So, why should the Bush administration continue to be so adamant about not calling the Iraq War a Civil War? If we call it something else will we react differently? Is the vocabulary really that important?
I think that we need to remember that Karl Rove taught us this lesson in his election politics. He showed us that people have personal definitions that have nuanced meanings particular to each of us. For example, the renaming of the inheritance tax to the death tax changes the image conjured up in our minds. The first term makes us think of a wealthy man passing on his wealth to his spoiled children who have never worked a day in their lives. The second term instead creates an image of a poor farmer lying on his deathbed waiting for the government to swoop in and take their share. The truth however is in the details of the law written, which neither image accurately portrays. This is but one example of the nuanced vocabulary created to establish a desired image of an administration that acts in quite the opposite way of his marketed image.
But not all of the Bush administration’s vocabulary is created for the purpose of obfuscation. For example, the word freedom is not used to actually mean freedom at all. Freedom is actually an unobtainable idealism. It is impossible for us to be free. We can not be free from the forces of nature. We are all subject to the laws of physics and we are subject to the gravitational pull of the Earth. We have biological needs of food, water and air that we cab never be free from or we would be dead. But, these simple natural forces are often ignored when the word freedom is bandied about. For the sake of discussion let’s consider merely political freedom. Here again George W Bush still doesn’t really mean freedom in a true context. In fact, none of us really want freedom. Freedom would mean that we would be free to do whatever we please. Instead what George W Bush really means is that the freedom he suggests is a limited freedom of tyranny of the masses and once again limited by the tyranny of the wealthy. This is Democracy under the United States’ conditions.
The issue is that Americans have a particular idea in mind when they hear or use the word freedom. But, freedom is never used is its reality of free from all forces. Instead we create a political framework and voluntarily give some of our freedom away in order to live in an orderly way under the rule of law. If anyone truly desired to live in political freedom one should move to a fail state like Afghanistan or Iraq where laws are not enforced if they even exist. But, in doing this you need to bring your own protection as well. Maybe living in this way one would realize the benefit of surrendering some freedom to a government.
But freedom is a word used to rally a cause, just like the shunning of a phrase like Civil War is done to frame a worldview. The Bush administration does not really care if the conflict in Iraq is or is not a Civil War. Instead they care if the imagined definition of Civil War in the minds of the American people matches with the imagined objective put forth to the American people. They want their vocabulary to say “things are not so bad.” Unfortunately the reality of the situation is quite the opposite. But, that has never stopped these people before.
Instead of using the words “civil war” the Bush administration has chosen to use the words “sectarian violence.” In this way these people have used a word many Americans don’t understand “sectarian” with a toned down word for “war.” Using “violence” instead of “war” gives people the “warm fuzzy” feeling that we aren’t really in a war at all, but something much much less indeed. And, it turns out that unfamiliar words like “sectarian” don’t have all the emotional baggage of previous use. Of course, after several years of “sectarian violence” Americans will put reality with the words and this description of the Iraq War will become an ugly description never to be used in the future - at least not used by politicians.
The real trouble is that all words that are familiar to us do have emotional baggage attached. For example, “economic depression” is no longer used, because of the horrible memory of the “Great Depression.” Instead the common terms used is are “economic downturn,” or “recession.” When the term “recession” was introduced it was an unfamiliar neutral term and we haven’t had an event as dramatic as the Great Depression that would damage the vocabulary. In fact, even if we had an economic downturn as horrific as the Great Depression we would never label it as a depression. Instead we would call it a recession, and Historians may actually end up calling it the “Great Recession.”
Of course none of this is new. George Orwell wrote about this in his novel 1984, but it is hard to see when you are trained to live your life with these words being part of your vocabulary. As you learn words, you learn them with examples. We have learned that American Democracy is the definition of Freedom and Liberty in action. But we have nothing to compare this to. If we were truly honest about our culture we would need to learn that all governments are a balance between freedom and order. There may be more or less freedom, but to compensate for that freedom one needs to sacrifice some order. But neither freedom nor order is absolute.
So, what is a Civil War?
Civil War does not seem to have a unified universal definition without ambiguity. Some groups have attempted to define what a Civil War is, but these definitions are sometimes complicated with details that even the American Civil War might not qualify under. The Bush administration, for example, has said that Iraq was not in a state of Civil War because there are some safe places in the country. So, based on that criteria the US was not in a state of Civil War because there was no fighting in Maine.
The situation in Iraq is more complicated than the typical civil war where a group of rebels is fighting to overthrow the government. Instead, there are several groups of rebels that are all fighting to gain control of the government. Some of the fighting is directed at the government and the military arm of the government - the US military. But some of the fighting is also directed toward the other factions that also want to gain control.
Why shouldn’t we call this a Civil War?
Maybe it is because they forgot to hand out the uniforms to the different groups?
Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."
Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit