Language as a weapon.

Looking at the current conflicts, it seems that counties with common languages enjoy a major PR advantage in wartime. Countries like Albania and Georgia have to resort to other languages (English and Russian, respectively) to get their version of the events out. Who outside of RSA has ever read the Boer version of the events of the 1899 war? Who outside of Pakistan knows much about the Afghan perspective on the current war?

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9 Responses to Language as a weapon.

  1. Michael F says:

    Not to take away from your excellent point, but in the same vein, have you noticed how people attempt to control language in order to maniplulate frames of reference? I’m sure we’re all aware of examples, but it functions both as words being weapons, but also to either elevate or dehumanize one person or group.

  2. Sigivald says:

    Well, at least by now, I imagine the Boer accounts are translated.

    And a lot of Boers spoke a fair amount of English, is my impression.

    General point, though, very well taken.

    (For that matter, fiction has done a fair job on some of the historical accounts; H. Rider Haggard’s stories provided more sympathy with the Boers than one might have expected from a British author who was there and read the proclamation of annexation of the Transvaal for the Governor.)

  3. RegT says:

    The English originated concentration camps during the Boer War, long before Hitler ever thought of it, with Himmler, et al, possibly deriving the idea from that conflict.
    [I am _not_ a Nazi apologist. Just stating a fact about the Boer War. The Holocaust and anti-Semitism disgust me more than I can say.]

    The Left (both socialists and fascists) uses language as a weapon, routinely, especially when they redefine words to create a meaning more in line with their agenda.

    • Boris Karnaukh says:

      I am sorry to disappoint you here, but Spanish were first with really wide use of concentration camps. In 1897-1898 they have managed to kill with malnutrition and diseases 200.000 Cubans in order to protect them from insurgents ;-/

      Do a little search for “Reconcentrado” term. Thus General Valeriano Veyler stole the thunder from General Kitchener.

      BTW, speaking of words I think we overlook a point. In mostly illiterate Third World spoken word or video goes faster and deeper. Khomeini didn’t use a printing press – he got instead tens thousands of cassette recorders. Hezbollah puts stakes on video clips and TV station of their own.

      • RegT says:

        From what little research I have done since your comment, it appears that the “Reconcentrado” was more akin to the Soviet Holodomor. The Cuban peasants were not rounded up and forced into camps as were the Boers. So I stand by my post – the British originated actual concentration camps, not merely “reconcentrating” the Boers into a few cities and towns, as happened in Cuba.

    • anonymous says:

      “The Left (both socialists and fascists) uses language as a weapon, routinely, especially when they redefine words to create a meaning more in line with their agenda.”

      Thank God the Right (Republicans, libertarians, Libertarians, capitalists, gun-owners, etc.) doesn’t do this.

  4. Mattexian says:

    Deneys Reitz’s “Commando: a Boer Journal of the Boer War” is available online and in reprints, as well as copies of “Boer Settlers of the Southwest” by Brian M. Du Toit from Texas Western Press, and “The Boer War 1899-1902” by Gregory Freemont-Barnes from Osprey’s Essential Histories collection, so there is stuff out there if one has the drive to seek it out. To this Texan, the Boers were a sympathetic underdog, fighting the might of the British Empire for their independence AGAIN, but losing the second war and becoming an occupied nation similar to the post-US Civil War southern states.

    To your point, I believe, history has shown a common language on the battlefield to be advantageous, as the armies of the Crusaders were from all across the kingdoms of Christendom, and as such, spoke dozen of languages and hundreds of dialects, while the armies united under Saladin all spoke a common Arabic tongue, from the Atlas Mountains to the Hindu Kush, with little local variance.

  5. staghounds says:

    Although the Boer language is akin to Dutch, there were plenty of English, French, and German speakers in their governments. They got their story out quite well and very professionally. There was substantial anti-British sentiment throughout the world from the very beginning, even much anti-war agitation within Britain. Transvaal and OVS “P.R.” remained very effective throughout and after the fighting.

    The Afghans are doing the same. Go on line to Al Jazeera. (And if Romney wins in November, look for the “Afghan side” to become a lot more news worthy. )

  6. Paul Koning says:

    Interesting. And as an immigrant from Holland, I can add that the Boer side of the story is probably better known and certainly viewed more positively than I believe it is in the English speaking world.
    That makes things painful for Georgia, since they don’t have anyone else apart from their immediate neighbors who speak any language even distantly connected to theirs. (The fact that they can speak the language of their imperialist oppressors and would-be reconquerors isn’t likely to help much; ask any Chechen…)

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