Irish writer Anna Brownell Jameson once wrote, “Accuracy of language is one of the bulwarks of truth.” As absolute truth continues to fall out of favor in our post-modern world, the accuracy of our use of language becomes a casualty of the culture war. Words mean things and in our sound bite, headline driven world the ability to control the language sets up the ability to control the collective thinking of the culture.
When Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon took Jerusalem he took the best and the brightest into captivity and ordered them to be taught the “literature and the language of the Chaldeans.” It was an attempt to transform the worldview of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah from a Jewish, monotheistic, objective understanding of culture to the pluralistic, subjective understanding of the Chaldeans. Nebuchadnezzar knew the pathway to a new understanding of the world was paved with language and traditions. The person who controls the symbols and defining phrases of a culture controls the thinking and values of that culture.
The latest assault on the meaning of words and the manipulation of phrases comes from the New York Port Authority and the Obama Administration. Since 9/11, the people of New York have referred to the primary building that will stand in the place of the World Trade Center the “Freedom Tower.” The name would forever stand as a warning to future attackers that the people of the United States would never be intimidated by an act of terror. It would also serve as a reminder of how precious our freedom is in the light of the extremist who would bury freedom under a radical ideology of hate and fear. Finally, the Freedom Tower would memorialize the sacrifice of the firemen and police officers, the real heroes of that terrible day, who rushed into the chaos to save lives of others while many rushed out to save their own lives.
But the Freedom Tower is no more. Oh, the tower will stand but it seems the concept of freedom is just too difficult to market to an international clientel. On the same day the Port Authority announced the name change to One World Trade Center they announced the first commercial lease would go to the Vantone Industrial, a Chinese company that will create something called “The China Center.” According to a Vantone Company spokesman, the China Center will occupy 190,810 square feet on the 64th floor and the entire 65th through 69th floors. And just what is the price of freedom you might ask? Why, just eighty dollars a square foot. The Chinese just couldn’t swallow the thought of having their “business and cultural center” associated with the word freedom.
Beginning April 14th, 1989 nearly 100,000 protestors filled Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The protests began with the death of pro-market and pro-democracy official Hu Yaobang. The protestors were peaceful but by June 4th the Chinese government had all the freedom they could stand. The tanks rolled into the square and according to the Chinese Red Cross over three thousand people were killed before the crowd dispersed in terror. The human rights violations in China continue today. They are visible for those who are willing to look past the manufactured glitz and prefabricated facade of the Beijing Olympics. First, China puts on a fake show of progress for the world and then they buy out the concept of freedom without a whimper of protest from the New York Port Authority. The rolling hills and endless white crosses of Arlington National Cemetery shout the true price of freedom but their cries are drowned out by the sound of freedom being sold for eighty dollars a square foot.
While the New York Port Authority was busy selling out the idea of freedom to the Chinese the Obama Administration was busy selling out the war on terror to the paragons of political correctness. We are no longer fighting a “Global War on Terror,” but rather we are conducting “Overseas Contingency Operations.” It is a phrase with absolutely no meaning! You could walk up to anyone on the street, even someone who has been living in a cave for the last thirty years, and say to them we are fighting a global war on terror and they would immediately understand what you were talking about. But tell someone we are conducting overseas contingency operations and they are likely to picture a room full of bureaucrats planning the next global warming rally.
But it is the other synonym for “Global War on Terror” the Obama Administration is using that really has me concerned. On March 27th, in a speech that was billed to be the Administration’s new approach in Afghanistan, President Obama renamed the war on terror a “campaign against extremism” that won’t be fought “with bullets or bombs alone.” A war on terror is a specific action that points to fighting an enemy that uses unthinkable tactics to strike terror into the heart of its intended victims. A campaign against extremism is a general phrase where the term extremism could be applied to any group the Obama Administration cares to demonize. Evangelical Christians, for example are considered to be extremist by the political Left.
English novelist Penelope Lively said “language tethers us to the world; without it we spin like atoms.” I fear that we are living in a world where language in being used as to spin us like atoms while the world around us spins out of control.