Socialist Worker

Fog of words

'Hearts and minds', 'shock and awe' - military buzzwords that have been used in other dirty invasions

Issue No. 1846

MEDIA REPORTS have repeated phrases from the US and British governments designed to con us into thinking this is a 'humanitarian' war. But they don't want to admit the murky origins of some of those phrases. Obliterating Iraq is really about 'fighting the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqi people', we are told. Both the British and the US are well used to saying this about their dirty wars of occupation.

'The answer lies in the hearts and minds of the people,' said General Sir Gerald Templer, the High Commissioner of Malaya in the 1950s. The British prime minister Winston Churchill had given Templer dictatorial powers to put down a revolt by the Malayan people. Britain used heavy repression against the Communist-led liberation movement. Troops massacred guerrillas, cut off the hands and heads of dead 'terrorists', and forcibly resettled 500,000 people in villages surrounded by barbed wire. At the same time Britain promised 'moderate' Malay politicians they could have independence.

The US was supposed to be 'winning hearts and minds' in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s. The US government bribed sections of the elite in South Vietnamese government, which it supported, while it bombed those who put up resistance. The US used chemical weapons like Agent Orange and napalm. They killed at least two million Vietnamese and Cambodian people.

'Shock and awe' was the 'new' phrase in the current war on Iraq. The US ultra right wingers Harlan K Ullman and James P Wade claimed they invented it. The US was bombing Iraq to destroy its people 'physically, emotionally and psychologically', said Harlan.

'Shock and awe, the Pentagon's phrase, is itself a classic slogan from the pages of the old Nazi magazine Signal,' wrote the respected journalist Robert Fisk recently. The German Nazi planners wanted to 'physically, emotionally and psychologically' destroy the population of the countries they attacked.

One example is the Spanish city of Guernica which they bombed in 1937. The death and destruction provoked outrage and the left wing Spanish painter Pablo Picasso commemorated the horror in his famous painting Guernica. There are other phrases that army spokespeople, and compliant journalists, have used to try to smooth over the reality of what is really happening in Iraq. They talk about 'pockets of resistance' from determined Iraqi troops. Every invading army has tried to portray the opposition as a few isolated fanatics who are out of touch with the welcoming rest of the population.

They do not like to accept that the majority of people might not want the invading troops. 'Pacifying enemy troops' means the exact opposite to the word 'pacify'. Blasting away Iraqi soldiers is what they really mean. 'Degrading the enemy's capabilities' means blowing the hell out of people, buildings and equipment.

All these phrases are designed to create a fog around the war, to dehumanise the millions of people affected, and present a sanitised battlefield. It reminds me of George Orwell's novel 1984, in which a totalitarian society reverses the meaning of words to control its population. So 'war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength'.

But war on Iraq has driven millions of people across the world to protest, showing their hearts and minds are still set against Bush and Blair's warmongering.


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Sat 12 Apr 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1846
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