Monday, January 10, 2011

Words Do Have Consequences

Words do have consequences -- and we do have limits to the way those words are used. The old saw is that I do not have the right to yell "Fire" in a crowded theater when there is no fire. I wish there were a way to hold those responsible for the escalation of demonizing and dehumanizing rhetoric from both the right and the left. While the "Once we get rid of the liberals we will be OK" language of the Sean Hannitys and the "Worst Person in the World" of the Keith Olbermanns may not lead directly to violence and killing, they sure do support a climate and culture which fosters them.

As an example: One of the first thing a country at war does to motivate its armed forces is to dehumanize and demonize the enemy. We weren't killing Germans and Japanese, it was Krauts and Japs (Slopeheads). We have similar names for our foes in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Reading Laura Hillenbrand's searing biography "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption," it is clear how closely tied the Japanese demonization of American troops in WWII led to the worst kinds of torture (random as well as planned) of combatants and non-combatants from our country. What is even more frightening is to realize that our own recent "interrogation techniques" mirror in nearly every aspect the atrocities of the Japanese in WWII! And we are pretty much silent.

I don't expect Olbermann, Matthews, Palin, Beck and Limbaugh to take responsibility for their incendiary language and attacks. That ugliness is their bread and butter: when we stop tuning in to hear about those who are stealing our country or defacing the Constitution, they won't have jobs. I don't expect much from the Christian churches or even the Anti-Defamation League. We all will probably defer to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, two comedians who take their religion very, very seriously.