Orwellian Language: Peace Abroad; War at Home
Governments often misuse language to build emotional and patriotic support for their policies. This Orwellian use of language is clearly evident in the way that US government policy uses the words “war” and “peace.”
Everyone is well aware of the US military invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Initiated during the Bush administration and continued through the administration of Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama, the US enlisted the assistance of other countries (but both invasions were mainly undertaken by the US military) to bomb those countries, occupy them with ground troops, and overthrow their governments. There was no declaration of war in either case. Those invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the subsequent occupation by American troops, were called peacekeeping operations.
When we bomb other countries, invade them with our troops, and topple their governments, that is what we call peace.
Meanwhile, we refer to many of our domestic policies as wars. We have a war on drugs, a war on poverty, a war on terror, and lesser wars like the war on obesity, the war on smoking, and the war on coal. The list could go on.
In the post-Cold War era, everyone knows the US is the World’s policeman, or the World’s bully, depending on one’s point of view. But when we impose our preferences on people in other countries through the use of military force, we call that peace. In war, one side fights another, and linguistically, our peacekeeping missions are telling people that we are helping them out by destabilizing their governments and killing their countrymen.
At home, the language of war invokes images of a patriotic effort to fight an enemy, whether the enemy is poverty or obesity or coal, and invokes images of treason for those who dare to speak out against the nation’s efforts to fight its enemies. Offering support to the opposition in one of our wars is unpatriotic and treasonous.
By misusing language in this way, words lose precision in their meanings. When bombing people is peace and providing food to poor people is war, those words that are misused for their emotional connotations no longer refer to clear concepts. In both cases, the Orwellian language does serve a clear purpose. It builds support for the state, and facilitates its foreign and domestic policies.