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Quote of the Day

Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.


Thursday, June 03, 2004

So you think Bush omitted the word "crusade" because he was afraid to offend Muslim ears when he quoted Eisenhower in the Air Force Academy speech?

Yet if Bush were really afraid to offend Muslims, do you think he would have sent a couple of hundred thousand troops to invade two Muslim countries? Maybe there's a better explanation than political correctness.

Yes, Bush very obviously and very purposefully "quoted around" the word "crusade." That's undeniable. But let's think more carefully about what that omission implies.

We should start by remembering the imposing fact that Bush didn't have to quote Eisenhower's speech at all. Anyone with tender sensibilities about the word "crusade" would be offended by a quote from any speech that originally contained that word, whether or not the new speaker "quoted around" the "offensive" word, especially since the historical title of Eisenhower's original speech is "The Great Crusade." (Do you think Jews, for example, would be less perturbed if a modern Muslim leader quoted from some speech Muhammad gave to his troops before they invaded Medina and slaughtered its Jewish inhabitants, just so long as the modern Muslim leader left out the word "jihad"?) So if Bush was really so worried about offending Muslim sensibilities, he would not have quoted anything from Eisenhower's "Great Crusade" speech.

There is no doubt in my mind that Bush absolutely knew that some pernicious journalist would go look up Eisenhower's speech, and say, "Hey, lookey here, Dubya left out the phrase in the middle with the word 'crusade' in it." Yet by simply foregoing the salutation, "Soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force" and instead starting the quote at the words "the eyes of the world are upon you," Bush could have easily avoided the gleeful journalist's implication that, by "quoting around" the word "crusade," Bush had caved in to political correctness. We can only conclude that Bush purposefully chose to "quote around" the word "crusade" in order to emphasize it. Such "emphasis by omission" is an age-old rhetorical technique, known as "paraleipsis."

What then are we to make of Bush's paraleipsis? As a rhetorical device paraleipsis is typically used rather crudely to irritate and insult those against whom one is speaking--in the case of Bush's academy speech, that would be the enemies of freedom. This crude sort of use of paraleipsis is akin to, yet blunter than, "damming with faint praise." But I don't think the crude explanation entirely captures Bush's intent.

Safire suggests that a more deft use of paraleipsis can be a method of "subtly instructing." By pointedly omitting the word "crusade," and thereby drawing attention to it, Bush (in Safire's words) "provokes you to teach yourself": "[T]he speaker sometimes wants to push his audience a little. He is saying, 'Go look up the word -- work on it a little -- and then you won't forget it or my point.'"

So what is Bush's point? What is the lesson he wants us to learn? Well, as I said already, we should keep in mind that he didn't have to use Eisenhower's speech at all. And words he did use from that speech, "hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people," certainly do not eschew religious insinuations. If we are listening, instead of just having a knee-jerk reaction to what we perceive as an instance of political correctness, we have to ask ourselves, "Who were the 'liberty loving people' sending up those 'hopes and prayers' in June 1944? How do we compare to them, and how did their enemies compare to ours? How did their faith inform their actions? What exactly was their 'crusade'?"

Instructive is another phrase Bush used from Eisenhower's speech: "The eyes of the world are upon you." He did not say "the ears of the world are listening to you" even though the world is surely paying some kind of attention to what is said. By raising that contrast between deeds we seen done and words we hear spoken (or not spoken, yet heard nonetheless!), Bush's speech instructs us that much more important than what is said and heard is what is seen and done. Many words will be spoken, and many words will be distorted because it is easier to fool the ears than to fool the eyes. Bush's speech itself cleverly and purposefully illustrates how words like "crusade" and "jihad" can be manipulated through redefinition and or sly omissions. How difficult it is to sort out the meaning of what has been said and what has not been said! But after teaching that lesson, Bush's speech goes on to remind us of the lesson that what matters finally is not the words the world hears said or unsaid, but the deeds the world sees done or not done. Bush's speech also teaches that, as far as words are concerned, the ones that matter more are the "prayers," which most often are not spoken aloud and are not directed to the ears of man, but to the mind of God.

Post Script: One of my more cynical correspondents tells me he doesn't believe any of what I've just written. He doesn't believe it because "Bush couldn't even pronounce or spell 'paraleipsis,' let alone employ it in his speeches." But so what if Bush doesn't know the meaning of that fancy word! I once knew a woman who hadn't faintest idea of the meaning of the word "fellatio," but in spite of her modest vocabulary (or perhaps because of it), it was said that she could have learnt you a lesson they don't teach the smart girls at Wellesley. And that's exactly the point: At the moment of truth, it's the act that matters, not the word you use to describe it.

If Bush had really wanted to pander to the PC crowd, then--even taking into account the contemporary pertinence of Eisenhower's original speech--the decision to quote from that speech would be inexplicable, seeing as how the speech is known historically as "The Great Crusade Speech." Approvingly quoting any words from a speech with that title would be "offensive" to those who are already inclined to be offended by the word "crusade." Even if the word "Endloesung" were "quoted around," would not Jews be offended by anyone who quoted approvingly any part of the speech Hitler delivered in the Reichstag on the eve of his invasion of Poland? Concern with political correctness would have required Bush to disqualify Eisenhower's speech as a source and instead choose some other text to quote from, even if it was less historically appropriate.

Bush knew his speech was likely to irritate both the PC crowd and the less thoughtful among their conservative antagonists. And I think he did intend subtly to insult both groups, while leaving a message for history which is: "At times like these, the words don't matter, though their true meaning will emerge in time. But in this very moment, many will try to manipulate their own meanings into whatever words I say and even into the words I don't say. Here's the proof of that. But I don't worry much about such people. If they want to feel insulted, then they can all choke on their own frivolous indignation for all I care. What matters is not so much what is said but what is done. They will see proof of that soon enough!"

posted by Bathus | 6/03/2004 04:50:00 PM
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Blogger Southerndeb said...

Ward, you're going to steal all my good posters!

I think a lot of people are still underestimating the president, even with this small instance of leaving out the word "crusade." I know a lot of people on the right think we should just steam roll over the Middle East and to hell with their own religious sensitivities. My view is that we have to get along with this part of the world for a very long time, and in not too long a time, Islamists will be the major populations in several European countries. We've shown with our actions that we will not tolerate Islamic terrorism and we will crush those who perpetrate it against us, but it does not mean that we need to run roughshod over those in the Islamic countries that want to be peaceful participants in the world community.

If leaving out the word "crusade" from an otherwise very stirring and militaristic speech makes a few think we are wussies, then so be it. It doesn't mean we won't squash terrorists like cockroaches if they come at us again. And fortunately, I think the rest of the world understands this now.

8:22 AM, June 04, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like how you decided to include the part about Muhammad "invading" Medina and slaughtering jews there. Do you have any evidence to support that Muhammad had troops at that time? Or that that he wasn't "invited" to Medina?

9:27 PM, March 26, 2007  

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