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General Semantics, Terrorism and War

Nicholas Johnson*

The World in Quandaries:
Celebrating Two 60th Anniversaries
People in Quandaries
and the
New York Society for General Semantics

(and the 8th anniversary of the Media Ecology Association)

Fordham University
New York City

September 8, 2006

Links to Contents

General Semantics: The Ultimate Interdisciplinary Tools
General Semantics as Verbal Peace Movement
War: From WWII, to Viet Nam, to Iraq
War: Military Control of Civilians and the Powell Doctrine
"War" on "Terrorism"
What We Can Do

"Terrorism? We're all against it, and understandably and legitimately so. On that there is unanimity. The problem comes in trying to figure out what the 'it' is and, once identified, what we can most effectively do about it."

I have given a great many lectures in my lifetime, but this is the only one I can remember for which I received five introductions.

Thank you Martin Levinson, of the New York Society for General Semantics, Lance Strate, of the Media Ecology Association, Paul Levinson from Fordham University, Reverend Dr. Everett Parker, the media reform legend from the United Church of Christ, and Allen Flagg of the Institute of General Semantics, also sponsoring this occasion.

You all have provided those of us in attendance a great learning opportunity, what with 11 scheduled half-hour presentations and panels, plus breakfast, lunch, late afternoon meal, and musical celebration.

That you were able to start this part of the program on time at the end of such a day is also something of a record.

My sister, Kate, who lives here in New York, and my wife, Mary, both of whom are here, join me in thanking you on behalf of the Wendell Johnson family for recognizing him, and his book, People in Quandaries,1 as one of the two 60th Anniversaries we commemorate today.

The other is, of course, the founding of the New York Society for General Semantics,2 almost exactly 60 years ago this day – along with the eighth anniversary of the somewhat younger Media Ecology Association.3

And I also want to thank you for the honor of being asked to share this day with you, and to speak on this occasion.

General Semantics: The Ultimate Interdisciplinary Tools

General semantics4 is, of course, many things.

In fact, so much so that my college friends and I had difficulty getting academic credit for the work we were doing in our general semantics study group. We represented virtually every college and department at the University of Texas. Indeed, one of general semantics’ great strengths over the years has been the near universal professional and academic applicability of the insights it makes possible.

But we all got the same response from our department heads and deans: “This is all very well, but what department does it really belong in?” Fortunately, a wise chancellor of the Texas system, Harry Ransom, listened, understood, chuckled at our experience with the frustrations that were so familiar in his daily job, and concluded that, departments aside, general semantics clearly belonged at the University of Texas.

General semantics can help us deal with and resolve our quandaries. Sometimes those quandaries are inside ourselves, and cause us to display the symptoms of what Dad called the “IFD disease” in the opening chapter of People in Quandaries, “Verbal Cocoons.”5

More often they involve what he called “the fateful process of Mr. A talking to Mr. B”6 – in other words, the causes and consequences of failures in interpersonal communications involving more than one person. Sometimes such failures lead to law suits. But they can also produce domestic violence, gang members’ drive-by shootings, and the ultimate, and most tragic “communication failure” we call “war.”

General Semantics as Verbal Peace Movement

In fact, general semantics is a child of war in some sense, a sort of verbal peace movement, you might say.

Alfred Korzybski wrote, “It is probably no secret that a large part of the population of this world was swayed by . . . [propaganda] methods during the war.”7

Don Hayakawa – as Kate and I called him when growing up -- says that the book he wrote prior to America’s entry into World War II, then titled Language in Action, “was in many respects a response to the dangers of propaganda, especially as exemplified in Adolf Hitler’s success in persuading millions to share his maniacal and destructive views.”8

People in Quandaries was written during World War II, and published just after, as the world witnessed the devastating potential of atomic war. With those events fresh in mind Dad concludes the book,

“The next time words fail, millions of us will die . . .. There is . . . nothing destructive about the scientific method . . .. What is destructive is a pre-scientific way of living in the atomic world produced by science. . . . We can no longer tolerate studied confusion, cultivated distrust, and verbal irresponsibility. . . . [O]nly in our more stately mansions may refuge still be found” (emphasis supplied).9
Today it seems as if every movement, public program or goal is a “war” on something or other. I used Google with a few phrases, and every one of them came up with hits. There is the “war on poverty” -- which takes on a different meaning today than it had in the 1960s; “war on poverty1965” is not “war on poverty2005” – which has become something more in the nature of a war on the poor.  There is the well known (and failed10) “war on drugs.” But there’s also a “war on cancer,” a “war on obesity,” a “war on waste,” a “war on gambling” – at which point I found there was even an Orwellian “war on peace” and stopped using Google.

War: From WWII, to Viet Nam, to Iraq

The dictionary provides more conventional definitions of “war,” starting with “a conflict carried on by force of arms, as between nations.”11

This was the definition I had in mind during the Viet Nam war.

For over two years of that war I was serving as Administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration12 (known as “MARAD”). It is a position that carries a number of other titles and responsibilities. Among them is Director of the War Shipping Authority, which gave me responsibility for the sealift of military supplies to Viet Nam on our old World War II merchant ships.

Prior to one of my trips to Viet Nam to set up a MARAD office, President Lyndon Johnson asked that I tour around a bit and give him my opinion about what was going on in that war.

“War,” I thought, anticipating the dictionary definition, involves nations, whose military troops wear uniforms, and front lines by which progress (or retreat) can be measured.

And so the way I put it to the President on my return, stretching to find a sports analogy, was “you can’t play basketball on a football field.”

In other words, there are many things a nation can do, but “war” is not one of them under the following nine conditions:

1. given the history of the country, you will be perceived as only the latest in a centuries-long string of invaders (which prior to us in Viet Nam were the French),

2. you can’t speak or understand the native language,

3. you know little or nothing of the history, religion, culture and customs of the people, and quite literally have little grasp of either the maps or the territory in which you’re fighting,

4. you are easily identified by your “enemy,” and to make sure you will be, you wear uniforms

5. your enemy, on the other hand, looks almost identical to your allies and the locals you employ, and refuses to wear a uniform,

6. since there is no “front line,” as such, territory is repeatedly lost, and gained, only to be lost again,

7. during which battles, your troops are given the impossible choice between (a) killing disproportionately large numbers of innocent civilians, or (b) being killed by enemy fighters who look like innocent civilians,

8. with the consequence that an internal inconsistency exists between the strategy of “winning hearts and minds,” and the tactic of “burning down the village to save it,” such that the longer the fighting continues the more counterproductive it becomes

9. up to and including the possibility of exacerbating, rather than reducing, chaos and civil war

The frustrations of Viet Nam inspired conversations among Johnson appointees that explored, informally, alternative strategies.

Since it was costing us $500,000 for each Viet Cong killed, I proposed we just pay each of them $250,000, thereby cutting the cost of the war in half, eliminating the deaths and injuries on both sides, and easing both the post-war rebuilding and the winning of hearts and minds.

Or, I offered, we might send over a team of real estate developers to just buy the country, one hectare at a time.

Needless to say, such ideas were not passed along to the President who – possibly aware of these conversations anyway, and certainly aware of my “basketball on a football field” analogy – soon decided that I might better serve our nation as an FCC Commissioner.

This was some of the experience I brought to bear when President George W. Bush started talking about a “war on terrorism” based in Iraq. Of course, war1 is not war2; the Iraq War is not “the same as” the Viet Nam War. But there did seem to be some predictable similarities between the two, in terms of the nine factors just mentioned.13

Of course, it’s hard to know how or where to bomb an “ism,” whether terrorism or some other ism. But given that those involved in the attack on the twin towers on 9/11 came almost exclusively from Saudi Arabia, and were trained almost exclusively in Afghanistan, Iraq seemed to me a rather odd place to choose for the staging of this war.

Even if Iraq was to be our country of choice for a “war on terrorism” it seemed to me there were some rather basic questions that any general semanticist would ask.

War: Military Control of the Civilians and the Powell Doctrine

One of our most basic constitutional principles is “civilian control of the military.” Certainly few would deliberately choose life under a military dictatorship. But when I observe our politicians’ rhetoric about war it sometimes seems what we really need is “military control of the civilians.”14

Obviously, I am not totally serious in making that assertion. So why do I say it? Because it is usually politicians, not our military leadership, who are the first to forgo thoughtful analysis and precise use of language for expressions such as “send in the Marines,” “let’s kick some butt,” and “nuke ‘em” when confronting sophisticated issues of politics, foreign relations, military strategy, and the global economy.15

It is the military that modestly suggests the need for prior application of rational thought – like asking the general semanticists' two basic questions, “What do you mean?” and “How do you know?”

“What do you mean by ‘terrorism’?” And “How do you know that ‘a war on terrorism,’ whatever your operational definition of that may be, will make us more, rather than less, secure?”

You simply can’t evaluate the pros and cons of the option of “war” effectively with dead-level abstracting at the highest levels of the structural differential. And yet that is the kind of language that our civilian leaders have often used in propelling our nation to war.

General Colin Powell is credited with an analytical approach to decisions about war that bears his name, “the Powell doctrine.” There’s more to it than you would want me to describe at great length on this occasion.16 For our purposes, it’s an effort to force decision makers to focus on “the territory” – literally and figuratively – rather than just their verbal maps.

* What, specifically, is the goal you’re trying to accomplish?
* Why do you think a military operation will contribute to (rather than impede) its accomplishment?
* What will it require in troops, materiel, lives and treasure to achieve that goal?
* Are you prepared to provide those resources and pay those costs?
* Will the American people support this effort for as long as it takes -- and how long will that be?
* How will we know if we’ve ever been “successful”?
* What, then, will be our exit strategy?
* What will happen when we leave?
* Will that be consistent with our original mission?
This was the approach I had in mind when I wrote in an op ed column, over three-and-one-half years ago, “Ten Questions for Bush Before War.”17

Normally I would not read to you from an old column, but it is the fact that I was asking these questions nearly four years ago, before the Iraq war began, that is in some ways the most significant thing about them.

1. Al Qaeda is alive and well, just over the Afghanistan border and in 60 countries. Why start a new war before resolving the last? How is "homeland security" improved by diverting focus from Al Qaeda?

2. Global Muslim support is essential to a successful war on terrorism. Threatening war with Iraq increases Muslims’ hatred – and terrorists’ recruiting. What benefits from war in Iraq exceed the costs of increased terrorism here?

3. Iraq war or not, our arrogant, go-it-alone saber-rattling has squandered valuable post-9/11 global good will. Our worldwide economic, democratic, military and human rights efforts require allies. How does alienating them serve our national interest?

4. President Bush says Saddam might use weapons of mass destruction. The President may be wrong; but especially if he's right, why fail to heed the CIA's warning: Saddam's most likely to do so only if attacked?

5. The administration’s inherited budget surpluses have become deep deficits. War with Iraq adds billions to our grandchildren’s national debt. Why abandon our relatively low-cost policy of containment? Why now? And, if so, why not increase taxes to pay as we go?

6. The Administration’s policy of global military domination and preemptive wars reverses 200 years of American policy, violates international law, the United Nations’ Charter, NATO Treaty, and possibly the U.S. Constitution. China could use the theory to justify attacking Taiwan. How is national security improved by setting back 60 years of progress in international relations?

7. “Who let the dogs out?” Once the dogs of war are unleashed, there’s no controlling where they go. If we let the dogs out, minimally we lose Middle East stability. Worst case, we start World War III. How does risking either serve our interests?

8. What’s “war” in a city? We can level Baghdad, as we did Dresden and Hiroshima. That’s lots of “collateral damage.” We can send in ground troops. But even a weakened Hitler was able to kill the 10,000 Russian soldiers who tried that strategy in Berlin. What military strategy makes a Baghdad war “winnable” – with acceptable levels of civilian and U.S. casualties?

9. Assume the improbable: a war that’s quick, cheap, decisive and contained. What then? Why will Saddam’s successor be better? How can he prevent civil war among Iraq’s factions, let alone Middle East chaos? Our man in Afghanistan is still under attack even in Kabul.18 Why will our man in Baghdad do better? What will it cost us to rebuild Iraq? Will we keep bases there forever? Or will we abandon Iraq for wars elsewhere – as we’ve done in Afghanistan?

10.  Iraq sits atop the world’s second largest oil reserves. How much of this proposed war is about oil? How will U.S. occupation of Iraq affect the interests of U.S. oil companies -- and consumers? Which campaign contributors profit from this war?

Three and a half years later most of these concerns have proven to be prescient. But what’s so remarkable is not that I was able to think of them before the war began; what’s remarkable is that if they seemed so obvious to me -- someone who claims no expertise in intelligence gathering, military strategy, law enforcement, or foreign relations -- why were they not equally obvious to our executive and legislative leaders in Washington at that time?

So much for “war.”

"War" on "Terrorism"

But if there are some basic analytical questions that need to be answered, some situations in which, to borrow from the bumper sticker, “Whatever is the question, war is not the answer,” they pale by comparison to the confusion surrounding a “war on terrorism.”19

For starters, it’s not at all clear what we mean by “terror” or “terrorism,” or whether, once we agree on a definition, it’s something from which one can rationally protect oneself by fighting anything fairly described as a “war.”

Clearly “to me” (to use the general semanticist’s qualifier), if not to the Bush Administration, this is not a conflict between “nations” as such. For that reason, whatever may be the purpose and goal of those perpetrating this destruction of human life and property in numerous countries around the world, it does not appear to be their primary goal to take over and rule another country – as was Hitler’s goal for his march into Poland, the Soviets in Czechoslovakia, or Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.

The terrorists may be motivated, in part, by a desire to keep the United States from wielding its influence in another country, but that’s different matter.

In part they are, to paraphrase the character Howard Beale in the 1976 movie “Network,”20 “mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.”

Make no mistake, just as a paranoid can have real enemies, so those who are shouting “death to America” are our real enemies. They have the desire, and the limited ability, to do us real harm.

But to understand their motive, what causes their hostility, it is useful to think of a screaming child in the grocery store, an adolescent on a vandal’s binge, or adults throwing plates or putting fists through wall board. Those we call terrorists just want to strike out at someone, and we’re the most obvious target.

Especially is this so when we make it so easy for them; when we’re so willing to save them the hassle and air fare for a flight to the U.S. by relocating ourselves as targets in the Middle East.

But to the extent the purpose of a terrorist is to create terror, they have both a strategy and tactics for which our “war on terrorism” is not only ineffective, it is positively counterproductive.

President Franklin Roosevelt told us, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror . . .”21(emphasis supplied).

Please pardon me for a remark that may appear to be tinged with a little partisanship on this eve of the November 2006 mid-term elections. President Bush and the Republicans have relatively favorable poll numbers with regard to “terrorism,” and relatively unfavorable poll numbers with regard to “the Iraq war.” That being the case, they are emphasizing the former and the Democrats -- for whom I have very little more enthusiasm than the Republicans -- are talking about the latter.

In short, the only thing the Republicans have to fear is the absence of fear itself, the withering away of what President Roosevelt called this “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror.”

But sadly, the consequence is that (whether or not it is intentional) the more they talk about a war on terrorism -- their multi-colored terrorism version of DefCon levels, their foiling of terrorist plots, “homeland security,” and their capture of al Qaeda leaders -- the more they play into the terrorists’ hands.

The Republicans' rhetoric simply increases the levels of terror in America, to the point that "The proportion of those who said they thought a terrorist attack on the United States in the next few months was 'very' or 'somewhat' likely . . . amounted to more than half . . .."22

In short, it has worked for this Administration.

Indeed, as Hermann Goering told us – also 60 years ago – it always works:

"[I]t is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship . . ..  All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country"23 (emphasis supplied).
To the extent the terrorists’ goal has been to foment terror -- to divert our attention from domestic needs, to get us bogged down and cause us run up what is estimated to become a two-trillion-dollar bill for the Iraq war and our anti-terrorist programs, to weaken our economy in general and the dollar in particular – they have largely accomplished what they set out to do. Sadly, this might well not have been possible had they not had the substantial assistance of our own government.

Any time we are preparing to solve a problem by undertaking a military war it is especially important we first define very precisely just what we're talking about going to war against.

So, in this case, what do we mean by "terrorism"?

1. It would be convenient if we could define terrorism in terms of the terrorists' actions.  However, terrorists’ techniques -- bombing bridges, infiltration, roadside bombs, and assassination -- are things our military’s special forces and CIA agents are trained to do. (The U.S. is one of the holdouts on the ban on land mines.) Surely we don't want a definition of terrorism that would include our own activities and personnel.

2. How about a definition in terms of the weapons that are used?

There is an only half-humorous definition of a terrorist as "someone who has a bomb but doesn't have an airplane.”  That is, terrorism usually involves attacks by non-governmental individuals and organizations unable to afford fighter planes and bombers -- as distinguished from an industrialized nation's uniformed military, which can afford them.

The U.S. has more military might than the next six nations combined. Fighting wars with our weapons -- which, as the world's largest arms trader we are happy to sell -- we apparently find acceptable. Is terrorism simply "war" by another name; war fought by those who can't afford our weapons; those who must resort to “improvised explosive devices,” blowing themselves up, throwing rocks, and putting plastic bombs in their shoes?

Is President Bush not a terrorist because he orders bombs dropped from military planes, and Bin Laden is a terrorist because he ordered civilian planes to be used as bombs?

3. And what do we do with this word "war" – a war on “terrorism”? Do actions thought repulsive "terrorism" in time of peace become acceptable in time of war?  Apparently so. How, why and when does that distinction make sense?

What does a government or private group need to do to redefine unacceptable terrorism as acceptable war? Our government went to "war" against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Is that all it takes -- a presidential speech asserting that we're at war?

4. It's not just that there was no Congressional declaration of war as such.  It's that usually wars are declared against nations. Bin Laden and Mullah Omar were not nations.  Should that make it more difficult for us to characterize what we are doing in Iraq, and continuing to do in Afghanistan, as "war" rather than "terrorism"?

5. Moreover, if we are to be consistent in responding to terrorism with war, are we not obliged to at least consider the possibility that September 11th was masterminded, funded and staffed as much from Saudi Arabia as Afghanistan? More of the September 11th terrorists were Saudis than were Afghans. Indeed, Bin Laden is a Saudi. At least a substantial amount of Bin Laden's money seems to have come via Saudi Arabia. Why, then, did we not include Saudi targets in our bombing raids?

6. President Bush at one time said that those who finance, or “harbor” terrorists and their training camps, are as much our enemy as those who attack us.

OK, but surely we don't want to argue that it is only "terrorism" when others do it to us.  And yet, if not, how do we justify "harboring" -- to use President Bush's word – the American Catholics who were financing terrorist acts of the IRA against Protestants in Ireland?

What about the "harboring" of our former "School of the Americas" (“SOA”) training camp in Georgia?24 It's trained those we've called "freedom fighters," and others might call “terrorists,” in Central and South America.

School of the Americas Watch25 charges that, "Graduates of the SOA are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America.” Does that make the former School of the Americas a terrorist training camp?

Apparently our government thinks not. At least there was no known plan to bomb the State of Georgia -- to be distinguished from our military forces sent to the Republic of Georgia.

Should we have bombed the State of Idaho after the Oklahoma City bombing?

What about our government's mining of the harbor in Nicaragua? That's the kind of thing terrorists do. The World Court certainly condemned it.  The U.S. simply ignored world opinion -- and the court's judgment.

Would it have been terrorism if there had been Nicaraguan terrorist training camps producing individuals willing and able to place mines in New York City's harbor? Presumably that would be terrorism.

So why wasn't it terrorism when we did it to them? Or was it – but if it’s done by us it’s OK?

What of our attempted assassination of Castro, or our involvement in the overthrow of Salvador Allende's government in Chile? There were no declarations of war prior to those acts. What we did couldn't even be justified as a preemptive strike, let alone retaliation.  No terrorist destruction had been wrought by Cuba or Chile in the United States -- certainly nothing like the September 11th attack.

7. Nor is this the end of our definitional problems. International law, as the name suggests, puts a major focus on nations. It makes a distinction between military or terrorist action inside a nation's borders and the identical action when it crosses those borders. How relevant are those distinctions to us when dealing with terrorism?

Remember the news of Hindus burning Muslims in Ahmadabad, India a couple years ago? They used makeshift gasoline bombs, sticks and stones. Sounds like the weapons of terrorists, and the death toll rose to well over 300. Should those Hindus have become targets, and a part of our war on terrorism?26 What about the gunmen who walked into a bar in Mexico two days ago and tossed five human heads onto the floor while shooting into the air? Were they "terrorists"? Should we bomb the bar in Uruapan?27

8. What if a military dictatorship takes over a democratic third world country? At one point the British Commonwealth of Nations considered whether that alone was sufficient to expel Pakistan from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was once so divided with regard to the violence and intimidation during an election in Zimbabwe that it had to postpone a discussion of whether to expel that nation as well.

Should we condemn as "terrorists" those who use all available means to overthrow a dictatorial regime in order to reestablish democracy? Or are they called "freedom fighters"? If terrorists, would they still be terrorists if the U.S. military had funded, trained and armed them? Or are they only terrorists when we are funding and backing the new dictator?

We quickly come full circle around Winnie the Pooh's barn as we search for the heffalump of terrorism. Apparently, it is not "terrorism" we condemn after all -- aside from that on September 11th. We only condemn "unjustified terrorism” – meaning those terrorist acts in which we are involved neither directly or indirectly.

Terrorism? We're all against it, and understandably and legitimately so. On that there is unanimity.

The problem comes in trying to figure out what the "it" is and, once identified, what we can most effectively do about it.

Maybe we should, as they say in Hollywood, "take it from the top."

Maybe we should simply acknowledge that "terrorism" as a word is not very useful. In the dichotomy of "purr words" and "slur words" it clearly falls in the latter category. But it tells us almost nothing descriptive or analytically useful about the acts and perpetrators involved.

Like most judgmental terms, until “terrorism” is more precisely defined it tells us little more than the results of an electro-chemical process inside the speaker's head.

Once we focus more on the acts involved, and less on the labels, we quickly discover that much of what we label “terrorism” can be most effectively prevented and fought – as in Great Britain recently – with the standard tools of intelligence gathering, law enforcement, diplomacy, and the resulting international cooperation.28

Clearly, we cannot prevent every act of terrorism – however it might be defined – any more than we can prevent every incidence of domestic violence, bank robbery, or murder.

What We Can Do

So what can we do? We can apply some of the basic principles of general semantics.

Perhaps it’s summed up in what could have been the general semanticists’ creed: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change those things I can, and the wisdom in my understanding, and use, of language to enable me to both know, and express, the difference.”

Dad observed that humans are the only animal species able to talk themselves into difficulties that would not otherwise exist. General semantics, born out of the ashes of World War II, retains, now 60 years later, both the capacity – and therefore the responsibility – to do what it can to prevent the human species from talking itself into the even greater difficulties that would be represented by World War III.


* Nicholas Johnson, a former FCC commissioner, now teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law. Wendell Johnson, the author of the book, People in Quandaries, the 60th Anniversary of which is being recognized on this occasion, is his father. Nicholas Johnson's Web site and blog can be found at;

1  Wendell Johnson, People in Quandaries (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1946).

2  The New York Society for General Semantics' Web site is available at

3  The Media Ecology Association's Web site is available at

4  Because this lecture was presented to a group, and on an occasion, related to "general semantics," it contains some of the vocabulary and techniques of general semantics, such as dates2006 and indexes2, "to me," "the map is not the territory," "levels of abstraction" and their three-dimensional representation in the "structural differential." For a simplistic, brief overview of general semantics see "About General Semantics" and "A Short Tutorial" at For useful books, see those of Johnson, Hayakawa and Korzybski referenced in notes 6, 7 and 8, below. For other organizations see International Society for General Semantics, now merged with the Institute of General Semantics,

5  “[T]he basic design of our common maladjustment . . . we may call . . . the IFD disease: from idealism to frustration to demoralization.” The full text of the chapter is available online as a link from the Wendell Johnson Memorial Web site,; the direct link is

6  See, e.g., Wendell Johnson, “The Communications Process and General Semantics Principles,” in Wilbur Schramm, Mass Communications (2d ed., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975), pp. 301-315, available online at

7  “In . . . ‘Begging the Question’ fallacy, we . . . assume the conclusion to be proved. . . . All such terms as ‘un-patriotic’ . . . fall into this group. It is probably no secret that a large part of the population of this world was swayed by such methods during the war. In times of peace, large countries are continually swayed by such use of terms which play upon the pathological s.r. [semantic reactions] of the population, thereby facilitating the ‘putting over’ of different propagandas” (emphasis in original). Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity, p. 445-46 (Lakeville: International Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Co., 1933 [3rd edition, 1948]).

8  “The original version of this book, Language in Action, published in 1941, was in many respects a response to the dangers of propaganda, especially as exemplified in Adolf Hitler’s success in persuading millions to share his maniacal and destructive views.” S.I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, p. ix (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964).

9  “There is clearly nothing destructive about the scientific method, as such. What is destructive is a prescientific way of living in the atomic world [post August 6, 1945] produced by science. . . . We can no longer tolerate studied confusion, cultivated distrust, and verbal irresponsibility. . . . We have arrived, that is, at the strange circumstance of having to accept a virtual paradise if we are not to perish: only in our more stately mansions may refuge still be found.” Wendell Johnson, People in Quandaries, pp. 481-83 (“The Urgency of Paradise”) (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1946).

10  See, e.g., Mark Magoon, "U.S. Losing/Winning Drug War," The Daily Iowan, September 12, p. 1A, available online at

11 E.g.,’s definitions of “war” include, “1. a conflict carried on by force of arms, as between nations or between parties within a nation; warfare, as by land, sea, or air. 2. a state or period of armed hostility or active military operations: The two nations were at war with each other.”

12  See United States Maritime Administration, available online at

13 E.g., our lack of language ability with Arabic, knowledge of Iraq, likelihood of increasing terrorist recruiting and hatred of the U.S., and an even greater probability in Iraq than in Viet Nam of fomenting factional fighting and civil war.

14  See, "Civilian Control of the Military," Wikipedia Encyclopedia, available online at

An editorial in this morning's USA Today reminds us that politicians' ultimate actions do not always reflect their prior public rhetoric. In President Bush's speech to Congress, September 20, 2001, he said that we would use "every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war." He promised that "we're in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them." Today, the editorial concludes, the Administration's speeches present "a divisive, partisan edge -- portraying any who disagree with the administration's policies as appeasers . . .. Never mind that the administration has made far too many mistakes to claim unique wisdom in the ways of waging war on terrorism. This is a destructive course, essentially the opposite of FDR's call to turn fear aside." Editorial, "Five Years Later, No Attacks but Focus Blurs, Unity Fades," USA Today, September 8, 2006, p. 11A, available online at (The full text of the President's September 20, 2006, address is available online from the White House at Immediately before the first quote, above, the President said, "Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.  It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success.")

15  Toby Keith's lyrics to "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue" are illustrative of this depth of analysis. Here's an excerpt:

"You'll be sorry that you messed with
The U.S. of A.
'cause well put a boot in your ass
It's the american way."
Toby Keith, "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue,"

16  I have expanded upon the Powell Doctrine at greater length in Nicholas Johnson, “War in Iraq: The Military Objections,” February 27, 20

17  The full text is available at The New York Times reported September 24 that an April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate came to a conclusion supporting question 2. Mark Mazzetti, "Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat," New York Times, September 24, 2006,

18  As an aside, within the past 24 hours there were reports of yet another very substantial explosion in Kabul that killed 16. AP, "Suicide Bomber Kills 16 in Afghanistan," USA Today, September 8, 2006, available online at

19  The following material draws substantially from Nicholas Johnson, "Rethinking Terrorism"  (text of presentation at National Lawyers Guild Conference, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa March 2, 2002), available online at

20  See, e.g., “Network (film),” Wikipedia, at

21 13 “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt, “First Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1933, available online at

22  "The proportion of those who said they thought a terrorist attack on the United States in the next few months was 'very' or 'somewhat' likely . . . still amounted to more than half in the national survey. In New York, 69 percent said they were 'very concerned' about another attack there . . .. Nationally, 4 in 10 thought the threat of terrorism against the United States had, if anything, increased since 2001 . . .." Robin Toner and Marjorie Connelly, "9/11 Polls Find Lingering Fears in New York,"New York Times, September 7, 2006. And see, "Poll: GOP Better Against Terrorism, Dems Better On Iraq," CNN, September 4, 2006, available online at

23  The full quote is: “Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” The accuracy of this quote is confirmed, and source identified, at

24  What was once called the “School of the Americas” was subsequently renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation.”

25  School of the Americas Watch Web site is available online at

26  Nick Meo, "India: Rampaging Hindus Burn Muslim Children Alive," The Independent (London), March 1, 2002, available online at

27  AP, "Human Heads Dumped in Mexican Bar,", September 6, 2006, available online at

28  "Prime Minister Tony Blair . . . paid tribute to the the police . . .. He said they had tracked the situation for a 'long period of time' and had 'been involved in an extraordinary amount of hard work. . . . There has been an enormous amount of co-operation with the US authorities . . .." He made no mention of the necessity of military force in this operation. "'Airlines Terror Plot' Disrupted," BBC News, August 10, 2006, available online at

29  Wendell Johnson, People in Quandaries, note 9, above.

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