Government, politics, wars and spying are subjects in which evasion and deceit are common and vulgar; hypocrisy is paramount and prudery prominent. The survival of politicians in politics in a democracy or for that matter in a despotism, depends on getting control over your compatriots, and retaining it by convincing them of your admirable fitness for rule.
Even the least corrupt of governments keep certain information secret, often obtained by espionage (spying). A few examples: citizens of the United Statesstill do not know the real facts behind the Kennedy assassination of 1963, nor that of his brother Bobby later. Staying in the US, the true facts of 9/11 have not been disclosed. But as news it was startlingly useful. It was ‘a good day to bury bad news’. Everyone knows why Bush Sen. ‘went to war’ with Iraq over the invasion of Kuwait, but nobody knows why Bush Jun. decided to make things infinitely worse in the Middle East by attacking Iraq again, this time with the intention of displacing Saddam. The given excuse was false. Mr Bush persuaded persons of known intelligence to accompany him on the mini-crusade, such as Blair of Britain and Aznar of Spain (the French were wise enough not to join in the fun).
In these cases, as in so many others (Suez,Vietnametc.), the public had to be told something, but it was done through the disguising of words or phrases to make them softer and more acceptable than the naked truth.
Not for the first time, the public was presented with spin, presentation and positioning. These are dangerous because over-use may lead to a temptation to employ policy for its short-time effect on public opinion rather than its long-time effect on the voting public.
It does not stop there of course. Public officials, such as secretaries-of-state in democratic countries, use smooth and deceitful phrases no less than their Ministers. They may be so often repeated that their substance is taken for reality. What started as a euphemism (‘a little local difficulty’, ‘there is a certain deceleration in the economy’ etcetera) ceases to mislead because it engenders a ‘feel good’ sensation.
Taxation remains, as always, unpopular with citizens because they must bear it without complaint. In times past, forced loans to the throne were lovingly called ‘benevolences’. At the end of the Second World War Britain indulged in ‘post-War credit’ which was actually an added tax (subsequently refunded years later in a depreciated currrency without interest). All countries in the EU have a system of ‘National Insurance’, which is another tax levied on the incomes of those happy enough to have a job, paid by both employees and their employers. While raising the rate of contributions to ‘National Insurance’ a government raises income from tax while denying that it is tax.
Most countries (with very few exceptions) prefer to charge an ‘indirect’ tax on salaries (the income tax), and then tax workers again on everything they buy (‘direct taxes’). This is called ‘enhancing the revenue’.
For the Communists, since their beginnings, opponents or dissidents were neither: they were ‘anarchistic groups’, ‘anti-socialist elements’, ‘class enemies’, ‘counter-revolutionaries’ etcetera right on through the alphabet. They still are: in Spain anyone who disagrees with the Socialist Party is a ‘fascist’ or ‘extreme right-winger’. Anyone who disagrees with the Right or Centre-Right is ‘anti–sistema’ or ‘anti-democratic’.
There are a number of trigger words which enable us to be on our guard: ‘democratic’ is one and ‘new’ is another. Any state which calls itself ‘democratic’, especially if its government has been given an absolute majority in an election, is almost always a tyranny, though this may may occasionally be beneficial in the long run. A prime example of this wording was the ‘German Democratic Republic’, which was obliged to erect ‘anti-fascist’ barriers, electric fences, walls etc. to prevent its citizens from leaving. Mr Blair’s ‘New Labour’ indicated that the old Labour Party was dead and buried. More trigger words are ‘people’s’, ‘special’ and ‘social’.
Everyone knows the definition of ‘Democracy’. It is ‘government of the people by the people for the people’ but it should not be necessary to repeat it, because the ‘people’ know what their rights are duties are. The ‘People’s Republic of China’ as a memorable example hides the fact that it is an autocracy in top gear. If you live there, ensure you do not get dragged into a ‘people’s court’ where you will be subjected to ‘people’s justice’ and a ‘people’s judge’ and probably end your life in a ‘people’s encampment’ if your head is not separated from your body by a ‘people’s life-shortener’.
When politicians start on about ‘the underprivileged’ or ‘social housing’ or (worse) ‘social justice’ make sure your wallet or handbag is out of reach. Social is a super-valuable word for those who search for imprecision or actual evasion when dealing with tricky subjects like charity, immigration or race. ‘Social inclusion’ results in ‘social cohesion’ or so the scientists tell us.
‘Information’ is one of the great specialities of political correctitude. During the War the ‘Ministry of Information’ was called even by its employees the ‘Ministry of Misinformation’. It was supposed to be publishing real figures about success and failure in hostilities. These ‘facts’ were to put it mildly –unreal.
The ‘information’ put out by national newspapers or national TV and radio news programmes is always an interpretation of the news ordained by whichever political party the company is affiliated with. Thus for example percentages of the workforce actually on strike during a ‘General Strike’ in modern Spain vary dramatically depending on your favourite read – El País’ or ABC.
‘WAR’ is usually a word to avoid. President Truman carried out a ‘police action’ in Korea. During the Suez invasion prompted byBritain, France and Israelthey were not involved in warfare but ‘a state of armed conflict’. Israel’s occasional mortal assaults on Palestine are part of a ‘defensive shield’, not doubt provoked but tell that to the injured children. If a force is retreating it is referred to as ‘straightening the line’, or ‘a movement to the rear’ or ‘withdrawal to prepared positions’. ‘Conventional weapons’ sound nice but there are still huge casualties due to ‘civilian impacting’ or ‘friendly fire’ or (my favourite) ‘incontinent ordnance’. Always look out for the word ’strategic’: it means unplanned and carried out under compulsion.
Espionage or spying is a form of deceit and has its own evasions. ‘Watergate’ was a prime example; the works of Le Carré and Deighton would not be so entertaining without them. Spying is not spying but ‘security’ of course. Anyone actually engaged in ‘security’ normally talks freely and without euphemisms. This is rather the same as real soldiers with battle experience finding it hard to talk about it, but the opposite.