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Imperial Vocabulay


The prolific left intellectual Edward S. Herman reminds us that United States imperialism relies on “Orwellian language” as well as “guns, tanks, missiles, and bombs.” The distortion of words and phrases to put the use of state violence “in a good light” is  “an essential tool of [U.S.] state managers” seeking to subvert democracy and kill hope at home and abroad (Edward S. Herman, “Doublespeak,” Z Magazine [December 2006], pp. 24-26).

Here are some of my contributions, some specifically tailored for the ongoing assault on Iraq, to Herman's “Doublespeak Dictionary” of American State Terrorism:

“Terrorism,” Literal Definition: the use of violence and/or the threat of violence to achieve political ends.  Imperial/Orwellian/Iraq War Usage: refers to violent and officially inexplicable resistance to an inherently benevolent U.S. occupation.  Does NOT refer to the American Empire’s use of massive state violence (and the threat thereof) to sustain an illegal, mass-murderous and imperialist occupation.

 “Democracy,” Literal Definition: majority rule based on the principles of one-person, one vote and equal policy-making influence for all people regardless of class, race or other social distinctions. Imperial Usage: the basic goal and purpose behind all U.S. policies and actions, no matter how authoritarian and regressive those policies and actions may be. Does NOT accurately describe any aspect of the struggle of Iraqi people to end the illegal occupation of their country – an invasion opposed by their own popular majority and even by the majority inside the occupier state.

“Freedom,” Literal Definition: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice of action; liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another: Independence; a political right; franchise, privilege.” Imperial Usage: the basic goal and purpose behind all U.S. policies and actions, regardless of actual impact on assaulted, restricted, oppressed and subordinated others. Does NOT apply to the motivation and aim of people and nations opposing U.S. domination. Anyone who resists American imperial dominance is an enemy of “freedom” (sometimes called “liberty”) and its twin U.S. goal “democracy.” 

“Sacrifice,” Literal Definition: to suffer loss of, give up, renounce, injure or destroy, especially for an ideal, belief, or end. Imperial/Iraq War Usage: the fleeting emotional discomfort that some rich Americans may feel when they learn that a large number of mostly working-class Americans have died in the enforcement of an illegal invasion designed to increase the wealth of the privileged few (without requiring that the sons and daughters of the wealthy “serve” on the fields of imperial conquest). Does NOT refer to people who die resisting American assault and resource-theft. Does NOT require any cessation in the granting of massive tax cuts to the already super-opulent few in the industrialized world’s most unequal and wealth-top-heavy state (the U.S.).   

 “Support the [U.S.] Troops,” Literal Definition: to promote the interests or cause of the [U.S.] troops; to uphold or defend those troops as valid or right; to argue or vote for the troops; to COMFORT the troops. Imperial/Iraq War Usage: the sending of heavily brainwashed, mostly young and disproportionately working-class Americans into a distant maelstrom to engage in the perilous work of subjugating an understandably outraged and heavily armed populace.  Does NOT refer to efforts to end the illegal occupation and bring the U.S. troops out of harm’s way in accord with the GI’s wishes.   

“Surge,” Literal Definition: a swelling, rolling or sweeping forward like that of a wave or a series of waves…a transient sudden rise of current in an electrical circuit. Imperial Usage: a dangerous escalation and regional broadening of a provocative and illegitimate invasion.   

 “Interfere,” Literal Definition: to interpose in a way that hinders or impedes; to enter into or take part in the concerns of others. Imperial Usage: refers to any and all efforts to hinder or impede a U.S. occupation (i.e., O.I.F.).  Does NOT refer to U.S. efforts to hinder or impede the independence and autonomous action of other nations (e.g. Iraq) or to widespread U.S. involvement in the internal affairs of other states. 

 “International Community,” Imperial Usage: the United States.  Does NOT refer to the actual international community. 

 “Free Market Economy,” literal translation: an economic market operating by free competition.  Imperial usage: the heavily state-subsidized, government-protected and corporate-state-dominated U.S. economy; the basic inspiration behind U.S. efforts to use expensive, taxpayer-financed state violence, bribery and interference to increase U.S. corporate and state control of global markets and resources.  

 “Good intentions,” Imperial Usage: the basic benevolent motivation behind U.S. policy.  Does NOT refer to the motivation behind those who resist U.S. policy.

 “Victim,” Literal Translation: one that is acted on and adversely affected by a force or agents; one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment; one that is tricked or duped. Imperial Usage: refers mainly to Americans killed by foreign “terrorists” on U.S. soil (i.e. the 9/11 dead) or overseas.  Does NOT generally refer to innocent Arab civilians killed by inherently “liberating” U.S., Israeli or British bombs, missiles, and bullets. Does not refer to American citizens and troops who were tricked or duped by the Bush administration and dominant U.S. media into supporting (and even enlisting in) the war on Iraq.    

“Failed States" [a recent Imperial Invention]: foreign states “that generally cannot provide security for their citizens or their territory, and are corrupt and illegitimate in the eyes of their civilians and tend to give rise to terrorists.”  Imperial Usage: refers to states targeted for U.S. intervention and sanction.  Does NOT refer to the U.S. even though the U.S. state fails to provide adequate security to its citizens, is corrupt and illegitimate in the eyes of its citizens and has given rise to a massive global state-terrorist operation called the American Empire, correctly identified by Martin Luther King, Jr., as “the leading purveyor of violence in the world.” 

 “Foreign Fighters,” Imperial/Iraq War Translation: people from outside a U.S. occupied nation who assist resistance to U.S. invasion of that nation.  Does NOT refer to U.S. forces engaged in the foreign invasion and occupation of that nation. 

The list goes on (the possibilities are almost endless)…. 

The above is pasted in from The Empire and Inequality Report, no. 8 (January 26, 2007): http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=11960

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