The force of words

Several readers responded to our post of the speech given by Professor David Gelernter at the pro-war rally sponsored by the Yale Students for Democracy in Beinecke Plaza on March 26. One of the other faculty members who spoke at the rally was Professor Norma Thompson. Little Trunk has obtained and forwarded a copy of her speech. Even though the rally occurred 10 days ago, the speeech remains timely and important. Professor Thompson titles the speech “Supporting American action: The force of words.”
“While our troops are on the ground risking their lives in Iraq, I would like to say a word on their behalf, in appreciation of how they are fighting to uphold the force of words.
“Of all the striking images we have seen in the past week, one which is especially significant is the sight of the media, the talkers embedded in various military posts, with the do-ers. They are free to share anything but top military secrets. To me, this conjunction of the military and the media speaks volumes about the American commitment to the clarifying and politically invigorating free expression of ideas.
“We’re in this war because we were not just mouthing words when we signed on to UN Resolutions 678, 687, 1205, 1441 and the combined 17 or so statements of principle, regarding Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. Did we mean it when we said that Hussein must comply with regulations that he himself signed on to, or did we not?
“If your words are not credible, then your institutions are worth nothing. I’m not just referring to Saddam’s cynical games with the international community. Our former ally France has a whole lot to answer for here. What does NATO mean today, now that France has publicly renounced its responsibility to Turkey, a member in good standing that had good cause to ask for its assistance? Why should any member of NATO consider that its pleas for support would be heeded automatically, after this precedent? The answer is that it would be foolish to assume NATO s support. Therefore, NATO no longer has a viable identity. We should be very worried about the Security Council for similar reasons: it has proven hollow.
“As with institutions, so with states. If you don’t stand behind your assertions, you cannot hold on to your political identity. You became the pawns of another. If empty words are a threat to political integrity, so are innocent words, like War is Immoral. We stand here in Beinecke Plaza, surrounded by memorials to political freedom, markers of the sacrifice of soldiers, to words they believed in. Can we afford to forget that, to be lulled into complacency, with the likes of sayings like War is Immoral? Their example should be worth more.
“Our forces are fighting for freedom. They resist servitude. This is deadly serious. So formulaic speech, and propaganda, should be opposed. They are too easy, too glib. We’ve seen the signs: No blood for oil. American imperialists. They don’t reflect reality. Let’s let our media report on this. America is confident enough of its position to be utterly transparent.
“Our troops are fighting in Iraq to preserve the force of our words. For make no mistake, our words need guarding. They must be guarded against all the things I’ve spoken of: Emptiness. Innocence. Propaganda. Most of all, we have to retain our ability to identify Lies. You know, like when Hussein fires a missile he is not supposed to have had, we should call him on it. He lied. Remember the place of lies in the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. Hitler’s Germany lived on Euphemisms, a sugar-coated word for lies.
“The truth is, that war is hell; that it is terrible and heartbreaking and cruel. All these things, and more. But we must watch our words, and be grateful for those who do so for us. You say war is immoral and I say you have accepted the conditions for enslavement. To say war is immoral is immoral when it comes to a tyrant like Saddam Hussein.”

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