Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Surging to War, Reporters Embedded

The Bush administration’s marketing department has been particulary weak at warspeak. It first came up with the term embed to express the military’s new control over the press (the first victim of war is truth). At normal conversational speed it is difficult to distinguish “reporter embedded with the 1st Division” from “reporter in bed with the 1st Division.” Intentional or not, the US media quickly absorbed the term and are now trying to understand  how Bush could have so misled us into believing Iraq possessed WMDs.

Now, troop buildup has been replaced by troop surge, no doubt because the political marketers think surge is more powerful and positive than buildup (or increase or expansion). The association is with a power surge that fries your electronic equipment if you use no surge protector. Tsunamis bring a surge of water that is even more destructive. Of course, any of us can experience a surge of energy that helps us get the job done. Maybe that is what the master marketeers have in mind.

What the marketeers have failed to do is come up with a terminology that demonizes the enemy. In World War II the Germans were the Jerries (we still use that term in the word jerrican) and the Japanese were the Japs. They were depicted as devils in all the war propaganda.

The clarity of that war did not carry over to the Vietnam war since the enemy and the “friendlies” looked alike (the enemy didn’t always wear uniforms). Some of our guys over there called them slopes but that slur didn’t take at home. 

Islamofascist is much too long and has no devilish image associated with it. We see Osama bin Laden but he is a Saudi and looks like too many other Middle Easterners. This makes it difficult to understand what we and our beds are surging toward and why.

Running a war without support let alone participation of the population at large has historically been a losing proposition in this country. But if we lose in Iraq, as we did in Vietnam, we may be able to chalk the loss up to marketing—or even reduce it to a matter of vocabulary.

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