Friday, October 13, 2006

Tomgram: Failed Empire?

[Note for readers: The first Tomdispatch book to be published this season has just arrived in the stores. (The second will be not an October, but a late November surprise.) Mission Unaccomplished, Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books, $14.95) collects the interviews I've done at the site -- from Howard Zinn, Juan Cole, and Cindy Sheehan to Chalmers Johnson and Barbara Ehrenreich (along with an in-depth conversation between Nick Turse and me). I urge you to buy a copy. The book is a record of remarkable figures of our moment in thoughtful, spirited conversation about the disastrous imperial swamp we all find ourselves in. I never ask Tomdispatch readers to reach into their pockets to support the site, but this is a small and pleasurable way in which to imbibe the word, pass word of Tomdispatch on to others, and offer modest support to the site! (and me). The following essay is written in honor of the interviewees in the book, all of whom I find inspiring. Tom]

George Bush's War of the Words

By Tom Engelhardt

For Homer, those epithets attached to his heroes and gods were undoubtedly mnemonic devices -- the fleet-footed Achilles, Poseidon, the Earth-shaker, the wily Odysseus, the ox-eyed Hera. But isn't it strange how many similar, if somewhat less heroic, catch words and phrases have adhered to key officials of the Bush administration these last years. Here's my own partial list:

President George ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") Bush, Vice President Dick ("last throes") Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald ("stuff happens") Rumsfeld, then-National Security Advisor, now-Secretary of State Condoleezza ("mushroom cloud") Rice, CIA Director George ("slam dunk") Tenet, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul ("[Iraq] floats on a sea of oil") Wolfowitz, Centcom Commander Gen. Tommy ("We don't do body counts") Franks, then-White House Counsel, now-Attorney General Alberto ("quaint"! ) Gonzales, withdrawn Supreme Court nominee and White House Counsel Harriet ("You are the best governor ever") Miers, and most recently Dennis ("The buck stops here") Hastert.

You know a person by the company he or she keeps -- so the saying goes. You could also say that you know an administration by the linguistic company it keeps; and though George Bush is usually presented as an inarticulate stumbler of a speech and news-conference giver, it's nothing short of remarkable how many new words and phrases (or redefined old ones) this President and his administration have managed to lodge in our lives and our heads.

Since September 11, 2001, the United States has been not so much the planet's lone "hyperpower" as its gunslinger in that great Western ("dead or alive") tradition that George and Dick learned about in the movies of their childhood. But fast as they've reached for their guns (and may do so again in relation to Iran after the mid-term elections), over the last years they've reached for one thing faster: their dictionaries.

And of all the words that came to their minds post-9/11, the first and fastest was an old one -- "war." Within hours of the 9/11 attacks, it was already on the scene and being redefined by administration officials and supporters. We would not, for instance, actually declare war. After all, who was war to be declared on? We were simply "at war" and that was that. Since then, according to George Bush and his associates, we have either been fighting "the Global War on Terror" (aka GWOT), "the long war," "the millennium war," "World War III," or "World War IV." We not only entered an immediate state of war, but one meant to last generations, and with it we got a commander-in-chief presidency secretly redefined in such a way as to place it outside any legal boundaries.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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