A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama
By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire
Opening Inaugural Event
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009
Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.
O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…
Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.
Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.
Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.
And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.
Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.
Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.
Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.
Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.
Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.
Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.
And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.
Dear Brother Obama,
You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done.
We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.
I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large.
We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate.
One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone.
I would further advise you not to take on other people’s enemies. Most damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain religious or racial devotion. We must learn actually not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise. It is understood by all that you are commander in chief of the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely.
However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people’s spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led.
A good model of how to “work with the enemy” internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
In Peace and Joy,
The Blood of Dresden
by Kurt Vonnegut
The author Kurt Vonnegut was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the allied bombing raids and was later forced to dig out bodies from the ruined city. In papers discovered by his son after his death last year, he provides a searing eyewitness account of the ‘obscene brutality’ that inspired his novel Slaughterhouse-Five.
25/09/08 – as printed in “The Times”
It was a routine speech we got during our first day of basic training, delivered by a wiry little lieutenant: “Men, up to now you’ve been good, clean, American boys with an American’s love for sportsmanship and fair play. We’re here to change that.
“Our job is to make you the meanest, dirtiest bunch of scrappers in the history of the world. From now on, you can forget the Marquess of Queensberry rules and every other set of rules. Anything and everything goes.
“Never hit a man above the belt when you can kick him below it. Make the bastard scream. Kill him any way you can. Kill, kill, kill – do you understand?”
His talk was greeted with nervous laughter and general agreement that he was right. “Didn’t Hitler and Tojo say the Americans were a bunch of softies? Ha! They’ll find out.”
And of course, Germany and Japan did find out: a toughened-up democracy poured forth a scalding fury that could not be stopped. It was a war of reason against barbarism, supposedly, with the issues at stake on such a high plane that most of our feverish fighters had no idea why they were fighting – other than that the enemy was a bunch of bastards. A new kind of war, with all destruction, all killing approved.
A lot of people relished the idea of total war: it had a modern ring to it, in keeping with our spectacular technology. To them it was like a football game.
[Back home in America], three small-town merchants’ wives, middle-aged and plump, gave me a ride when I was hitchhiking home from Camp Atterbury. “Did you kill a lot of them Germans?” asked the driver, making cheerful small-talk. I told her I didn’t know.
This was taken for modesty. As I was getting out of the car, one of the ladies patted me on the shoulder in motherly fashion: “I’ll bet you’d like to get over and kill some of them dirty Japs now, wouldn’t you?”
We exchanged knowing winks. I didn’t tell those simple souls that I had been captured after a week at the front; and more to the point, what I knew and thought about killing dirty Germans, about total war. The reason for my being sick at heart then and now has to do with an incident that received cursory treatment in the American newspapers. In February 1945, Dresden, Germany, was destroyed, and with it over 100,000 human beings. I was there. Not many know how tough America got.
I was among a group of 150 infantry privates, captured in the Bulge breakthrough and put to work in Dresden. Dresden, we were told, was the only major German city to have escaped bombing so far. That was in January 1945. She owed her good fortune to her unwarlike countenance: hospitals, breweries, food-processing plants, surgical supply houses, ceramics, musical instrument factories and the like.
Since the war [had started], hospitals had become her prime concern. Every day hundreds of wounded came into the tranquil sanctuary from the east and west. At night, we would hear the dull rumble of distant air raids. “Chemnitz is getting it tonight,” we used to say, and speculated what it might be like to be the bright young men with their dials and cross-hairs.
“Thank heaven we’re in an ‘open city’,” we thought, and so thought the thousands of refugees – women, children and old men who came in a forlorn stream from the smouldering wreckage of Berlin, Leipzig, Breslau, Munich. They flooded the city to twice its normal population.
There was no war in Dresden. True, planes came over nearly every day and the sirens wailed, but the planes were always en route elsewhere. The alarms furnished a relief period in a tedious work day, a social event, a chance to gossip in the shelters. The shelters, in fact, were not much more than a gesture, casual recognition of the national emergency: wine cellars and basements with benches in them and sandbags blocking the windows, for the most part. There were a few more adequate bunkers in the centre of the city, close to the government offices, but nothing like the staunch subterranean fortress that rendered Berlin impervious to her daily pounding. Dresden had no reason to prepare for attack – and thereby hangs a beastly tale.
Dresden was surely among the world’s most lovely cities. Her streets were broad, lined with shade-trees. She was sprinkled with countless little parks and statuary. She had marvellous old churches, libraries, museums, theatres, art galleries, beer gardens, a zoo and a renowned university.
It was at one time a tourist’s paradise. They would be far better informed on the city’s delights than am I. But the impression I have is that in Dresden – in the physical city – were the symbols of the good life; pleasant, honest, intelligent. In the swastika’s shadow, those symbols of the dignity and hope of mankind stood waiting, monuments to truth. The accumulated treasure of hundreds of years, Dresden spoke eloquently of those things excellent in European civilisa-tion wherein our debt lies deep.
I was a prisoner, hungry, dirty and full of hate for our captors, but I loved that city and saw the blessed wonder of her past and the rich promise of her future.
In February 1945, American bombers reduced this treasure to crushed stone and embers; disembowelled her with high explosives and cremated her with incendiaries.
The atom bomb may represent a fabulous advance, but it is interesting to note that primitive TNT and thermite managed to exterminate in one bloody night more people than died in the whole London blitz. Fortress Dresden fired a dozen shots at our airmen. Once back at their bases and sipping hot coffee, they probably remarked: “Flak unusually light tonight. Well, guess it’s time to turn in.” Captured British pilots from tactical fighter units (covering frontline troops) used to chide those who had flown heavy bombers on city raids with: “How on earth did you stand the stink of boiling urine and burning perambulators?”
A perfectly routine piece of news: “Last night our planes attacked Dresden. All planes returned safely.” The only good German is a dead one: over 100,000 evil men, women, and children (the able-bodied were at the fronts) forever purged of their sins against humanity. By chance, I met a bombardier who had taken part in the attack. “We hated to do it,” he told me.
The night they came over, we spent in an underground meat locker in a slaughterhouse. We were lucky, for it was the best shelter in town. Giants stalked the earth above us. First came the soft murmur of their dancing on the outskirts, then the grumbling of their plodding towards us, and finally the ear-splitting crashes of their heels upon us – and thence to the outskirts again. Back and forth they swept: saturation bombing.
“I screamed and I wept and I clawed the walls of our shelter,” an old lady told me. “I prayed to God to ‘please, please, please, dear God, stop them’. But he didn’t hear me. No power could stop them. On they came, wave after wave. There was no way we could surrender; no way to tell them we couldn’t stand it any more. There was nothing anyone could do but sit and wait for morning.” Her daughter and grandson were killed.
Our little prison was burnt to the ground. We were to be evacuated to an outlying camp occupied by South African prisoners. Our guards were a melancholy lot, aged Volkssturmers and disabled veterans. Most of them were Dresden residents and had friends and families somewhere in the holocaust. A corporal, who had lost an eye after two years on the Russian front, ascertained before we marched that his wife, his two children and both of his parents had been killed. He had one cigarette. He shared it with me.
Our march to new quarters took us to the city’s edge. It was impossible to believe that anyone had survived in its heart. Ordinarily, the day would have been cold, but occasional gusts from the colossal inferno made us sweat. And ordinarily, the day would have been clear and bright, but an opaque and towering cloud turned noon to twilight.
A grim procession clogged the outbound highways; people with blackened faces streaked with tears, some bearing wounded, some bearing dead. They gathered in the fields. No one spoke. A few with Red Cross armbands did what they could for the casualties.
Settled with the South Africans, we enjoyed a week without work. At the end of it, communications were reestablished with higher headquarters and we were ordered to hike seven miles to the area hardest hit.
Nothing in the district had escaped the fury. A city of jagged building shells, of splintered statuary and shattered trees; every vehicle stopped, gnarled and burnt, left to rust or rot in the path of the frenzied might. The only sounds other than our own were those of falling plaster and their echoes.
I cannot describe the desolation properly, but I can give an idea of how it made us feel, in the words of a delirious British soldier in a makeshift POW hospital: “It’s frightenin’, I tell you. I would walk down one of them bloody streets and feel a thousand eyes on the back of me ’ead. I would ’ear ’em whis-perin’ behind me. I would turn around to look at ’em and there wouldn’t be a bloomin’ soul in sight. You can feel ’em and you can ’ear ’em but there’s never anybody there.” We knew what he said was so.
For “salvage” work, we were divided into small crews, each under a guard. Our ghoulish mission was to search for bodies. It was rich hunting that day and the many thereafter. We started on a small scale – here a leg, there an arm, and an occasional baby – but struck a mother lode before noon.
We cut our way through a basement wall to discover a reeking hash of over 100 human beings. Flame must have swept through before the building’s collapse sealed the exits, because the flesh of those within resembled the texture of prunes. Our job, it was explained, was to wade into the shambles and bring forth the remains. Encouraged by cuffing and guttural abuse, wade in we did. We did exactly that, for the floor was covered with an unsavoury broth from burst water mains and viscera.
A number of victims, not killed outright, had attempted to escape through a narrow emergency exit. At any rate, there were several bodies packed tightly into the passageway. Their leader had made it halfway up the steps before he was buried up to his neck in falling brick and plaster. He was about 15, I think.
It is with some regret that I here besmirch the nobility of our airmen, but, boys, you killed an appalling lot of women and children. The shelter I have described and innumerable others like it were filled with them. We had to exhume their bodies and carry them to mass funeral pyres in the parks, so I know.
The funeral pyre technique was abandoned when it became apparent how great was the toll. There was not enough labour to do it nicely, so a man with a flamethrower was sent down instead, and he cremated them where they lay. Burnt alive, suffocated, crushed – men, women, and children indiscriminately killed.
For all the sublimity of the cause for which we fought, we surely created a Belsen of our own. The method was impersonal, but the result was equally cruel and heartless. That, I am afraid, is a sickening truth.
When we had become used to the darkness, the odour and the carnage, we began musing as to what each of the corpses had been in life. It was a sordid game: “Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief . . .” Some had fat purses and jewellery, others had precious foodstuffs. A boy had his dog still leashed to him.
Renegade Ukrainians in German uniform were in charge of our operations in the shelters proper. They were roaring drunk from adjacent wine cellars and seemed to enjoy their job hugely. It was a profitable one, for they stripped each body of valuables before we carried it to the street. Death became so commonplace that we could joke about our dismal burdens and cast them about like so much garbage.
Not so with the first of them, especially the young: we had lifted them on to the stretchers with care, laying them out with some semblance of funeral dignity in their last resting place before the pyre. But our awed and sorrowful propriety gave way, as I said, to rank callousness. At the end of a grisly day, we would smoke and survey the impressive heap of dead accumulated. One of us flipped his cigarette butt into the pile: “Hell’s bells,” he said, “I’m ready for Death any time he wants to come after me.”
A few days after the raid, the sirens screamed again. The listless and heartsick survivors were showered this time with leaflets. I lost my copy of the epic, but remember that it ran something like this: “To the people of Dresden: we were forced to bomb your city because of the heavy military traffic your railroad facilities have been carrying. We realise that we haven’t always hit our objectives. Destruction of anything other than military objectives was unintentional, unavoidable fortunes of war.”
That explained the slaughter to everyone’s satisfaction, I am sure, but it aroused no little contempt. It is a fact that 48 hours after the last B-17 had droned west for a well-earned rest, labour battalions had swarmed over the damaged rail yards and restored them to nearly normal service. None of the rail bridges over the Elbe was knocked out of commission. Bomb-sight manufacturers should blush to know that their marvellous devices laid bombs down as much as three miles wide of what the military claimed to be aiming for.
The leaflet should have said: “We hit every blessed church, hospital, school, museum, theatre, your university, the zoo, and every apartment building in town, but we honestly weren’t trying hard to do it. C’est la guerre. So sorry. Besides, saturation bombing is all the rage these days, you know.”
There was tactical significance: stop the railroads. An excellent manoeuvre, no doubt, but the technique was horrible. The planes started kicking high explosives and incendiaries through their bomb-bays at the city limits, and for all the pattern their hits presented, they must have been briefed by a Ouija board.
Tabulate the loss against the gain. Over 100,000 noncombatants and a magnificent city destroyed by bombs dropped wide of the stated objectives: the railroads were knocked out for roughly two days. The Germans counted it the greatest loss of life suffered in any single raid. The death of Dresden was a bitter tragedy, needlessly and wilfully executed. The killing of children – “Jerry” children or “Jap” children, or whatever enemies the future may hold for us – can never be justified.
The facile reply to great groans such as mine is the most hateful of all clichés, “fortunes of war”, and another: “They asked for it. All they understand is force.”
Who asked for it? The only thing who understands is force? Believe me, it is not easy to rationalise the stamping out of vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored when gathering up babies in bushel baskets or helping a man dig where he thinks his wife may be buried.
Certainly, enemy military and industrial installations should have been blown flat, and woe unto those foolish enough to seek shelter near them. But the “Get Tough America” policy, the spirit of revenge, the approbation of all destruction and killing, have earned us a name for obscene brutality.
Our leaders had a carte blanche as to what they might or might not destroy. Their mission was to win the war as quickly as possible; and while they were admirably trained to do just that, their decisions on the fate of certain priceless world heirlooms – in one case, Dresden – were not always judicious. When, late in the war, with the Wehrmacht breaking up on all fronts, our planes were sent to destroy this last major city, I doubt if the question was asked: “How will this tragedy benefit us, and how will that benefit compare with the ill-effects in the long run?”
Dresden, a beautiful city, built in the art spirit, symbol of an admirable heritage, so antiNazi that Hitler visited it but twice during his whole reign, food and hospital centre so bitterly needed now – ploughed under and salt strewn in the furrows.
There can be no doubt that the allies fought on the side of right and the Germans and Japanese on the side of wrong. World war two was fought for near-holy motives. But I stand convinced that the brand of justice in which we dealt, wholesale bombings of civilian populations, was blasphemous. That the enemy did it first has nothing to do with the moral problem. What I saw of our air war, as the European conflict neared an end, had the earmarks of being an irrational war for war’s sake. Soft citizens of the American democracy had learnt to kick a man below the belt and make the bastard scream.
The occupying Russians, when they discovered that we were Americans, embraced us and congratulated us on the complete desolation our planes had wrought. We accepted their congratulations with good grace and proper modesty, but I felt then as I feel now, that I would have given my life to save Dresden for the world’s generations to come. That is how everyone should feel about every city on earth.
The following is the introduction to Naomi Wolf’s new book, Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries, as printed at The Huffington Post, Sept. 16, 2008.
The summer before last, I traveled across the country talking about threats to our liberty. I spoke and listened to groups of Americans from all walks of life. They told me new and always harsher stories of state coercion.
What I had called a “fascist shift” in the United States, projections I had warned about as worst-case scenarios, was now surpassing my imagination: in 2008, thousands of terrified, shackled illegal immigrants were rounded up in the mass arrests which always characterize a closing society; news emerged that the 9/11 report had been based on evidence derived from the testimonies of prisoners who had been tortured — and the tapes that documented their torture were missing — leading the commissioners of the report publicly to disavow their own findings; the Associated Press reported that the torture of prisoners in U.S.-held facilities had not been the work of “a few bad apples” but had been directed out of the White House; the TSA “watch list,” which had contained 45,000 names when I wrote my last book, ballooned to 755,000 names and 20,000 were being added every month; Scott McClellan confirmed that the drive to war in Iraq had been based on administration lies; HR 1955, legislation that would criminalize certain kinds of political thought and speech, passed the House and made it to the Senate; Blackwater, a violent paramilitary force not answerable to the people, established presences in Illinois and North Carolina and sought to get into border patrol activity in San Diego.
The White House has established, no matter who leads the nation in the future, U.S. government spying on the emails and phone calls of Americans — a permanent violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. The last step of the ten steps to a closed society is the subversion of the rule of law. That is happening now. What critics have called a “paper coup” has already taken place.
Yes, the situation is dire. But history shows that when an army of citizens, supported by even a vestige of civil society, believes in liberty — in the psychological space that is “America” — no power on earth can ultimately suppress them.
Dissident Natan Sharansky writes that there are two kinds of states — “fear societies” and “free societies.” Understood in this light, “America” — the state of freedom that is under attack — is first of all a place in the mind. That is what we must regain now to fight back.
The two societies make up two kinds of consciousness. The consciousness derived of oppression is despairing, fatalistic, and fearful of inquiry. It is mistrustful of the self and forced to trust external authority. It is premised on a dearth of self-respect. It is cramped. People around the world understand that this kind of inner experience is as toxic an environment as is a polluted waterway they are forced to drink from; it is as insufficient a space as being compelled to sleep in a one-room hut with seven other bodies on the floor.
In contrast, the consciousness of freedom — the psychology of freedom that is “America” — is one of expansiveness, trust of the self, and hope. It is a consciousness of limitless inquiry. “Everything,” wrote Denis Diderot, who influenced, via Thomas Jefferson, the Revolutionary generation, “must be examined, everything must be shaken up, without exception and without circumspection.” Jefferson wrote that American universities are “based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” Since this state of mind is self-trusting, it builds up in a citizen a wealth of self-respect. “Your own reason,” wrote Jefferson to his nephew, “is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness but the uprightness of the decision.”
After my cross-country journey, I realized that I needed to go back and read about the original Revolutionaries of our nation. I realized in a new way from them that liberty is not a set of laws or a system of government; it is not a nation or a species of patriotism. Liberty is a state of mind before it is anything else. You can have a nation of wealth and power, but without this state of mind — this psychological “America” — you are living in a deadening consciousness; with this state of mind, you can be in a darkened cell waiting for your torturer to arrive and yet inhabit a chainless space as wide as the sky.
“America,” too, is a state of mind. “Being an American” is a set of attitudes and actions, not a nationality or a posture of reflexive loyalty. This tribe of true “Americans” consists of people who have crossed a personal Rubicon of a specific kind and can no longer be satisfied with anything less than absolute liberty.
This state of mind, I learned, has no national boundaries. The Tibetans, who, as I write this, are marching in the face of Chinese soldiers, are acting like members of this tribe; so did the Pakistani lawyers who recently faced down house arrest and tear gas in their suits and judicial robes. Nathan Hale, Patrick Henry, and Ida B. Wells, who risked their lives for liberty, acted like “Americans.” When the crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya insisted on reporting on war crimes in Chechnya, even though her informing her fellow citizens led — as she knew it well could — to her being gunned down on her doorstep as she went home to her fourteen-year-old daughter, she was acting like an American. When three JAG lawyers refused to sell out their detainee clients, they were being “Americans.” When Vietnam vet David Antoon risked his career to speak out in favor of the Constitution’s separation of church and state, he was being an “American.” When journalist Josh Wolf went to jail rather than reveal a source, he was being an “American” too. Always, everywhere, the members of this tribe are fundamentally the same, in spite of the great deal that may divide them in terms of clothing and religion, language and culture. But when we quietly go about our business as our rights are plundered, when we yield to passivity and switch on the Wii and hand over our power to a leadership class that has no interest in our voice, we are not acting like true Americans. Indeed, at those moments we are essentially giving up our citizenship.
The notion that “American-ness” is a state of mind — a rigorous psychodynamic process or a continued personal challenge, rather than a static point on a map or an impressive display in a Fourth of July parade — is not new. But we are so used to being raised on a rhetoric of cheap patriotism — the kind that you get to tune in to in a feel-good way just because you were lucky enough to have been born here and can then pretty much forget about — that this definition seems positively exotic. The founders understood “American-ness” in this way, though, not at all in our way.
And today, I learned as I traveled, we are very far from experiencing this connection to our source. Many of us feel ourselves clouded within, cramped, baffled obscurely from without, not in alignment with the electric source that is liberty. So it is easy for us to rationalize always further and more aggressive cramping and clouding; is the government spying on us? Well…Okay…So now the telecommunications companies are asking for retroactive immunity for their spying on us? Well…Okay…Once a certain threshold of passivity has been crossed, it becomes easier and easier, as Benjamin Franklin warned, to trade liberty for a false security — and deserve neither.
What struck me on my journey was how powerless so many Americans felt to make change. Many citizens I heard from felt more hopeless than did citizens of some of the poorest and youngest democracies on the planet. Others were angrier than ever and were speaking up and acting up with fervor. I felt that all of us — the hopeless and the hopeful — needed to reconnect to our mentors, the founders, and to remind ourselves of the blueprint for freedom they meant us to inherit. I wrote this handbook with the faith that if Americans take personal ownership of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they can push back any darkness. The first two sections of this refresher guide to our liberties recall what America is supposed to be; the last third is a practical how-to for citizen leadership for a new American Revolution.
There are concrete laws we must pass to restore liberty and actions we must take to safeguard it. You will find them in the last third of this handbook. But more crucial than any list of laws or actions is our own need to rediscover our role as American revolutionaries and to reclaim the “America” in ourselves — in our consciousness as free men and women.
Do we have the right to see ourselves this way? Absolutely. Many histories of our nation’s founding focus on a small group, “a band of brothers” or “the Founding Fathers” — the handful of illustrious men whose names we all know. This tight focus tends to reinforce the idea that we are the lucky recipients of the American gift of liberty and of the republic, not ourselves its stewards, crafters, and defenders. It prepares us to think of ourselves as the led, not as the leaders.
But historians are also now documenting the stories of how in the pre-Revolutionary years, ordinary people — farmers, free and enslaved Africans, washer-women, butchers, printers, apprentices, carpenters, penniless soldiers, artisans, wheelwrights, teachers, indentured servants — were rising up against the king’s representatives, debating the nature of liberty, fighting the war and following the warriors to support them, insisting on expanding the franchise, demanding the right to vote, compelling the more aristocratic leaders of the community to include them in deliberations about the nature of the state constitutions, and requiring transparency and accountability in the legislative process. Even enslaved Africans, those Americans most silenced by history, were not only debating in their own communities the implications or the ideas of God-given liberty that the white colonists were debating; they were also taking up arms against George III’s men in hopes that the new republic would emancipate them. Some were petitioning state legislatures for their freedom; and others were even successfully bringing lawsuits against their owners, arguing in court for their inalienable rights as human beings. This is the revolutionary spirit that we must claim again for ourselves — fast — if we are to save the country.
When Abraham Lincoln said that our nation was “conceived in Liberty” he was not simply phrasemaking; our nation was literally “conceived” by Enlightenment ideas that were becoming more and more current, waking up greater and greater numbers of ordinary people, and finally bearing on our own founders, known and unknown, with ever-stronger pressure.
Key Enlightenment beliefs of the colonial era are these: human beings are perfectible; the right structures of society, at the heart of which is a representational government whose power derives from the consent of the governed, facilitate this continual evolution; reason is the means by which ordinary people can successfully rule themselves and attain liberty; the right to liberty is universal, God given, and part of a natural cosmic order, or “natural law”; as more and more people around the world claim their God-given right to liberty, tyranny and oppression will be pushed aside. It is worth reminding ourselves of these founding ideas at a time when they are under sustained attack.
The core ideals, the essence, of what the founders imperfectly glimpsed, are perfect. I am often asked how I can so champion the writing and accomplishments of the better-known founders. Most of them were, of course, propertied, white, and male. Critics on the left often point out their flaws in relation to the very ideals they put forward. John Adams was never comfortable with true citizen democracy. “Jefferson’s writings about race reveal that he saw Africans as innately deficient in humanity and culture.” When a male slave escaped from Benjamin Franklin in England, Franklin sold him back into slavery.
But the essence of the idea of liberty and equality that they codified — an idea that was being debated and developed by men and women, black and white, of all classes in the pre-Revolutionary generation — went further than such an idea had ever gone before. It is humanity’s most radical blueprint for transformation.
More important, the idea itself carries within it the moral power to correct the contradictions in its execution that were obvious from the very birth of the new nation. An enslaved woman, Mum Bett, who became a housekeeper for the Sedgwick family of Massachussetts, successfully sued for her own emancipation using the language of the Declaration of Independence; decades later a slave, Dred Scott, argued that he was “entitled to his freedom” as a citizen and a resident of a free state. The first suffragists at the Seneca Falls Convention, intent on securing equal rights for women, used the framework of the Declaration of Independence to advance their cause. New democracies in developing nations around the world draw on our founding documents and government structure to ground their own hopes for freedom. The human beings at the helm of the new nation, whatever their limitations, were truly revolutionary. The theory of liberty born in that era, the seed of the idea, was, as I say, perfect. We should not look to other revolutions to inspire us; nothing is more transformative than our own revolution. We must neither oversentimentalize it, as the right tends to do, nor disdain it, as the left tends to do; rather we must reclaim it.
The stories I read and reread of the “spirit of 1776″ led me with new faith to these conclusions: We are not to wait for others to lead. You and I are meant to take back the founders’ mandate, and you and I are meant to lead. You and I must protest, you and I must confront our representatives, you and I must run for office, you and I must write the opeds, you and I must take over the battle. The founders — the unknown as well as the well-known Americans who “conceived” the nation in liberty — did not intend for us to delegate worrying about the Constitution to a cadre of constitutional scholars, or to leave debate to a class of professional pundits, or to leave the job of fighting for liberty to a caste of politicians. They meant for us to defend the Constitution, for us to debate the issues of the day, and for us to rise up against tyranny: the American who delivers the mail; the American who teaches our children; ordinary people.
In my reading, I went back as if to contact our mentors. I looked for practical advice and moral support from those who had stood up for the ideal.We need a strategy for a new American uprising against those who would suppress our rights; we need what Lincoln would have called “a new birth of freedom.” As readers of Tom Paine’s Common Sense had to realize, we are not declaring war on an oppressor — rather, we have to realize that the war has already, quietly, systemically, been declared against us.
Today we have most of our rights still codified on paper — but these documents are indeed “only paper” if we no longer experience them viscerally, if their violation no longer infuriates us. We can be citizens of a republic; we can have a Constitution and a Congress; but if we, the people, have fallen asleep to the meaning of the Constitution and to the radical implications of representative and direct democracy, then we aren’t really Americans anymore.
So we must listen to the original revolutionaries and to current ones as well, and explain their ideas clearly to new generations. To hear the voices of the original vision and the voices of those modern heroes, here in the U.S. and around the world, who are true heirs to the American Revolution is to feel your wishes change. “[Freedom] liberated us the day we stopped living in a world where ‘truth’ and ‘falsehood’ were, like everything else, the property of the State. And for the most part, this liberation did not stop when we were sentenced to prison,” wrote Sharansky. “I was not born to be forced,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. “I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest…they only can force me to obey a higher law than I.” You want to stay in that room where these revolutionaries are conversing in this electrifying way among themselves. It feels painful but ultimately cleansing and energizing. You want to be more like them; then you realize that maybe you can be — then finally you realize that you already are.
Our “America,” our Constitution, our dream, when properly felt within us, does more than “defend freedom.” It clears space to build the society that allows for the highest possible development of who we ourselves personally were meant to be.
We have to rise up in self-defense and legitimate rebellion. We need more drastic action than e-mails to Congress.
We need the next revolution.
“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 (Interglossa)
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 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 henhouse. 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 withouth 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 from 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 color, 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., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. 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.* 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.
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.† 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 Pétain 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 pot” – 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 – alien 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 put 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: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. 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.
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 color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, 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 favorable to political conformity.
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense 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. 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. 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**, 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 defense 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 yo think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing 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 mak 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:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) 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 recognize 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.
*An interesting illustration of this is the way in which English flower names 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.
† 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 hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene 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 bittersweet of resignation.” (Poetry Quarterly)
**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.
As far as I’m concerned, you can never read the American Declaration of Independence too many times:
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
— John Hancock
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
Yesterday evening, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, delivered Articles Of Impeachment for the US President.
Some say that President George W. Bush is a criminal and should not only be impeached, but arrested and tried. Others say that Dennis Kucinich is wasting time that should be devoted to more important matters.
The media says…nothing so far.
A Congressman taking up a whole evening of Congress to read off a list of 35 grave accusations against the President ought to be newsworthy.
Below is the list of 35 Articles of Impeachment. The entire document read last night by Kucinich, detailing the basis for each point, can be read HERE.
ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
Resolved, that President George W. Bush be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, and that the following articles of impeachment be exhibited to the United States Senate:
Articles of impeachment exhibited by the House of Representatives of the United States of America in the name of itself and of the people of the United States of America, in maintenance and support of its impeachment against President George W. Bush for high crimes and misdemeanors.
In his conduct while President of the United States, George W. Bush, in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has committed the following abuses of power.
Creating a Secret Propaganda Campaign to Manufacture a False Case for War Against Iraq.
Falsely, Systematically, and with Criminal Intent Conflating the Attacks of September 11, 2001, With Misrepresentation of Iraq as a Security Threat as Part of Fraudulent Justification for a War of Aggression.
Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction, to Manufacture a False Case for War.
Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Posed an Imminent Threat to the United States.
Illegally Misspending Funds to Secretly Begin a War of Aggression.
Invading Iraq in Violation of the Requirements of HJRes114.
Invading Iraq Absent a Declaration of War.
Invading Iraq, A Sovereign Nation, in Violation of the UN Charter.
Failing to Provide Troops With Body Armor and Vehicle Armor
Falsifying Accounts of US Troop Deaths and Injuries for Political Purposes
Establishment of Permanent U.S. Military Bases in Iraq
Initiating a War Against Iraq for Control of That Nation’s Natural Resources
Creating a Secret Task Force to Develop Energy and Military Policies With Respect to Iraq and Other Countries
Misprision of a Felony, Misuse and Exposure of Classified Information And Obstruction of Justice in the Matter of Valerie Plame Wilson, Clandestine Agent of the Central Intelligence Agency
Providing Immunity from Prosecution for Criminal Contractors in Iraq
Reckless Misspending and Waste of U.S. Tax Dollars in Connection With Iraq and US Contractors
Illegal Detention: Detaining Indefinitely And Without Charge Persons Both U.S. Citizens and Foreign Captives
Torture: Secretly Authorizing, and Encouraging the Use of Torture Against Captives in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Other Places, as a Matter of Official Policy
Rendition: Kidnapping People and Taking Them Against Their Will to “Black Sites” Located in Other Nations, Including Nations Known to Practice Torture
Misleading Congress and the American People About Threats from Iran, and Supporting Terrorist Organizations Within Iran, With the Goal of Overthrowing the Iranian Government
Creating Secret Laws
Violation of the Posse Comitatus Act
Spying on American Citizens, Without a Court-Ordered Warrant, in Violation of the Law and the Fourth Amendment
Directing Telecommunications Companies to Create an Illegal and Unconstitutional Database of the Private Telephone Numbers and Emails of American Citizens
Announcing the Intent to Violate Laws with Signing Statements
Failing to Comply with Congressional Subpoenas and Instructing Former Employees Not to Comply
Tampering with Free and Fair Elections, Corruption of the Administration of Justice
Conspiracy to Violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965
Misleading Congress and the American People in an Attempt to Destroy Medicare
Katrina: Failure to Plan for the Predicted Disaster of Hurricane Katrina, Failure to Respond to a Civil Emergency
Misleading Congress and the American People, Systematically Undermining Efforts to Address Global Climate Change
Repeatedly Ignored and Failed to Respond to High Level Intelligence Warnings of Planned Terrorist Attacks in the US, Prior to 911.
Obstruction of the Investigation into the Attacks of September 11, 2001
Endangering the Health of 911 First Responders
It’s Mother’s Day in the USA today – time to be reminded of the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” written in 1870 by American poet and activist, Julia Ward Howe:
Mother’s Day Proclamation
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
You know what I hate? I hate that I keep agreeing with Patrick Buchanan:
Does Balkanization Beckon Anew?
By Patrick J. Buchanan
19/02/08 “Human Events” — – When the Great War comes, said old Bismarck, it will come out of “some damn fool thing in the Balkans.”
On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip shot the archduke and heir to the Austrian throne Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, setting in motion the train of events that led to the First World War.
In the spring of 1999, the United States bombed Serbia for 78 days to force its army out of that nation’s cradle province of Kosovo. The Serbs were fighting Albanian separatists of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). And we had no more right to bomb Belgrade than the Royal Navy would have had to bombard New York in our Civil War.
We bombed Serbia, we were told, to stop the genocide in Kosovo. But there was no genocide. This was propaganda. The United Nations’ final casualty count of Serbs and Albanians in Slobodan Milosevic’s war did not add up to 1 percent of the dead in Mr. Lincoln’s war.
Albanians did flee in the tens of thousands during the war. But since that war’s end, the Serbs of Kosovo have seen their churches and monasteries smashed and vandalized and have been ethnically cleansed in the scores of thousands from their ancestral province. In the exodus they have lost everything. The remaining Serb population of 120,000 is largely confined to enclaves guarded by NATO troops.
“At a Serb monastery in Pec,” writes the Washington Post, “Italian troops protect the holy site, which is surrounded by a massive new wall to shield elderly nuns from stone-throwing and other abuse by passing ethnic Albanians.”
On Sunday, Kosovo declared independence and was recognized by the European Union and President Bush. But this is not the end of the story. It is only the preface to a new history of the Balkans, a region that has known too much history.
By intervening in a civil war to aid the secession of an ancient province, to create a new nation that has never before existed and, to erect it along ethnic, religious and tribal lines, we have established a dangerous precedent. Muslim and Albanian extremists are already talking of a Greater Albania, consisting of Albania, Kosovo and the Albanian-Muslim sectors of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.
If these Albanian minorities should demand the right to secede and join their kinsmen in Kosovo, on what grounds would we oppose them? The inviolability of borders? What if the Serb majority in the Mitrovica region of northern Kosovo, who reject Albanian rule, secede and call on their kinsmen in Serbia to protect them?
Would we go to war against Serbia, once again, to maintain the territorial integrity of Kosovo, after we played the lead role in destroying the territorial integrity of Serbia?
Inside the U.S.-sponsored Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the autonomous Serb Republic of Srpska is already talking secession and unification with Serbia. On what grounds would we deny them?
The U.S. war on Serbia was unconstitutional, unjust and unwise. Congress never authorized it. Serbia, an ally in two world wars, had never attacked us. We made an enemy of the Serbs, and alienated Russia, to create a second Muslim state in the Balkans.
By intervening in a civil war where no vital interest was at risk, the United States, which is being denounced as loudly in Belgrade today as we are being cheered in Pristina, has acquired another dependency. And our new allies, the KLA, have been credibly charged with human trafficking, drug dealing, atrocities and terrorism.
And the clamor for ethnic self-rule has only begun to be heard.
Rumania has refused to recognize the new Republic of Kosovo, for the best of reasons.
Bucharest rules a large Hungarian minority in Transylvania, acquired at the same Paris Peace Conference of 1919 where Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were detached from Vienna and united with Serbia.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two provinces that have broken away from Georgia, are invoking the Kosovo precedent to demand recognition as independent nations. As our NATO expansionists are anxious to bring Georgia into NATO, here is yet another occasion for a potential Washington-Moscow clash.
Spain, too, opposed the severing of Kosovo from Serbia, as Madrid faces similar demands from Basque and Catalan separatists.
The Muslim world will enthusiastically endorse the creation of a new Muslim state in Europe at the expense of Orthodox Christian Serbs. But Turkey is also likely to re-raise the issue as to why the EU and United States do not formally recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Like Kosovo, it, too, is an ethnically homogeneous community that declared independence 25 years ago.
Breakaway Transneistria is seeking independence from Moldova, the nation wedged between Rumania and Ukraine, and President Putin of Russia has threatened to recognize it, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in retaliation for the West’s recognition of Kosovo.
If Putin pauses, it will be because he recognizes that of all the nations of Europe, Russia is high among those most threatened by the serial Balkanization we may have just reignited in the Balkans.
Mr. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of “The Death of the West,” “The Great Betrayal,” “A Republic, Not an Empire” and “Where the Right Went Wrong.”