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Posted by on Jan 20, 2007 in Politics | 3 comments

Words and their meanings

Cross-posted to Random Fate.

God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.
   -Thomas Jefferson

The fact that “the people cannot be all, and always, well informed” is frequently taken advantage of by those who want to gain support for an endeavor that may require more than sound-bites to explain. Take the recent “surge” proposal from the Bush administration regarding troop increases in Iraq to gain victory. There are many deliberate choices being made in characterizing this supposedly new direction, including the uses of the words “strategy” and “surge” as descriptors of actions that are really “tactics” and “reinforcement” (avoiding committing the same sin by not using the word “escalation”).

People like to say, “now you’re arguing semantics,” but the meanings of the words used to explain ourselves and our thoughts are key to conveying the ideas, and choices are always made in our explanations. Occasionally, those choices are deliberate in the spin they impart.

strategy – Also, strategics. The science or art of combining and employing the means of war in planning and directing large military movements and operations.

In military usage, a distinction is made between strategy and tactics. Strategy is the utilization, during both peace and war, of all of a nation’s forces, through large-scale, long-range planning and development, to ensure security or victory. Tactics deals with the use and deployment of troops in actual combat.

tactics – the art or science of disposing military or naval forces for battle and maneuvering them in battle.

The situation in Iraq has been markedly lacking in long-range planning and development, and what President George W. Bush described in his speech was a change in the small-scale, short-range disposition of forces and their methods.

surge – a strong, wavelike, forward movement, rush, or sweep.

The use of the word “surge” implies a rapid ramp-up with an equally rapid ramp-down.

Is this realistic, especially given that the new “strategy” is really what should have been done, and what I assumed was being done, all along?

We have been presented new tactics that will take a long time to accomplish the desired effects. They are being presented as a “new strategy” that is a “surge” possibly ending by the beginning of autumn.

The real plan that underlies the change in tactics has a chance to succeed. Unfortunately, the focus on spin has presented a nonsensical scenario to an American public that is rightly skeptical after so many unrealistic descriptions of the situation in Iraq.

Words and their meanings will come back to haunt those who misuse them.

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