Monday, July 24, 2017

Language in WW II

Back to WW II and the power of language. I want to thank Susan Brownmiller for pointing out the power of Churchill's rhetoric as a weapon for the Allies. True. It was a force that sustained England, and with England, therefore the United States.

Rhetoric is an all too understudied weapon in analyses about the war. We study code-breaking, oil, armor, tactics, strategy  and ignore pure speech.

There were Hitler's crazed, charismatic orations. E. L. Doctorow wrote that as a kid hearing Hitler on the radio made him think of glass being chewed and smashed. That very violence seemed to entrance Germans, already primed, perhaps, by Wagner's ecstatic smashings.

Churchill blundered in the conduct of the war. His deployment of the RAF to bomb and reduce German cities did nothing to diminish the German will to resist. (For one thing, the German people were too spellbound, traumatized,  and submissive to consider alternatives.) Churchill, demolishing German cities removed English air power from where it might have done the most strategic good — the North Atlantic, where it might have enabled American arms to arrive sooner, and with them, an the passivity of an earlier assault on Nazi control of the continent.

That said, Churchill's language and rhetoric were specific, under-appreciated weapons of their own sort.

FDR didn't lack for that resource. If his rhetoric was less lofty that might have been because his forces were inordinately greater, and his language, therefore, more commensurate.

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