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War over Auxiliary Verbs



October 8, 2002

I’m fussy about language. We can’t all be Shakespeares, but we can at least try to be succinct and accurate. George Orwell even taught us that needless words can mask political dangers.

Last night I tried to read an article about the parlous condition America is in. Maybe it made some good points. I don’t know. I couldn’t finish it. In fact I couldn’t get past a sentence that began: “Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that ...” Why not just say, “To make matters worse, ...”? Because the writer wanted to use “exacerbating,” which he thought would sound more impressive. So he spoiled a whole sentence for the chance to use one big word.

People do this all the time. They say “due to the fact that” rather than “because,” “prior to” rather than “before.” It not only annoys me, it makes me distrust them. When I read bad English, I suspect bad faith.

I’m not an English teacher anymore. I reformed long ago. By bad English I don’t mean improper grammar or incorrect usage; I mean the kind of English an honest man wouldn’t use to a friend — English whose purpose is to manipulate, not to convince.

President Bush’s speech in Cincinnati Monday illustrates what I mean. He wanted to justify war on Iraq. What has Iraq done to us? Well, nothing, really. So Bush repeated the long litany of “dangers” and “threats” Saddam Hussein allegedly poses.

Seldom have I read so many auxiliary verbs in one speech. Bush didn’t say what Iraq has done to this country, since it hasn’t done anything except shoot back at American aircraft. But he spoke at length about what Iraq “could” or “would” or “may” do, or is “capable” of doing.

“Weapons of mass destruction,” of course, made several appearances. Has Saddam Hussein actually used them against us? Well, he “could.” The “danger” is “significant” and “will grow worse with time.” He “cannot be trusted.” “We have every reason to assume the worst.” “We cannot wait for the final proof.” “The smoking gun ... could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” (This last snappy line has become a cliché of the Bush administration.)

By this kind of reasoning, and with this kind of language, you can make a case for war against just about any country you like (or dislike). Lots of countries have, or are working on, or “could” develop nuclear weapons, and they “could” use them on us. Why is Iraq, as Bush says, “unique”?

[Breaker quote: Weak excuses disguised as good reasons]Saddam Hussein is a “homicidal dictator,” a “ruthless and aggressive dictator,” a “murderous tyrant,” who persecutes his own “civilian population” and has tortured and beheaded opponents. We must “protect our freedom” against the likes of him.

I know lots of people who agree that Hussein is a detestable guy, but I’ve never met one American who worries about being attacked by him, let alone being enslaved by him. Just how would that work? Many Americans are worried about losing their freedoms these days, but the only danger to freedom they see is the Bush administration, not Iraq. Saddam Hussein couldn’t conceivably arrest Americans without warrants, imprison us without trials, and suspend the Constitution. Our own government might.

Bush has made a case that Hussein poses a threat to Iraqis. But he has made no case at all that he poses a threat to you and me. At least nobody can accuse Bush of being a dangerous demagogue; his attempts to whip up fear and war fever have fallen flat. A Roosevelt or a Churchill, who had some command of English, might be able to do it, though even they had little success until their countries were attacked.

The more Bush talks, the clearer it becomes that any “threat” Iraq poses to ordinary Americans is strictly hypothetical. Any “links” between Iraq and al-Qaeda terrorists are matters of surmise, even wishful thinking; Bush would love to be able to prove them, not because he wants to fight terrorism, but because he wants to attack Iraq.

And most people find his preoccupation with attacking Iraq rather puzzling. He still hasn’t given us any real reasons; only feeble excuses. “Could,” “would,” and “may” just aren’t good enough.

Joseph Sobran



Joe Sobran's Biography.

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When honest people who hold strong opinions come together, it is natural that they state their opinions, and that those opinions occasionally clash. The articles that you see on this website represent the opinion of the writers, and are not the official opinion of this party. To see the official party position on any question, the reader is referred to the Party Platform.


Permission to reprint/republish granted, as long as you include the name of our site, the author,and our URL. www.cptexas.org. All CP Texas reports, and all editorials are property of The Constitution Party of Texas 2002 (unless otherwise noted).



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