Wednesday, February 27

The Power of "They"

This post has been updated to reflect current estimations for the largely unpaid for invasion and occupation of Iraq by U.S., private, and other forces.
If you want to be the president of the United States, you have to speak like the president. This means, among other things, identifying "enemies" by using vague third-person plural pronouns with abandon -- especially when discussing "terrorists," which, when you consider all the different (and many innocent) persons it has been applied to, is scarcely a surer target than indeterminate "they," "those," their," and "them." "Terrorists," or, for short, "they" (and its likenesses), are just two versions of the same dark cloud against which the leader of corporate America now expediently channels public energy and expense into hysterical group hate or--what often assures the same results--warps the general perception of history and current events.

Wroclaw Residence

By repeating the simple pronoun "they," spiced up here and there with neighboring adjectives like "ruthless" and "heartless," the leader discovers that he or she can wrench the people of TV LAND USA into a massive brain-lock and a state of nebulous dread. "They hate our freedom." "They hate us because we're so good." It hardly matters what material is stuffed into the predicate of such assertions, which perhaps explains why Bush's "because we're so good" did not at once evoke deafening and undying laughter. There, as always, the case is closed by the sweeping pronoun that comes first. "They are somehow analogous to a small group of people who we know did something wrong." "They are somehow connected to grave threats that may gather or wander or take a stroll through the park." And, an assertion that surely expresses the depth of metaphysical angst for any true patriot: "They are not us." Spoken in the earnestly menacing tone that many pretenders to the executive office seem to have practiced at their medicine-cabinet mirrors, any one of these could warrant all-out invasion of just about any country on earth.

And so it is that, by virtue of "they," "those," "their," and "them," suspicion of evil is swiftly balled up into a target of general scorn. Little matter if the actual target turns out to be hundreds of thousands of civilians, as in Iraq, or if the cost of exterminating such civilians and destroying their society and poisoning their cities may surpass three trillion US dollars (which amounts to approximately $33,000 for each US household). The case was shut long before any of that was mentioned. And if actual threats emerge precisely because of this or that invasion, the leader will simply dispatch those into the same airy plurality that was at the root of evil in the first place. Let the pundits bicker over 'chronology.' After all, they still hate us, don't they?

Such thoughts occurred to me when I heard the following morsel of wisdom not from President Bush but from Senator Hillary Clinton, who, among other things, refers to the illegal and illegitimate US invasion of Iraq as a "war" while conflating the murderous invasion with the events of 9/11:

"I do think we are engaged in a war against heartless, ruthless enemies," she said. "If they could come after us again tomorrow they would do so."

Far be it from the public to ask, "Who the are 'they'?" "And why do we need to kill 'them'"? Or even, "How does denying Iraq its sovereignty or spitting in the face of democratic opinion there (which overwhelming calls for complete US withdrawal) protect 'us'"? Why does our "freedom" depend upon the annihilation of so many others? And so on.

It seems clear to me that calling "they" and "them" whoever happens to be next week's victims of US torture, aerial bombs, or radium-dipped weaponry is only the first step of dehumanization that is required by those who with the disinformed support of US citizens would crush Iraqi society to pieces and send all its humanity to hell for the sake of sucking the nation's oil from under it and leaving the Zionists in Israel to grin. Believe it or not, that's what they would not hesitate to do. That's the heartless, ruthless, and in the final analysis faceless plurality that wish to lead "us." It's amazing that, in listening to them, you might think that it is Americans who should feel some sort of privileged claim to the sentiment of terror... But if that is the case, is it because of the largely voiceless "they" that gets blamed tirelessly from election podiums and the White House, or is it rather because of those who are always blaming them?


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