Criticism National Security Politics The Bush Legacy The Opinionsphere The War on Terrorism

Deconstructing the Right Wing Appropriation of the Term “Appeasement”

[digg-reddit-me]I’ve tried hard to find something to respect about Victor Davis Hanson – as he takes himself seriously, and is taken seriously, including by people whom I take seriously – but for the most part, his pieces are just less hysterical attempts to push right wing memes. Only in a world of Sean Hannitys, Glenn Becks, Sarah Palins, Jonah Goldbergs, Kathryn Lopezes, Michelle Malins, and Ann Coulters, is he a moderate.

But he has an interesting post over at The Corner, making a good point in defense of George W. Bush (though in the service of a meme that so many of these independent, individualistic conservatives promote in a synchronized fashion: that Obama should stop blaming George W. Bush for what he inherited.) Hanson points out that Bush inherited some bad “stuff” from Bill Clinton – including a mild recession, simmering issues with Iraq and the Middle East, and Osama bin Laden on the loose – and left some improved areas to Barack Obama – including an Iraq much improved from its chaos earlier in Bush’s term, relationships with Europe much improved from earlier in Bush’s term, a Libya that had given up its nuclear program, and a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.  Obama inherited a more challenging set of issues than Bush though: Two wars, the worst economic conditions in 80 years, a deficit doubled in 8 years and having grown so large it threatens America’s fiscal solvency, America at its lowest standing in the world community in a generation, Osama Bin Laden still at large, an Iranian regime strengthened and emboldened as America took away every check on its power, etcetera, etcetera.

But even while making this valid point, Hanson resorts to propagandic measures – none of which actively undermine the point he is trying to make – but all of which together demonstrate that he is merely attempting to write propaganda rather than engage with the issues. He only cites those facts that prove his point, ignores the large amount of contradictory evidence, and makes a number of questionable assertions. (Is Kim Jong Il really on better terms with Obama than Bush? Ahmadinejad? Putin – into whose eyes Bush looked and got “a sense of his soul“?)

But perhaps most telling, is his use of the buzzword, “appease.” To quote George Orwell in his “Politics and the English Language,” propagandists organize their thoughts as collections of  “phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.” Rather than choose words based on their meaning, they instead choose those which best serve their ideology. For example, Orwell, writes that some words, “now [have] no meaning except in so far as [they] signify[…] ‘something not desirable.’ ” He uses word “Fascism” as an example of this – and the word “democracy” as an example of a word that is used to mean merely “something good.” Hanson’s writing doesn’t always have that prefabricated henhouse feel – as some writers do (Kathryn Lopez, I’m looking at you!) – but he does misuse language in the manner Orwell discussed.

The most glaring issue is his use of a single word. Hanson writes:

George W. Bush inherited…a pattern of appeasing radical Islam after its serial attacks (on the World Trade Center, the Khobar Towers, U.S. embassies, and the U.S.S. Cole). [my emphasis]

Think about the use of the word “appease” in this context. The word means “to make peace with” often by “acceding to demands or granting concessions.” Bill Clinton’s response to these attacks – prosecuting the perpetrators, bombing locations we believed were related to Al Qaeda, and attempting to assassinate Osama bin Laden – doesn’t fit into what anyone would call “making peace with” or “acceding” to any demands. The word “appease” then was chosen not because of its meaning, but because of its place in Hanson’s ideology. The word “appease” – as used by right wingers – has evolved from its literal definition. They use it to call forth comparisons to the single historical moment that has defined neoconservative thinking: Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler at Munich. Chamberlain famously did seek to appease Hitler, offering him Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia in return for peace. And just as famously, it did not work.

Right wingers now though seem to see every national security issue as a binary choice between Appeasement and Confrontation. Obama wants to try terrorists in federal court instead of military commissions? Appeasement. Democrats oppose sending a surge of troops into Iraq? Appeasement. Iran wants to negotiate peace with the United States? If we even talk to them, it’s Appeasement, so we must choose Confrontation and ignore them. Only if every national security decision is seen as a binary choice between Appeasement and Confrontation does the disastrous first term decisions by Bush make sense. Orwell warned that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Language is corrupted in order to “defend the indefensible” and to “make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Thus, words such as “appease” are now used by right wingers to distract and obfuscate from the history that was and to suggest an enhanced and alternate view of the history that proves them correct.

[Image in the public domain.]

National Security Politics The Opinionsphere The War on Terrorism

A World Where 24 Is “Believable” and Orwell Is Misquoted

[digg-reddit-me]I know that defending torture is difficult as well as unconscionable – but just because an editor will publish such trash doesn’t necessary mean they are bad at their job. However, if the evidence from this past weekend is any indication, it seems they are. Pat Buchanan began his piece with a quote that has been famously and erroneously attributed to George Orwell:

Men sleep peacefully in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

Buchanan tries to use this quote to defend the Orwellian abuse of language that John Yoo and other Bush administration members used to legally justify the proposition that torture wasn’t “torture.” I have the feeling that Orwell would have appreciated the irony. But more importantly, wouldn’t any editor take a moment to check if the quote was actually by Orwell? A Google search will quickly turn up the fact that it has been misattributed to him. Maybe I’m naive, but I would presume an editor – or someone – would take a moment to double check a citation.

Then of course Amanda Bowman in the Wall Street Journal explains the reason Americans watch 24:

[T]he Obama Administration is going to pay a big political price for indulging the civil libertarians of their party. The American television show 24 is in its 7th season because its portrayal of a life-and-death fight against terrorism in the face of political meddling appears to most Americans—and I would add Britons—both believable and justified. [my emphasis]

I like 24; I still watch it – one of a slowly dwindling number of Americans who still does. But anyone who calls it “believable” clearly isn’t familiar with the show. When Jack Bauer wanted to stop a terrorist in a van, he jumped in front of the van. Jack Bauer once died multiple times in a single episode – and was running around the next. Jack Bauer extracts the truth from his prisoners with surgical precision – whether by shooting them in the leg, electrocuting them, or whatever other means are necessary. (Bauer’s techniques were so ineffective and so unrealistic that the U.S. military actually sent a team to talk to the show’s producers a few years back.) To get people to talk – some of them innocent – Bauer has threatened babies and kidnapped and mock executed children. Every terrorist attack is financed and controlled by some convoluted plot involving nefarious American corporations seeking profits. Bauer manages to never eat or go to the bathroom in the 24-hour period covered by the show. Perhaps most unrealistically, Bauer lives in a world where nuclear weapons have gone off several times on American soil and spectacular terrorists attacks are common – yet the Congress in Bauer’s world insists on holding hearings that are more onerous than any held to this day by our Congresses, despite the respite from attacks in real life.

24 may be many things, but “believable” isn’t one of them.

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Dukakis: “I owe the American people an apology.”

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[digg-me] Katie Couric interviewed Michael Dukakis today – the man who lost the 1988 presidential race to George H. W. Bush. The quote that makes the interview worth watching is from the very end:

Look, I owe the American people an apology. If I had beaten the old man you’d of never heard of the kid and you wouldn’t be in this mess. So it’s all my fault and I feel that very, very strongly.

H/t Jason Zengerle.