Collateral Language

Collateral Language: A User's Guide to America's New War

John Collins
Ross Glover
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 230
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  • Book Info
    Collateral Language
    Book Description:

    Terrorism, jihad, fundamentalism, blowback. These and other highly charged terms have saturated news broadcasts and everyday conversation since September 11th. But to keen ears their meanings change depending upon who's doing the talking. So what do these words really mean? And what are people trying to say when they use them?

    Each of the thirteen essays inCollateral Languageoffers an informed perspective on a particular word or phrase that serves as a building block in the edifice of post-World Trade Center rhetoric. In some cases this involves a systematic examination of the term in question (e.g. "anthrax" or "unity")its historical roots, the development of its meaning and usage in the U.S. over time, and its employment in the current context. In other cases authors provide a set of more philosophical or autobiographical reflections on a particular idea (e.g. "vital interests" or "evil"), suggesting a need to consider the ethical and moral implications of using the concept uncritically. In every instance, however, the overriding goal is to give the reader a set of practical tools to analyze the political language that surrounds all of us at this critical point in our nation's history.

    Witty, informative and highly readable,Collateral Languageis a lexicon of political terminology and an indispensable tool for understanding the current conflict.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2354-8
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    John Collins and Ross Glover

    Language is a terrorist organization, and we stand united against terrorism. This book is a collection of essays written to expose the tyranny of political rhetoric used to justify “America’s New War.” From Buchenwald to Rwanda, from Wounded Knee to Watts, from the gulags of Stalinist Russia to the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, from San Salvador to Srebernica, the killing fields of the modern world respect no national boundaries. All these places are, in a sense, the same place, where the practices of war destroy the dream of human rights. In October 2001, the United States marshaled all its...

  5. 1. Anthrax
    (pp. 15-26)
    R. Danielle Egan

    This story, my story of Anthrax and what Anthrax symbolically represents in our broader culture, starts with me in my pajamas. Fuzzy brained and in the process of waking up, clutching my coffee as I move from the kitchen and into the living room, I grab the remote control and turn on CNN. A nice white woman with a southern accent is being interviewed: “So, tell us about your cause,” the male reporter from CNN says. During the delay, while his words travel to her in Lafayette, Tennessee, from Atlanta, the camera pans to the name of the street on...

  6. 2. Blowback
    (pp. 27-38)
    Patricia M. Thornton and Thomas F. Thornton

    In the rush to make sense of the September 11 attacks and to understand their significance in national history, two major competing perspectives emerged in the American media. The first, put forth explicitly by the Bush Administration, emphasized that America was an innocent victim of historically unprecedented terrorist attacks by “evil” forces. The second, championed chiefly by critics of American foreign policy, viewed the fatal hijackings as “blowback,” or unexpected, negative consequences on our country resulting from American imperialism and adventurism abroad. Significantly, these two perspectives contain radically opposing concepts of history and destiny, political responsibility, and moral obligation.


  7. 3. Civilization versus Barbarism
    (pp. 39-52)
    Marina A. Llorente

    “Civilization under attack” has been one of the headlines used by the news media to describe the events of September 11, 2001. During the initial days when the perpetrators were not officially known, the missing subject of the headline (“under attack” by whom?) was often filled in, for consumers of the media, by the word “barbarism.” Several questions arise from this mechanical assumption. How does the concept of “civilization” bring to mind the concept of “barbarism”? What is meant by “civilization” and “barbarism” in this context? How does the opposition between “civilization” and “barbarism” work so effectively? Finally, for what...

  8. 4. Cowardice
    (pp. 53-64)
    R. Danielle Egan

    On the night of September 11, as images of planes crashing into buildings replayed endlessly, images imprinted on the American memory forever, the term “coward” entered into the public discourse as a way to help people make sense of how nineteen men could hijack three planes and take the lives of so many in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Stunned by such an atrocity, one that seemed like the things of which nightmares are made, governmental and media discourses promoted the notion of cowardice to fill the void which, for many, was beyond words. To reclaim our position of...

  9. 5. Evil
    (pp. 65-78)
    Laura J. Rediehs

    The concept of “evil” contains ambiguities and evokes fear. By employing the term “evil,” social institutions generate fear to manipulate people’s attitudes and behaviors. One theory about “evil” is especially powerful for summoning support for violent or militaristic action. As evidenced by both the September 11 attacks and the U.S. responses to those attacks, evil can be a powerful tool in the hands of political leaders. Under a different theory, however, a violent or militaristic response is thought to be incapable of solving the real problems that underlie actions or events regarded as evil.

    There are several ways to define...

  10. 6. Freedom
    (pp. 79-93)
    Andrew D. Van Alstyne

    In a September 20 address to a joint session of Congress, President Bush declared, “Tonight we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom.” In the course of the forty-one-minute applause-filled speech, the president used the terms “free” or “freedom” thirteen times. Although he frequently intoned the mantra of freedom, it was as a vague rhetorical device, rather than a substantive exploration of what it actually means. By making freedom sufficiently amorphous, Bush ignored the most democratically important meanings of freedom (e.g., a free press, freedom of assembly) and instead used the term as a device supporting...

  11. 7. Fundamentalism
    (pp. 94-108)
    Leah Renold

    We are at war, declares an article in theNew York Timespublished shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center.¹ The author, Andrew Sullivan, argues that we are in a religious war, a war that threatens our very existence. Not only our lives, but also our souls are at stake. Who is the enemy? It is not Islam. It is a specific form of Islam called fundamentalism. In his essay Sullivan argues that fundamentalism constitutes a large section of Islam. The article explains that fundamentalism has ancient roots and has attracted thousands of adherents for centuries from different...

  12. 8. Jihad
    (pp. 109-124)
    Kenneth Church

    One of the still unanswered but crucial questions about 9/11 is how the world’s impoverished citizens regard that attack on global capitalism and the U.S. military-industrial complex as well as the subsequent U.S.–led invasion of Afghanistan. In order to prevent too much reflection on the symbolic potency of the unfolding conflict, the U.S. government has cast the conflict in terms of “the war on terrorism,” “civilization” versus “barbarism,” “good” against “evil,” or “just war” against “holy war” orjihad. Jihad evokes images of Muslim fanatics wielding weapons (preferably of foreign make) in acts of terrorism designed to impose an...

  13. 9. Justice
    (pp. 125-137)
    Erin McCarthy

    Since September 11, the term “justice” has often appeared alongside “peace.” In his address to the nation the evening of 9/11, President Bush stated, “This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace.” Yet the term “justice” was not and has not been defined, and, as many critically minded citizens around the world have noted, the brand of “justice” the president, the CIA, the military, and the media seem to be advocating does not necessarily go hand in hand with peace. In what follows, I discuss two types of...

  14. 10. Targets
    (pp. 138-154)
    Philip T. Neisser

    War is verbal as well as physical, as each side speaks of the other side in ways that, to one degree or another, reduce them to abstractions, or demonize them, or both. Such talk always has its direct wartime meaning and purpose, but also makes broader claims, typically justifications of the way of life, or of the dominant, elite perspective, of each side. The term looked at closely in this essay is “targets,” as it is deployed in the war talk created by the United States in its conflict with the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda.

    People use terms like “targets”...

  15. 11. Terrorism
    (pp. 155-174)
    John Collins

    A scenario: The U.S. government identifies an Arab as the man responsible for a particular act of political violence, then initiates a retaliatory bombing campaign in the Middle East, generating a wave of patriotic sentiment and xenophobia from Maine to Hawaii. The airwaves are filled with the voices of “terrorism experts” and retired military officers who speak gravely about the need to respond forcefully to “the terrorists.” Almost overnight, public opinion polls indicate near-universal support for the notion that “terrorism” is now the country’s number one problem. Strangely, actual definitions of “terrorism” are nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, in the...

  16. 12. Unity
    (pp. 175-190)
    Eve Walsh Stoddard and Grant H. Cornwell

    The events of September 11 have brought the ethics of unity into the foreground of public discourse. How can a call for unity be a bad thing? Whereas the term “nation” used to be understood as a population of people bound together by common descent, language, culture, or history, most scholars now see nations as largely “imagined communities” where the elements of identity, the things that bind a group together, are features of stories the group tells itself about itself. In the current moment the “American” nation is being defined by the events of September 11. This is what “we”...

  17. 13. Vital Interests A Memoirist’s Crash (Site) Course in U.S. Oil Consumption
    (pp. 191-205)
    Natalia Rachel Singer

    I smelled the smoking rubble of the World Trade Center before we got close to it, before my friend Cathy and I had walked halfway through Soho. I knew that this mass grave would secrete its own horrific odors, but it was the acrid, chemical stench of sheetrock, metals, and rubber lit by petroleum products that I blamed for my headache and nausea and raw throat, and for both a déjà vu and dread I have yet to recover from. New Yorkers had been complaining about the fumes in the month since the attack, and my stepson, an art student...

  18. 14. The War on ______
    (pp. 207-222)
    Ross Glover

    Fill in the blank. Regardless of what word you insert, the American public understands. U.S. presidents learned this lesson well over the last forty years. “The War on ______” plays on our competitive heartstrings like a football cheer. “Yes,” we seem to respond, “fight the good fight, O fearless President, fight the war for us, fight the war for the good of humanity, but most importantly just fight.” It matters little that most fights end up only wasting time, money, and lives, or that every time we begin fighting, conditions get worse rather than better. Fight anyway; fight all the...

  19. Appendix: Alternatives to the Mainstream U.S. Media
    (pp. 223-224)
  20. Contributors
    (pp. 225-230)