Daily Archives: February 22, 2009

Associative Thinking


Just having noticed something, I thought I would run it by my vast readership. Pay attention, both of you!

It was with some distress and dismay that I observed, back in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, some rhetorical trickery which haunts us to this day, to the extent that there is still some debate about whether the matter should even be looked into. I for one was very cognizant  that in all the talk about “weapons of mass destruction” and the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein, official pronouncements never included any actual new factual information (the “sixteen words” and the delusions of Dick Cheney notwithstanding), just recycled bits of old information (such as the oft-repeated “used WMD against his own people,” which referred exclusively to the incident in 1983 when during one of the wars against Iran, Kurds in the border area were subjected to mustard gas supplied to Iraq by the United States). What happened was that the constant repetition of these old bits of information was strategically intermingled with discussions of the day’s news, so that a general feeling was aroused in the half-conscious public that all of these things were representative of a “gathering threat” — and the result was an unnecessary invasion of a non-belligerent country which had allowed UN inspectors onto its soil, and had complied (so it turns out) with all demands that it reveal the truth about its WMD programs — the truth being, as George W. Bush has recently admitted was his biggest “disappointment,” that those programs did not exist. But this post is not about all of this old news, it’s about the rhetorical techniques that made it possible, which are being employed anew on a new front.

Here’s how it went in those days, in talking points from any number of official sources: “mumble mumble NINE-ELEVEN mumble mumble SADDAM HUSSEIN mumble mumble TERRORIST ATTACKS mumble mumble IRAQ mumble mumble WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION mumble mumble….” you get the idea. It was never quite denied, in all of that, that no connection existed between the events of September 11, 2001 and the government of Iraq, or between the Saudis and Yemenis who boarded those planes and Saddam Hussein, or between Osama bin Laden’s training and planning operations in Afghanistan and any of those old-news, obsolete weapons programs…. it was enough that, as has been done by me here, all of these unconnected elements appeared near each other in the same sentence.

And never, in the same sentence, were we reminded that the weapons actually used on that fateful day were not chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, but box cutters.

By this means, an unwarranted association was built up in the minds of people, and crept into daily conversation, both on and off the airwaves, over a period of months, thus making what had seemed unthinkable, that the United States would make an unprovoked attack upon a sovereign nation, appear inevitable, and even morally justified.

This rhetorical technique is designed to narrow the debate on an issue and set its direction. Take notice: on a different issue, the talking points are there. Just pay attention to how often you hear this over the next weeks/months…..

mumble mumble BIPARTISAN mumblemumble TAX CUTS mumble mumble BIPARTISAN mumble mumble TAX CUTS ….