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Lessons from Ben Suc

The mendacity and criminality of the U.S. war on Vietnam are matters of historical record, yet easily forgotten is the role that so-called objective, balanced, and responsible language played to defend the indefensible. With today’s Washington planners attempting to disburse billions of dollars in “development and reconstruction aid” to Iraq in the midst of a heated war, the village of Ben Suc in Vietnam serves as a prescient reminder of what “aid,” “development,” and “humanitarianism” can mean in the context of an ongoing foreign invasion. Ben Suc also points toward an unsettling kinship between debased language, social sciences, and pathologies of technocratic control.
The use of technocratic doublespeak as a mask for violence is perhaps nowhere more incisively analyzed than in George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language”: “Defenseless 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,” Orwell wrote in 1946. “Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called rectification of frontiers…. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.” Orwell identified four ways that truth is shrouded in cocoons of debased speech by the perpetrators of deadly political action: pretentious diction, verbal false limbs, dying metaphors, and meaningless vocabulary.

Continue reading this essay by Ron Osborn in Z Magazine.

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