the language of war. The campaign in Iraq has only just begun, and already there are a half-dozen words I hope to never hear again.

"Embedded," for example. I heard a reporter on CNN hand off to "our reporter embedded in an aircraft carrier," which sounds pretty painful. But the "embedding" of reporters in military units is the most brilliant strategic decision of this entire initiative, since its effect appears to be the transformation of ordinarily intelligent reporters into Pentagon PR people. As someone in the Bush administration obviously realized, it's hard to maintain your journalistic integrity when your very survival depends upon the people you're supposed to be covering. Then there's "shock and awe," a totally unnecessary new term for a strategic approach that's not nearly as original as Donald Rumsfeld would have you believe. The Germans called it "blitzkrieg," although I can understand why the US military didn't want to borrow a term from the Nazis. (My biggest fear is that this term is going to find its way into the PR lexicon, as in "we launched a shock and awe campaign, carpet bombing the media with press releases.") Then there's the brand name for this conflict, "Operation Iraqi Freedom." It's possible, I suppose, that Iraqi freedom might be a by-product of this campaign, but to pretend that it's what the exercise is all about is intellectual dishonesty at its most perverse. The real Operation Iraqi Freedom will begin after Saddam is captured or dead, and when a new government is elected. I hope I don't sound too cynical if I predict that by the time both those objectives are accomplished, most Americans - including those currently running the White House - will have lost all interest in the process. Other terms include "coalition of the willing," apparently shorthand for "coalition of the willing to accept American aid in return for saying they support US aggression, as long as they don't actually have to participate," and "collateral damage," a euphemism for the death and dismemberment of innocent women and children. But the most Orwellian usage of all has been the recent application of the word "relevance," as in "the United Nations faced a test of its relevance, and failed." Relevance, in this context, means willingness to rubber stamp whatever demands the US makes. If that sounds very much like irrelevance to you, perhaps you don't understand the might-makes-right world in which we live. I mention all this because as a professional communicator, I believe words are important, and I find the various ways in which they are used to manipulate, and to obfuscate, fascinating. For a student of propaganda, these are rich times indeed. -----
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 16 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of

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