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Word choice affects perception

What is this foray into Iraq? Failed diplomacy? Iraqi liberation from a brutal dictator? An invasion? A coup by force? A British-American war? A U.S.-led military assault to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction? A war to control Iraq’s resources? An act of pre-emptive self-defense?

Opinions about this war aside, it is important to recognize that differences in media coverage of the war can be attributed to careful government manipulation, as well as media spin. Thinking about why certain words and images are being used to depict events in Iraq, how often, in what context and for what underlying purpose are good ways to achieve a more balanced viewpoint. Without reflecting on why certain images and language have been chosen, the alternatives available and the connotations resulting from those choices, a skewed perception of reality is likely to develop.

Begin with the simple characterization of the current conflict as a war. Putting aside the formalistic distinction of whether Congress has declared war on Iraq, the current conflict can easily fit under the definition of an invasion. This might raise hackles. The United States does not think of itself as an aggressive nation. Invasion carries along with it pejorative implications. Yet, this is precisely the point. Most wars are triggered by a galvanizing event, pitting alliances or nation-states of equivalent power against one another.

This begs the question: Why does it matter? Whether labeled war or invasion, is not the Iraqi conflict just as desperate? Would not a rose by any other name smell just as sweet? Perhaps. But the coloring of emotion, the nationalism, the symbolism, a unity of purpose that is invoked by the term “war” falls by the wayside with the negative connotations of invasion.

Whether given by the administration, the military, the media or the next-door neighbor, the labeling we ascribe to events influences how we feel about and perceive those events.

University Wire — U. Minnesota