As Tony Blair prepares to consolidate his place in the history books as Britain's greatest wartime Prime Minister since John Major, shipping our boys out to the Gulf, boots or no boots, his rhetoric at least is wearing steel toe caps. 'We are going to be in the front line of this whatever happens,' he told the Commons Liaison Committee, meaning not, as you might think, that we're going to invade Iraq regardless of public opinion and even if the UN weapons inspectors don't detect a material breach of Resolution 1441, but rather that a terrorist attack on Britain is inevitable. Maybe he's trying to tell us that invading Iraq won't help prevent terrorism here, especially since there is no evidence that he knows of 'that directly links al-Qaida, Iraq and terrorist activity in the UK'. Nonetheless, it's his job 'to explain to people why it's necessary'. All very confusing. Fortunately, the PM's off to Camp David next week (on 31 January) to have matters straightened out for him by his superiors. He won't have time to read Collateral Language: A User's Guide to America's New War (NYU, $16.95), a collection of essays edited by John Collins and Ross Glover about the uses to which language has been put by the Bush Administration since 11 September 2001. Each chapter considers a different word - e.g. anthrax, cowardice, freedom, jihad - but the overall argument is against propaganda and simplification, in favour of honesty and its prerequisite, complexity.
LRB 6 February 2003 | PDF Download