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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Gulag: Language as Surrealistic Art

There’s a difference between communication and propaganda.

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Language is supposed to be a means of communication.  George Orwell’s unsettling novel “1984” described NewSpeak, Big Brother’s arbitrary use of common words to mean something different from their dictionary definitions.  Language as NewSpeak became a deliberate way to control people by making them uncertain and fearful.

As recently as the 1920s, writers in most venues strove for precision in use of language.  Modern readers reviewing pages from those earlier times will be struck by the lack of hyperbole.  A premium was placed on using just the right word to convey the writer’s meaning. 

Tabloid journalism was an exception.  But modern mass media and instant, worldwide communications have amplified the incentive to use language as propaganda to inflame opinion, in an era when mobs in the street often make public policy.

A particularly blatant example was Amnesty International’s recent characterization of the United States terrorist detention center in Guantanamo as a “gulag.”

A NewsMax.com item of May 25, 2005, reported, “Guantanamo has become the gulag of our time,” Amnesty Secretary General Irene Khan said as the London-based group launched its annual report. Amnesty International called for the camp to be closed.”

And in a report from The World Today dated June 6, 2005, William Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, was quoted as stating, “There are some similarities. The United States is maintaining an archipelago of prisons around the world, many of them secret prisons into which people are being literally disappeared, held in indefinite, incommunicado detention without access to lawyers or a judicial system, or to their families, and in some cases at least we know that they are being mistreated, abused, tortured and even killed. And those are similar at least in character, if not in size, to what happened in the Gulag.”

Anyone aware of the true nature of the Soviet gulags will understand that this is an exaggeration.  Unfortunately, most people know only that gulags were bad and will be likely to accept Amnesty International’s equating United States policies with Soviet totalitarianism.

To understand the degree of mischaracterization by Amnesty International, read Rudy Rummel’s description in The Real Gulag.

For additional reactions see John Leo’s Stories Not Told, Dennis Prager’s Amnesty International and Moral Idiocy, and Wesley Pruden’s The Sawdust Trail at Guantanamo.


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