Saturday, December 8, 2007

That Troublesome NIE

Intelligence Expert Who Rewrote Book on Iran
By Ewen MacAskill
The Guardian UK

Saturday 08 December 2007

Report has torpedoed plans for military action and brought "howls" from neocons.

The intelligence came from an exotic variety of sources: there was the so-called Laptop of Death; there was the Iranian commander who mysteriously disappeared in Turkey. Also in the mix was video footage of a nuclear plant in central Iran and intercepts of Iranian telephone calls by the British listening station GCHQ.

But pivotal to the US investigation into Iran's suspect nuclear weapons programme was the work of a little-known intelligence specialist, Thomas Fingar. He was the principal author of an intelligence report published on Monday that concluded Iran, contrary to previous US claims, had halted its covert programme four years ago and had not restarted it. Almost single-handedly he has stopped - or, at the very least, postponed - any US military action against Iran.

His report marks a decisive moment in the battle between American neoconservatives and Washington's foreign policy and intelligence professionals - between ideologues and pragmatists. It provided an unexpected victory for those opposed to the neocon plans for a military strike.

The report, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which represents the consensus of the 16 US intelligence agencies, gave President George Bush one of his most difficult weeks since taking office in January 2001.

Fingar's findings were met in many Washington offices occupied by foreign policy and intelligence professionals not only with relief but with rejoicing. They had lost out in the run-up to the war in Iraq in 2003, but they are winning this one.

A backlash is under way; with the neocons being joined by even moderate foreign policy specialists who claim the report seriously underestimates the threat posed by Iran. Senate Republicans are planning to call next week for a congressional commission to investigate the report.

Senator John Ensign, a Republican, said: "Iran is one of the greatest threats in the world today. Getting the intelligence right is absolutely critical."

Flynt Leverett, a former CIA analyst and former National Security Council adviser in the Bush administration, was among those celebrating this week, and praised Fingar and his colleagues. "We seem to have lucked out and have individuals who resist back-channel politics and tell it how it is," he said. "That is what the CIA and other agencies are supposed to do."

He continued that Fingar and one of his co-authors, Vann Van Diepen, national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction, had opposed the war in Iraq. "They both felt the intelligence was misused in the run-up to the Iraq war. The conservatives are now attacking them, saying they are taking their revenge," Leverett said. "It is not mutiny for intelligence officers to state their honest views."

Fingar, Van Diepen and Kenneth Brill, a former US ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), were able to put out what they regard as an objective assessment because those occupying senior roles in the Bush administration had changed. Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Douglas Feith and Donald Rumsfeld have given way to those who oppose war with Iran, including Robert Gates, the defence secretary and former CIA director, and the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

Only the vice-president, Dick Cheney, remains to advocate military strikes against Iran. Wolfowitz, out of work since resigning from the World Bank earlier this year, has been invited back into the administration by Rice as an adviser on WMD, but that is an act of pity for an old mentor, not a shift in power to the neocons.

Joseph Cirincione, author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons, also welcomed the report, saying: "What is happening is that foreign policy has swung back to the grown-ups. We are watching the collapse of the Bush doctrine in real time. The neoconservatives are howling because they know their influence is waning."

We won't be able to breathe deeply until the influence of the NeoCons is dead a buried...30 feet under.

The report is a disaster for Bush's Iranian policy. Although he still refuses to take the military option off the table, it is harder to give the order to go to war. It also makes it harder for the US to persuade Russia and China to back tougher economic sanctions against Iran.

Bush and Cheney might have tried to block publication but feared it would leak, leading to damaging charges of cover-up and the manipulation of intelligence. "It was not likely to stay classified for long, anyway," Cheney told Politico, the Washington daily devoted to politics.

The "howling" of the neocons that Cirincione spoke about began within hours of the report's publication. Bolton, who remains close to Cheney, appeared on CNN complaining about the authors without naming them. In the comment section of the Washington Post on Thursday he wrote: "Many involved in drafting and approving the NIE were not intelligence professionals but refugees from the state department." He accused the officials, who he said had held benign views of Iran's nuclear intentions five or six years ago, of presenting these same policy biases as "intelligence judgments".

The Wall Street Journal, the editorial pages of which have long been aligned with the neocon agenda, went straight on to the attack within a day of the report's publication, expressing doubt in the officials and their conclusions. It quoted an intelligence source describing Fingar, Van Diepen and Brill as having reputations as "hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials".

Bush has said repeatedly that the US will not allow Iran to secure a nuclear weapons capability. Air strikes were becoming an increasingly likely option, even though opposed by the US state department, the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies. As of last spring, American deployments in the Gulf had been completed, ready should the order be given.

A European official close to the discussions, who is copied in to key memos relating to Iran, spoke in the summer as if an attack was a given. He said that the war was containable only as long as the Iranians did not strike back.

Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA head of counter-terrorism, said Bush had been building up the anti-Iran rhetoric to justify the military option: "There was a set of contingency plans updated over the last year and a half. The intent was air strikes to destroy the nuclear programme to the extent that it could be done. Is it possible to destroy 100% underground nuclear facilities? No, it is not. Could they set it back 10 years? Yes."

Iran's covert programme can be traced back to the mid-1980s when the country was at war with Iraq and fearful that the then Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, might secure a nuclear weapon. The programme involved design, ballistic delivery systems and uranium enrichment; the NIE concluded in 2005 that it was continuing. In July that year US intelligence officials showed IAEA officials an alleged stolen Iranian laptop with thousands of pages relating to nuclear weapons experiments. It was nicknamed the Laptop of Death - it is still not clear whether it was genuine

Fingar and his colleagues have gone back over the material and subjected it to a higher level of scrutiny. They took the same data but reached different conclusions. They also had some new material.

Cannistraro said everyone was pointing towards General Ali-Reza Asgari, a former deputy defence minister, who disappeared in Turkey in February. But he insisted Asgari had been a long-term agent run by the West who has since been debriefed and given a new identity.

"It is not a single source," said Cannistraro. "It is multiple: technical, documents, electronic."

Cheney, though his position is weakened by the NIE report, is due tomorrow to give a TV interview in which he will insist that the danger posed by Iran has not diminished. He told Politico the cause for concern was Iran's civilian development of highly enriched uranium, which would be relatively easy at a later date to switch to making a nuclear weapon.

Foreign policy pragmatists are pressing for the US to open direct talks with Iran. This is unlikely, but what this week has meant is that Bush has lost one of the pretexts for launching a new war in the 13 months he has left in office.

Go to Original

Pentagon Plans Unchanged by Iran Report: General

Friday 07 December 2007

Washington - A U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 has had no effect on Pentagon planning, a senior U.S. military officer said on Friday.

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Sattler, director for strategic plans and policy on the U.S. military's Joint Staff, said officials were still digesting the National Intelligence Estimate released on Monday.

Sattler told reporters at the Pentagon he would not talk publicly about any U.S. military contingency plans but he said: "There has been no course correction, slowdown, speedup given to us inside the Joint Staff based on the NIE."

The Bush administration has insisted that it wants to resolve its dispute with Tehran over Iran's nuclear program through diplomacy but will not rule out military action.

Analysts have said the intelligence estimate, which reversed previous assessments, makes it much less likely that the United States would attack Iran.

I wouldn't count on that. The analysts would be right, and we could all breathe a big sigh of relief, if they were dealing with sane people in the administration. That's certainly not the case.

Following the release of the estimate, President George W. Bush said Iran remained dangerous and would be dangerous in the future if it had the knowledge to make a nuclear weapon. Iran say its nuclear program is purely for energy generation.

So, now all it requires is for Iranians to have the "knowledge" of how to build the bomb? This is reminiscent of the failure to find the mountains of WMB we were assured would be found in Iraq. When no such WMD were found, Bush said that Hussein did have knowledge and programs, along with a desire to do us harm, a far cry from actually having weapons that could hit the eastern seaboard of the U.S. with bioweapons and an active nuclear weapons program.

In Kansas City on Friday, Vice President Dick Cheney restated the administration's stance on Iran.

"We're dealing with a country that is still enriching uranium and remains a leading state sponsor of terrorism. That is a cause of great concern to the United States," he said.

"Not everyone understands the threat of nuclear proliferation in Iran or elsewhere but we and our allies do understand the threat and we have a duty to prevent it," Cheney said in remarks delivered at the National World War I Museum.

Cheney still believes that Saddam and Osama were Tennis partners at the Kabul Country Club and that Saddam still has a bomb buried in the desert, somewhere. The man has the credibility of a pathological liar.

At the Pentagon, Sattler declined to say if he believed the NIE's findings meant Iran was now less of a threat.

"That is a strategy question and a policy question and we are in the process of discussing it," he said.

"I'd rather wait and let us sort our way through it than give you a knee-jerk response."

Reporting by Andrew Gray in Washington and Carey Gillam in Kansas City.


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

Capitalism Cannot Satisfy Us

Daniel Fortin and Mathieu Magnaudeix interview Pascal Lamy

Thursday 06 December 2007

World Trade Organization Director Pascal Lamy, one of globalization's shrewdest observers, rehabilitates the Marxist criticism of capitalism.

A man of the Left and director general of the World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy is at the heart of globalization. His sense of things? Marxism remains pertinent as a tool for analysis of modern capitalism. His conviction? We must look for alternatives to this same capitalism.

That's for damn sure

Challenges: Does Marx, as a certain number of recent authors have written, remain the best thinker about contemporary capitalism?

Pascal Lamy: Not the best, because history has shown us that he was not the prophet some vaunted. But from the perspective of non-predictive explanatory power nothing comparable exists. If one wants to analyze the globalized market capitalism of today, the essential tools reside in the intellectual toolkit Marx and some of those who inspired him created. Of course, everything is not perfect. There are stacks of criticisms to level against Marx, and he was probably a better philosopher and economic theoretician than he was a political thinker....

What do you retain from Marx?

Before everything else, the idea that market capitalism is a system based on a certain theory of value and the dynamic and the dysfunctions it may generate. A system where there are owners of capital who buy labor and holders of their own labor power who sell that. That relationship implies a theory of profit which ensues from alienation: the system has the tendency for the rich to become richer as they accumulate capital and for the poor to become poorer when they own nothing but their labor. All that remains largely true. No one since Marx has invented an analysis of the same significance. Even globalization is only a historical stage of market capitalism as Marx imagined it.

But what good does it do to criticize capitalism? Isn't it accepted by everyone?

Market capitalism is a system that possesses virtues and quirks: efficiencies, inequality, innovation, short-termism.... Its recent financialization has brutally changed the equilibrium laboriously hammered out between capital and labor. The institutions developed to protect workers have proven ever more inadequate and ineffective. Hence the priority I gave to the goal of mastering globalization during my term as European Trade Commissioner. At the time, in 1999, that surprised people. We must listen to those who talk about alternative modes of growth, those who sign up against this enormous consumerist weight that materializes, commodifies everything, who are against this system that puts people into relation with symbols they are sold thanks to the media and the Internet, so that in essence they buy nothing but their own image all day long. There's a kind of psychic cannibalism in all that that provokes dissolute behavior. Many people are unhappy because they are constantly being compared to their neighbors, with a fabricated image of themselves they cannot achieve. I belong to those who think we must continue to seek alternatives and that politics must be involved in these questions.

Alternatives to capitalism or alternatives to the way capitalism operates?

Alternatives to capitalism. Capitalism cannot satisfy us. It is a means that must remain in the service of human development. Not an end in itself. A single example: if we do not vigorously question the dynamic of capitalism, do you believe we will succeed in mastering climate change?

Isn't that Utopian?

So? From a theoretical point of view, I don't believe we can satisfy ourselves with limiting the historic horizon by saying that market capitalism is a stable model, give or take a few amendments. It feeds on too many injustices. But we can also be realistic and observe that up until now, whatever has been either theorized, or written, or applied as an alternative to capitalism has not worked. The reality test must remain essential.

But all the same, we don't want to throw everything in capitalism out....

Of course not. I'd like to see us get beyond reciprocal anathematization. The Berlin wall fell close to twenty years ago. It's time to be able to discuss reality without falling into caricature. Capitalism is even a very effective system. All the more so as it is now globalized, which produces more economies of scale. With the same capital, one may use more work in bigger batches. That certainly creates inequalities, but also it also creates purchasing power and growth. Capitalism has brought between 300 and 500 million people out of poverty in the course of the last twenty years. That's the case in India and China, somewhat less so in Africa; it's a reality and we mustn't deny it. We have to be clear-headed enough to acknowledge the drawbacks, but also the advances of this system.

With respect to China's rise in power, isn't that an instance of the sublimation of capitalism before its self-destruction at the heart of Marxist theory?

If Marx analyzed today's China in its reality and its plan and he talked about it with Tocqueville, he would tell him that America is ultimately very social-democratic compared to the model China incarnates. In the United States, you have a form of social assistance for the poorest people; you have food stamps; largely private contingency systems, certainly, but also some public ones for those who are most destitute. None of that exists in China.

Chinese leaders talk about a transition phase...

When I talk to Chinese leaders, they tell me that, for them, this economic transformation phase entails risks of social, regional and environmental imbalances. And they are worried. They say: "We have to deal with the issue, but we've succeeded in bringing millions of people out of poverty, and done so consistently over thirty years. No one else has done that (which is true); credit us with the fact that it's a point on our trajectory."

You believe them?

I understand them.

But go on; do you associate with them regularly?

I believe they are very concerned about the resolution of these questions, but I also believe that the resolution of these questions is intrinsically necessary to the development of the Chinese system. If these social questions of social, environmental and regional imbalances are not dealt with, then it's the system itself that is at stake. The Chinese save too much and don't consume enough. That's one source of the imbalance in global trade.

Why, according to you?

Because they save up for their retirement, for their children's education and for the day they might be sick. That's where we come back to market capitalism. It's not altogether an accident that Mr. Bismarck invented social security, that Mr. Ford was in favor of it and that Mr. Beveridge perfected it. These are necessities for the operation of the system itself in the absence of the search for an alternative.

Where is the French Left with respect to Marx?

Let's talk about the Left at a global level. In a phase when market capitalism is more efficient and less egalitarian than previously, the present political reality is, from a certain perspective, much more favorable for the Left. You have, moreover, events that come to corroborate the least bearable aspects of the model: either its intrinsic dysfunctions, such as the subprime crisis, or the phenomena that capitalism and its value system don't allow us to deal with - the most obvious of those being global warming.

But is the French Left still too Marxist?

Yes, but not in its analysis of capitalism, but rather in the sense of what Marx wrote about the Commune. What the French Left likes in Marx, is the aspect "the Revolution is for tomorrow; workers of the world, unite, strike, break the backs of capitalism and of the capitalists and take power." That's the myth of the French Left. That's Marx's fertilization of Gracchus Babeuf in French political thought because Babeuf was one of those who inspired Marx.

Why has the social-democratic model never prospered in France, do you think?

Because the French Left remains obsessed with equality and because it has a frequently theoretical vision that distances it from, for example, the labor movement, which is more practical and more dynamic in its approach. John Rawls is a man whose thinking is accepted by three-quarters of the world's social-democrats and who continues to be rejected by the [French] Socialist Party. They tell you, "Rawls is a right-wing philosopher." And why? Because he talks about equity and not equality. That's something that deserves debate. Because if the concrete incarnation of equality is equity, then rejecting equity in the name of the fact that it's a right-wing notion amounts quite simply to rejecting reality when it doesn't adhere to one's analysis of it.

If I am a social-democrat, it's both because I believe deeply in the necessity and the possibility of changing the world, and also because I believe that all politics is grounded in the facts.

Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

It's Those Tapes Again

Inquiry Sought On CIA Tapes
By Dan Eggen and Joby Warrick
The Washington Post

Saturday 08 December 2007

Destruction is said to be news to Bush.

Democratic lawmakers yesterday angrily demanded a Justice Department investigation into the CIA's decision to destroy videotapes of harsh interrogation tactics used on two terrorism suspects.

The White House said that President Bush was unaware of the tapes or their destruction until this week, but administration sources acknowledged last night that longtime Bush aide Harriet E. Miers knew of the tapes' existence and told CIA officials that she opposed their destruction.

The Senate intelligence committee also announced the start of its own probe into the destroyed videotapes, said Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.).

"We do not know if there was intent to obstruct justice, an attempt to prevent congressional scrutiny, or whether they were simply destroyed out of concern they could be leaked," Rockefeller said. "Whatever the intent, we must get to the bottom of it."

Oh Please, Mr.Rockefeller, do you really believe the destruction of the tapes was anything but obstruction of justice? Please, get a grip on the reality of practices and patterns of this administration.

The uproar in Congress followed Thursday's disclosure by CIA Director Michael V. Hayden that the agency had videotaped the interrogations of two al-Qaeda suspects in 2002 and destroyed the tapes three years later. Hayden and other officials said one of the detainees was Abu Zubaida, a close associate of Osama bin Laden.

A man whom we have heard is quite cuckoo, either before his interrogation or as a result of it.

The other was identified last night by a knowledgeable U.S. official as Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was captured in November 2002 in the United Arab Emirates. Nashiri complained earlier this year, in documents filed for his military tribunal hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that he had been tortured into confessing to various terrorist acts and plots. Several alleged acts of torture are redacted from the document.

It is not clear which tactics are shown on the videotapes. Abu Zubaida has been identified by intelligence officials as one of three detainees subjected to water-boarding, an aggressive interrogation technique that simulates drowning.

Hayden said in a letter to CIA personnel that the decision to destroy the tapes was made out of concern that interrogators could be identified if the tapes were leaked.

BS, BS, BS, BS......

But Democratic lawmakers, defense lawyers and civil liberties advocates scoffed at that explanation yesterday, arguing that the disclosure suggested an attempt by the CIA to cover up possibly illegal conduct in the face of specific requests for records, including video or audio tapes, from federal courts and from the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) urged Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey in a letter yesterday to investigate "whether CIA officials who destroyed these videotapes and withheld information about their existence from official proceedings violated the law."

Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said the department was reviewing Durbin's request but had no other comment.

Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) called Hayden's reasoning a "pathetic excuse" and said, "You'd have to burn every other document at the CIA that has the identity of an agent on it under that theory."

Democrats and the administration also clashed over the extent of briefings provided to Congress about the tapes.

The CIA says the Senate intelligence committee, for example, was first told of plans to destroy the tapes in February 2003 and was then informed during a closed hearing in November 2006 that the destruction had been carried out.

But Rockefeller said his panel "has located no record of either being informed of the 2003 CIA decision or being notified late last year of the tapes having being destroyed." A review of a transcript of the November 2006 hearing also makes no mention of destroying tapes, Rockefeller said.

On the House side, Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), who was previously the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said she warned the CIA's general counsel after a classified briefing in 2003 not to destroy any videotapes related to the agency's "enhanced interrogation program."

CIA officials said the agency never turned over the videotapes to the Sept. 11 commission because the panel did not specifically request them. But several members and staffers, including the panel's Republican co-chairman, disputed that claim yesterday and said the CIA's failure to disclose the tapes was in defiance of commission demands.

"That just doesn't hold water, because we asked for everything," said former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean, who was the panel's co-chairman. "They told us we had everything they had on the detainees... . You don't expect not to be told the truth, but we weren't told the truth."

The panel's former general counsel, Daniel Marcus, said CIA representatives told the commission that videotapes and interrogation transcripts did not exist for detainees linked to the 2001 attacks.

White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters that Bush "has no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction" before he was briefed on the issue by Hayden on Thursday.

Those Bushies, alway out of the loop, or just plain loopy.

Perino said she could not rule out other White House involvement in the decision because she had asked only the president about it. The CIA is reviewing the case with help from White House lawyers, she said.

Oh God, that's disgusting news!

Miers was White House deputy chief of staff for policy when she was informed of the CIA's intention, administration sources said. She told the CIA that she opposed destroying the tapes, the sources added.

CIA officials have said that Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the director of clandestine operations, ordered their destruction in November 2005, and administration sources said last night that Miers, who was then White House counsel, learned of the order after it was carried out. News of Miers's knowledge was reported last night by ABC News.

A White House spokesman had no comment when asked about Miers and the tapes.

That figures!

In separate letters to Mukasey and Hayden, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (Mich.) and other committee Democrats said that "withholding of evidence sought in fact-finding or criminal investigations could amount to obstruction of justice."

But it won't. How many times has something impeachable, to say the very least, been made public, the Democrats have a hissy fit and NOTHING, absolutely nothing happens as a result?

The lawmakers also asked whether the Justice Department reviewed or approved of the destroying the tapes.

In the case of al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui, prosecutors revealed in October that the CIA had discovered two videotapes and one audiotape of detainee interrogations, after saying that no such tapes existed. CIA officials say the tapes that were destroyed were not related to Moussaoui's request for material relevant to his case, however.


Abu Zubaida's interrogation played a role in the case against another alleged al-Qaeda operative, Jose Padilla, who is set to be sentenced in Miami early next year on terrorism charges.

Staff writers Peter Baker and Walter Pincus and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

Obermann Commentary: Iran NIE and Bush Lies

"Neocon Job"
By Keith Olbermann
MSNBC Countdown

Thursday 06 December 2007

Full text of Keith's Special Comment

Finally, as promised, a Special Comment about the president's cataclysmic deception about Iran:

There are few choices more terrifying than the one Mr. Bush has left us with tonight.

We have either a president who is too dishonest to restrain himself from invoking World War Three about Iran at least six weeks after he had to have known that the analogy would be fantastic, irresponsible hyperbole - or we have a president too transcendently stupid not to have asked - at what now appears to have been a series of opportunities to do so - whether the fairy tales he either created or was fed, were still even remotely plausible.

A pathological presidential liar, or an idiot-in-chief. It is the nightmare scenario of political science fiction: A critical juncture in our history and, contained in either answer, a president manifestly unfit to serve, and behind him in the vice presidency: an unapologetic war-monger who has long been seeing a world visible only to himself.

After Ms. Perino's announcement from the White House late last night, the timeline is inescapable and clear.

In August the president was told by his hand-picked Major Domo of intelligence Mike McConnell, a flinty, high-strung-looking, worrying-warrior who will always see more clouds than silver linings, that what "everybody thought" about Iran might be, in essence, crap.

Yet on October 17th the President said of Iran and its president Ahmadinejad:

"I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War Three, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge to make a nuclear weapon."

And as he said that, Mr. Bush knew that at bare minimum there was a strong chance that his rhetoric was nothing more than words with which to scare the Iranians.

Or was it, Sir, to scare the Americans?

More Likely, since the Bush administration's favorite fear target is the American people

Does Iran not really fit into the equation here? Have you just scribbled it into the fill-in-the-blank on the same template you used, to scare us about Iraq?

In August, any commander-in-chief still able-minded or uncorrupted or both, Sir, would have invoked the quality the job most requires: mental flexibility.

A bright man, or an honest man, would have realized no later than the McConnell briefing that the only true danger about Iran was the damage that could be done by an unhinged, irrational Chicken Little of a president, shooting his mouth off, backed up by only his own hysteria and his own delusions of omniscience.

Not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr. Bush.

The Chicken Little of presidents is the one, Sir, that you see in the mirror.

And the mind reels at the thought of a vice president fully briefed on the revised Intel as long as two weeks ago - briefed on the fact that Iran abandoned its pursuit of this imminent threat four years ago - who never bothered to mention it to his boss.

Or did he?

It is nearly forgotten today, but throughout much of Ronald Reagan's presidency it was widely believed that he was little more than a front-man for some never-viewed, behind-the-scenes, string-puller.

That would be Poppy Bush.

Today, as evidenced by this latest remarkable, historic malfeasance, it is inescapable, that Dick Cheney is either this president's evil ventriloquist, or he thinks he is.

What servant of any of the 42 previous presidents could possibly withhold information of this urgency and gravity, and wind up back at his desk the next morning, instead of winding up before a Congressional investigation - or a criminal one?

Mr. Bush - if you can still hear us - if you did not previously agree to this scenario in which Dick Cheney is the actual detective and you're Remington Steele - you must dis-enthrall yourself: Mr. Cheney has usurped your constitutional powers, cut you out of the information loop, and led you down the path to an unprecedented presidency in which the facts are optional, the Intel is valued less than the hunch, and the assistant runs the store.

The problem is, Sir, your assistant is robbing you - and your country - blind.

Not merely in monetary terms, Mr. Bush, but more importantly of the traditions and righteousness for which we have stood, at great risk, for centuries: Honesty, Law, Moral Force.

Mr. Cheney has helped, Sir, to make your Administration into the kind our ancestors saw in the 1860's and 1870's and 1880's - the ones that abandoned Reconstruction, and sent this country marching backwards into the pit of American Apartheid.

Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland ...

Presidents who will be remembered only in a blur of failure, Mr. Bush.

Presidents who will be remembered only as functions of those who opposed them - the opponents whom history proved right.

Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland ... Bush.

Would that we could let this president off the hook by seeing him only as marionette or moron.

But a study of the mutation of his language about Iran proves that though he may not be very good at it, he is, himself, still a manipulative, Machiavellian, snake-oil salesman.

The Bushian etymology was tracked by Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post's website.

It is staggering.

March 31st: "Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon ..."

June 5th: "Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons ..."

June 19th: "Consequences to the Iranian government if they continue to pursue a nuclear weapon ..."

July 12th: "The same regime in Iran that is pursuing nuclear weapons ..."

August 6th: "This is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon ..."

Notice a pattern?

Trying to develop, build or pursue a nuclear weapon.

Then, sometime between August 6th and August 9th, those terms are suddenly swapped out, so subtly that only in retrospect can we see that somebody has warned the president, not only that he has gone out too far on the limb of terror - but there may not even be a tree there ...

McConnell, or someone, must have briefed him then.

August 9th: "They have expressed their desire to be able to enrich uranium, which we believe is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program ..."

August 28th: "Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons ..."

October 4th: "You should not have the know-how on how to make a (nuclear) weapon ..."

October 17th: "Until they suspend and/or make it clear that they, that their statements aren't real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon."

Before August 9th, it's: Trying to develop, build or pursue a nuclear weapon.

After August 9th, it's: Desire, pursuit, want ... knowledge, technology, know-how to enrich uranium.

And we are to believe, Mr. Bush, that the National Intelligence Estimate this week talks of the Iranians suspending their nuclear weapons program in 2003 ...

And you talked of the Iranians suspending their nuclear weapons program on October 17th ...

And that's just a coincidence?

And we are to believe, Mr. Bush, that nobody told you any of this until last week?

Your insistence that you were not briefed on the NIE until last week might be legally true - something like "what the definition of is is" - but with the subject matter being not interns but the threat of nuclear war.

Legally, it might save you from some war crimes trial ... but ethically, it is a lie.

It is indefensible.

You have been yelling threats into a phone for nearly four months, after the guy on the other end had already hung up.

You, Mr. Bush, are a bald-faced liar.

Keith, now you know that that is not news.

And more over, you have just revealed that John Bolton, and Norman Podhoretz, and the Wall Street Journal Editorial board, are also bald-faced liars.

As If We didn't already know that?

We are to believe that the Intel community, or maybe the State Department, cooked the raw intelligence about Iran, falsely diminished the Iranian nuclear threat, to make you look bad?

And you proceeded to let them make you look bad?

You not only knew all of this about Iran, in early August ...

But you also knew ... it was ... accurate.

And instead of sharing this good news with the people you have obviously forgotten you represent ...

You merely fine-tuned your terrorizing of those people, to legally cover your own backside ...

While you filled the factual gap with sadistic visions of - as you phrased it on August 28th: a quote "nuclear holocaust" - and, as you phrased it on October 17th, quote: "World War Three."

My comments, Mr. Bush, are often dismissed as simple repetitions of the phrase "George Bush has no business being president."

Well, guess what?

Tonight: hanged by your own words ... convicted by your own deliberate lies ...

You, sir, have no business ... being president.

Good night, and good luck.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

George Orwell

Politics and the English Language

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad — I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen — but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia)

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)

4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen's clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion's roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream — as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o'clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma'amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

DYING METAPHORS. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

OPERATORS OR VERBAL FALSE LIMBS. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

PRETENTIOUS DICTION. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i. e., e. g. and etc.,Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers(1). The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one's meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness. there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language.

MEANINGLESS WORDS. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning(2). Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X's work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X's work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations — race, battle, bread — dissolve into the vague phrases ‘success or failure in competitive activities’. This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing — no one capable of using phrases like ‘objective considerations of contemporary phenomena’ — would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (‘time and chance’) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don't have to hunt about for the words; you also don't have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry — when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech — it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash — as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting potalienput up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. The will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear. — it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip — for akin — making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one's elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning's post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he ‘felt impelled’ to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: ‘[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany's social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.’ You see, he ‘feels impelled’ to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one's mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one's brain.

I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence(3), to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defence of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a ‘standard English’ which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one's meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’. On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one's meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one's words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs.



1) An interesting illustration of this is the way in which the English flower names which were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning-away from the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific. [back]

2) Example: ‘Comfort's catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative ginting at a cruel, an inexorably selene timelessness... Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull's-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bitter-sweet of resignation’. (Poetry Quarterly.) [back]

3) One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field. [back]

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.