Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Fallujah and the power of presence

Walking along a peaceful and sunny Thames I couldn't help thinking about that other town on a river, Fallujah. And I came to think about an intersection between military strategy and rhetoric - giving presence to one area, as to cast shadows on others.

The rhetorical notion of presence is developed by Perelman. I found a good explanaition here:

"Presence is a quality of vividness that changes the perspective of an audience and enables them to focus on an item or an element as the figure, making the environment that surrounds it the ground. Once an object achieves presence, persuasion is possible. The "practical implication" of presence essentially means that "people act on what they perceive. To help the audience 'see' the world in a particular way is to move them towards action" (397)".

This kind of emphasis can be used in strategic settings as well. Sometimes as strategic deception - like the focus on a possible amphibious landing in the Gulf War of 1991 (to draw attention away from the western pincer movement) - and in other instances, like Fallujah, perhaps to take attention away from the environment, a messy and bleak one.

Fallujah is very useful in this aspect, as it reminds us of a clear-cut military maneuvre and has a strong notion of good versus evil. It is in other words a battle more of the kind that we can handle and our attention is drawn to it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I clearly follow the author on this one. It is a matter of rhetorics to maintain domestic support for your campaigns (I here use the term 'campaign' to describe the full spectre of US military presence in Iraq)

Several well-known examples throughout the history of warfare reflect this fact: The Danish government's adhering to the romantic notion that the southern defensive wall of Denmark, Dannevirke, which marked the border to Germany, was unbreachable. Public opinion was completely dominated by this belief. The government knew otherwise, and was quite aware that the ill-funded Danish army would not stand a chance against Bismarck's reformed Prussian army. However, it took advantage of the public notion that Dannevirke was unbreachable, and thus maintained its parlamentary support in a time of desperate strife.

Upon Mussolinis entering into North Africa in WW2, the dictator announced that the sands of North Africa would be subdued with small aeffort, as had been the case with the defeat of Haile Selassi in 1935. With this reference, he deviated focus away from the more recent disaster during the Italian attempt to invade Greece.

Joseph Goebbels, Hitlers number one spin doctor, made such rhetoric maneuvers, too. During the Soviet onslaught into the heartland of Germany in March 1945, a local German counterattack made by Volksgrenadiere on March 9th achieved such succes that it was elected "a turning point" and "a harbinger of final victory" ("Berlin 1945", Anthony Beevor 2002) The same was the case with the early days of Operation "Wacht am Rhein", the German attempt to counterattack through the Ardennes and reconquer Antwerpen. The rhetorics was effective indeed; I myself have spoken to a German paratropper veteran who participated in this operation, and he told me how he remembered the sentiment of the Blitzkrieg days of 1940 slowly getting its hold among the German soldiers. All this was, of course, a means of turning attention away from the disastrous defeats on the eastern front.

Still, I'd argue that such rhetoric schemes are very hard, if not impossible, to succesfully conduct in times of modern warfare. In Fallujah, the US forces have made good progress, and it has certainly been made topic of the week in the media. (Alongside the death of Yassir Arafat, that is) But the informed citizens of today's western democracies have to many sources of information to allow this kind of rhetoric scheme to have the same kind of impact as in 1945. Thus, in Denmark an organization called "Nej til Krig", formerly known as "Ingen Krig mod Irak" (British: No War on Iraq) had 45 minutes of focused screen time in a debate just yesterday. This organization consists of Danish civilians, and in my opinion, this reflects the fact the rhetoric attempts to gain support for the US (coalition) effort in Iraq are only partially succesful, at the best.


12/11/04 11:18

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I forgot to tell to those not inclined to brood over tomes of Danish history.. In my above example concerning the Danish so-called unbreachable wall called Dannevirke, I was referring to the disastrous Danish war on Prussia in 1864.. Sorry about that, off to make some tea now! ;-)


12/11/04 11:21


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