IV.  The Language of Peace William C. Gay


³The Language of War and Peace²


Encyclopedia of Violence, Conflict and Peace, ed. Lester Kurtz

(San Diego:  Academic Press, 1999):  Volume 2, 303-312.





A. Language Shapes Perception and Behavior

1. Demean differences and inflict violence

2. Affirm diversity and achieve recognition


B. Discourse on war and peace


1. Language of war masks reality of violence occurring

a. Official discourse uses euphemisms and misrepresentation

b. By imposing itself as legitimate, it coopts efforts by critics of war


2. Language of peace can be negative or positive

a. Language of negative peace perpetuates injustice by only establishing a verbal declaration of an end to war and hostilities

b. Language of positive peace fosters open and inclusive communication that affirms diversity


I.  Language, Perception, and Behavior


A. Language and Pursuit of War and the Quest for Peace


1. Institutional Structures

a. Military preparations for war and political negotiations for peace

b.  Discourse about war and peace involves institutional structures


2. Lexicon and Grammatical Structure

a. Official language of the nation in which we live and a dialect relegated to low social esteem

b. Express arbitrary systems of classification and Express actual relations of power


B. The Institutional Character of War and Discourse about War


1. Physical violence institutionalized in war

a. Soldiers have social roles structured by military institutions

b. Overt violent acts are sanctioned by the state as legitimate

c. Societies use distinctive words to designate violent acts of soldiers

1) Murder redesignated "justified use of force"

2) Political uses of language precede and support pursuit of war


2. Linguistic violence precedes and supports overt forms

a. "Warist discourse" refers to the resulting language which takes for granted that wars are inevitable, justifiable, and winnable

b. Theory of just war (Augustine and Aquinas)


C. How the Institution of Language Shapes Perception and Behavior


1. Words in the lexicon of a language limit one another

a. Words in the lexicon of a language limit one another

1) Meaning of individual words is a function of the differences

2) Available terms vary in how positive and negative charge

b. Importance of words selected and deselected from lexicon





2. Vocabulary of a language serves as a means of interpretation

a. Predisposition to select terms which coincide with existing values

b. Individuals are also able to intentionally select words that are relatively more or less offensive


3. Behavior shaped by linguistic perspective of an individual's thought

a. Language gives a structure to consciousness which guides action

b. The "right of bestowing names," as Nietzsche saw, is a fundamental expression of political power


II.  Language, Violence, and Nonviolence


A. Language as Neutral and Charged


1. Whenever more than one term is available

a. Difference in connotation

b. In principle, individuals can select any among the available terms


2. Linguistic freedom and linguistic creativity

a. Impose restrictions on social groups and distort their perceptions

b. Empower social groups and enrich their understanding

c. In practice, word choice largely shaped by customary social usage

1) Official language

2) Institutions of socialization such as schools and the media

a) Prospect for linguistic violence arises

b)    "Linguistic violence" is the situation in which individuals are hurt or harmed by words


B. Linguistic Violence


1. Negatively, language can demean differences and inflict violence

a. Language can hurt when conscious and harm when unconscious

b. Ross applies to language Feinberg's distinction of hurt and harm

1) When we are conscious of the negative effects of terms, words hurt us and are termed "offensive"

2) When we are not conscious of the negative effects, words can still harm us and are termed "oppressive"


2. Offensive vs. oppressive language in all forms of linguistic violence

a. Subtle forms range from children's jokes to official languages

b. Abusive forms are especially conspicuous in racist, sexist, heterosexist, and classist discourse

c. Grievous forms are found in expressions of warist discourse, including nuclear, totalitarian, and genocidal language


C. Linguistic Nonviolence


1. Positively, language can affirm diversity and achieve recognition

a. Occurs even if its members do not always recognize that such terms function in this manner

b. First step in reducing linguistic violence is to simply refrain from the use of offensive and oppressive terms

c. "Linguistic alienation," as Rossi-Landi has shown, refers to the situation in which individuals cannot understand a discourse in their own language because of the use of highly technical terms



2. Insufficient Change

a. A merely politically correct discourse as insufficient

b. An intentional practice of linguistic nonviolence as needed


III.  The Language of War


A. The Use of Euphemisms for War


1. Official discourse about war makes extensive use of euphemisms

a. A linguistic alternative to the horrors of war is created

1) When individuals have to order or perform very unpleasant tasks, the use of euphemisms is prevalent

2) Able to think, speak, and write about these events in an abstract or indirect way

b.  Able to think, speak, and write about events difficult to justify


2. Warist discourse can presents itself as a language of peace

a. "Pax Romana" ("Peace of Rome") stood for the military suppression of armed conflict throughout the Roman empire

b. Medieval "Truce of God" (1041) limited warfare to specific times

c. The term "Peacekeeper" refers to the MX missile, a nuclear weapon designed to contribute to a first-strike capability


3. East-West Cold War and continuing North-South conflict

a. North defended its "right" to "protect" its colonies

b. Colonized argued for the legitimacy of "wars of liberation"


4. Language is corrupted

a. Make the cruelty, inhumanity, and horror of war seem justifiable

b. Language becomes a tool employed by officials to make people accept what they would repudiate if true character were known

1) From "air raid" to "routine limited duration protective reaction"

2) From "defoliation" to a "resource control program"

3) "Pacification" for destruction of village




5. Abstraction can prevent understanding by citizens

a. Suffer a type of linguistic alienation

b. Defer

1) Many defer to the authority ofphysicians and lawyers when they do not understand the technical jargon employed

2) Many acquiesce to the policies of political and military officials who use the technical vocabulary of modern warfare with its high incidence of acronyms and euphemisms


B. The Use of Propaganda in War


1. Intentional linguistic misrepresentation

a. Propaganda seeks to manipulate minds and behaviors of citizenry

b. Present adversary as evil and self as the embodiment of good

1) Ally in one war may be enemy in next, whileenemy in one war may become an economic partner in post-war global market

2) Plato urged care in naming an "enemy," since wars do not last forever and eventually they may again become our friends




2. "Figurative lie" in Nazi Discourse

a. Descriptions of war that actually contradict the realities of war

b. Endlösung (Final Solution) both disguises and reveals (at least to the people in the know) the plan of murder

1) Reveals there is a problem that must be solved conclusively

2) Conceals that the action will be the annihilation of all Jews and other "culture destroyers," including gays and gypsies, rather than actions like their deportation or resettlement

c. Contradictory and duplicitous to designate the concrete action of murdering millions of individuals by term "final solution"


3. Nuclear discourse also a figurative lie

a. Personifying weapons while dehumanizing people

1) Names of first nuclear bombs, "Little Boy" and "Fat Man," term these vehicles of destruction as living persons and males

2) Before the first atomic device was tested at Trinity, its inventors said they hoped the "baby" would be a boy

3) "Lose her virginity" or "be deflowered" if enter nuclear club

b. Such warist discourse banters in public a figurative lie which simultaneously substitutes birth for dead and degrades women


C. Imposition of Warist Discourse as Legitimate


1. Governmental and military officials

a. Impose their form of discourse as the legitimate one

b. Coopt efforts by critics of war


2. Warist discourse used as an authoritarian instrument

a. Governments and subnational groups use "totalitarian language"

b. Instruments of mass communication and research in psychology used to increase significantly the degree of control that can be exercised over the mind by verbal means

c. Young has shown the language of totalitarianism has had only limited success in achieving the goal of thought control

d. Policy debate on how to wage war effictively

1) From Sun Tzu's The Art of War to Clausewitz's On War

2) Since nuclear weapons, shift from the concept of "total war" to concept of "limited war," but not yet call for an "end to war"



A. The Language of Negative Peace


1. Peaceful discourse can actually perpetuate injustice

a. A merely formal cessation of linguistic violence

1) A government and its media may cease referring to a particular nation as "the enemy" or "the devil"

2) Public and private attitudes may continue to foster the same, though now unspoken, prejudice

b. Necessity but insufficiency of negative peace and PC discourse

1) Arms may have been laid down, but they can readily be taken up again when the next military stage in a struggle begins

2) Those who bite tongues to comply with PC often ready to lash out vitriolic epithets when constraints removed



3. Kant contrasted a "treaty of peace" from a "league of peace"

a. The pseudo-peace of a "treaty of peace" merely ends a particular war and not the state of war

b. A genuine peace which negates war is a "league of peace"


4. From the perspective of Gandhi

a. Much discourse about peace, as well as the rhetoric supporting wars of liberation, places a primacy on ends over means

b. When the end is primary, nonviolence may be practiced only so long as it is effective

1) For Gandhi, the primary commitment is to the means

2) The commitment to nonviolence requires that the achievement of political goals is secondary

c. The resolute commitment to nonviolence

1) In the teachings and practices of King and his followers

2) In nonviolence of Havel in Eastern Europe, Mubarak in Middle East, Mandella in South Africa and citizens in Baltic republics, China, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the West Bank, and the Ukraine



B. The Language of Positive Peace


1. From a lull in the occurrence of violence to its negation

a. Requires a transformation of cultures oriented to war

b.  Genuine affirmation of diversity domestically and internationally


2. Larger struggle to reduce what Galtung calls "cultural violence"

a. Human emancipation, dignity, and respect are not restricted for irrelevant factors like gender, race, or sexual orientation

b. Respect, cooperation, and understanding needed for positive peace

1) Meetings among political leaders of various nations

2) Cultural, educational travel exchanges


3. Desire for peace and ediscourses on plans for peace as persistent

a. Zampaglione notes centrality of quest for peace from the Pre-Socratic philosophers through Roman and Hellenistic writers to medieval Christian theologians

b. Little "policy sway" in decision making of political leaders


4. Recent developments in peace activism

a. Since 1963 the "engaged Buddhism" of Thich Quang Duc has spawned socially and politically engaged versions of Buddhism in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Japan

b. Liberation theology has had a major impact in Latin America

1) Beginning in 1973 with Gustavo Gutierrea, a Peruvian Roman Catholic priest, the leading exponents of this movement include Leonardo Boff in Brazil and Juan Luis Segundo in Uruguay

2) Emmanuel Martey applied to African theology




A. Silence


1. Kant and a day of atonement

a. After war, "victors" ask forgiveness for "great sin" of human race

b. Failure to establish a genuine and lasting peace


2. Camus after bombing of Hiroshima:  reflection and silence


B. Breaking Silence to respond to injustice


1. Protest, noncooperation, and even intervention


2. Language of positive peace has correlative nonviolent actions


C. Character of Language of Positive Peace


1. Contrasts

a. Democratic, not authoritarian; Dialogical, not monological

b. Receptive, not aggressive; Meditative, not calculative


2. Further Characteristics of Language of Positive Peace

a. Pacific in seeking to actively build lasting peace and justice

b. Diversity, open-endedness of life, not sameness, finality of death