Rhetoric at War

If you’re like me, you probably enjoying analyzing and dissecting the rhetoric of politicians, press secretaries, and military officials. And it’s fun too, right? When we see a suit or uniform behind a podium justifying war in diplomatic fashion, our analytic ears and eyes stand at attention. They’re very aware of their own rhetoric (whether they call it that or not) and they’re trained to construct their message carefully, so it’s fun to see what delicately-worded phrases ultimately make their way to the public. But it looks as if the military is expanding their vision of spokespeople to include troops, realizing rhetorical savviness can be as powerful as a bullet–perhaps even more so.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article describing the military’s lastest game plan for the continuing war in Afghanistan. The problem is that “Many U.S. and allied soldiers still arrive in the country well-trained to kill, but not to persuade.” The solution? Teach the soldiers to consider the perspective of locals, whether friend or foe.

The soldiers are being asked to think rhetorically, as displayed by Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Nash, who says, “Think about what the insurgents are trying to tell the populace–that the coalition is the infidel … If the public saw coalition troops patrolling side-by-side with Afghan troops carrying their prayer mats, it might send a powerful message.”

Reminds me of a quote that Montaigne loves to repeat:

Napolean to Fontanes: “Do you know what astounds me most about the world? The impotence of force to establish anything. There are only two powers in the world: the sword and the mind. In the end, the sword is always conquered by the mind.”

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