Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Powerful Tools

Like most of us, I was horrified to learn that the two missing soldiers had been captured and killed by insurgents in Iraq. There is nothing that can make that story less awful or possibly explain away what happened. But it really hit home to me how powerful the propaganda machine in the US is.

News reports I heard said that two American soldiers were kidnapped by insurgents, during an attack on their unit. Newspaper articles used the same terminology.

Military personnel participating in a military action/war are not "kidnapped". They are captured or taken prisoner.

I strongly suspect that the word "kidnapped" was used deliberately by the Pentagon to avoid the military connotations of these deaths, and the news organizations have carefully followed suit. The soldiers are described as victims of a criminal act, not an act of war as participants in a military action. If our soldiers were "taken prisoner" by the insurgents, than captured insurgents would be legitimate and would obviously have the status of prisoners of war -- and therefore the protection of the Geneva Convention. That doesn’t quite fit in with the current ideology of the government.

This doesn’t lessen the violence of the act, nor minimize the soldier’s participation – but it was one of the most obvious cases of spin I’ve seen lately. I don’t like it – words are powerful tools; they can be used to persuade or bully with surprising ease. The talking points from the military on this incident were carefully calculated to be emotional and have a specific effect – See how different the two statements below are:

Two soldiers were kidnapped by insurgents today

Two soldiers were taken prisoner by insurgents today

The first is the act of madmen who don’t play by the rules. The second is the act of a military force in war.

Without the ability to portray the “other” as terrorists and madmen who cannot be recognized as actual enemy combatants, it gets harder to make the actions of the US acceptable. Semantics, perhaps but powerful semantics.

1 comment:

The Tiger said...

Now it sounds like the soldiers were executed, and possibly tortured. So the insurgents are not providing our soldiers with the protection of the Geneva Accords.

Of course, there is the argument that we should be better than them, one which I agree with theoretically, but after news like today's it is harder to argue for it in practice.