Polemical Poetry VIII: The Inflated Style as Euphemism

The Misfortune Teller

The Misfortune Teller
Sculpture-Painting by Michael Murry © 2014

Michael Murry

President Barack Obama’s most recent speech launching yet another self-declared Personal Presidential Crusade against yet another Evil Muslim Acronym (ISIS/ISIL/IS, whatever) reminds me of something that General David Petraeus, Commander of the International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan once said regarding his mission objectives and his prospects for achieving them:

“I think no commander ever is going to come out and say ‘I’m confident that we can do this.’ I think we say you assess, we believe this is, you know, a reasonable prospect.”

This smarmy, management-speak gobbledygook in turn reminded me of something George Orwell wrote in his classic essay, Politics and the English Language:

“The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism.”

Hence, something I wrote four years ago that I find just as relevant today whenever an official of the U.S. Government, civilian or military, opens his or her mouth to speak about something or other while saying nothing about anything.

The Inflated Style as Euphemism

The general has started talking funny
Like, never stating what we can achieve.
Instead, he babbles jargon for the money
Which means he never plans for us to leave.

We’ve been there now so long that few remember
How many times we’ve heard the same old song.
Our plans, those scruffy foreigners dismember
While we proclaim that we’ve done nothing wrong.

The president has donned his bomber jacket
To have his picture taken with the troops:
For conquerors, cheap tools that serve the racket;
For statesmen, simple patriotic dupes.

Our presidents and generals have blundered
And now can only stall for yet more time
While citizens back home whom they have plundered
Refuse to see the nature of the crime.

We went to “war” with tax cuts for the wealthy
And exhortations to consume and spend.
Now broke and begging from the thieving stealthy,
Our leaders promise this will never end.

Our presidents and generals stage dramas
And wave the bloody shirt while spouting gas
To keep us safe from peasants in pajamas
And poppy farmers smoking hash and grass.

We did this once before in Southeast Asia
As names upon a granite wall attest.
The country, though, prefers its euthanasia:
The laying of all memory to rest.

So let us listen raptly to the latest
Inflated euphemism coined to quell
The slightest thought that we might be the greatest
Bullshitters of whom history can tell.

Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2010.

Michael Murry is a Vietnam Veteran, gargoyle sculptor, and poet.  He occupies the Asian Desk for The Contrary Perspective.


4 thoughts on “Polemical Poetry VIII: The Inflated Style as Euphemism

  1. I wrote the above verse before John Kerry became Secretary of State, otherwise I would have used a quote from one of his indecipherable utterances — which make even General David Petraeus sound almost intelligible by comparison. As George Orwell wrote in 1984:

    “It was not the man’s brain that was speaking; it was his larynx. The stuff that was coming out of his mouth consisted of words, but it was not speech in the true sense: it was a noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck … ‘There is a word for it in Newspeak,’ said Syme. ‘I don’t know if you know it: duckspeak, to quack like a duck.'”

    President Obama, on the other hand, seems to speak in meaningful words arranged in a passably grammatical syntax. One can understand the words and phrases clearly enough, only to recognize them as vapid rhetoric and transparent, shameless lies. So there you have it, fellow Crimestoppers. When it comes to America’s political and military spokespersons, you get to choose from sheer gobbledegook that defies understanding — doubleplusgood duckspeaking — or decently delivered deception. Just don’t expect to hear the truth. For as Orwell said: “In an age of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

    • Speaking of the truth, Mike. the secret Downing Street Memo about the Iraq invasion of 2003 is telling. I’m sure you’ve seen it. The British are quite blunt: Bush has decided on war; “facts” are being fixed around that decision; and UN weapons inspectors are just a show to help justify the war if and when Saddam denied them access to everything. The memo is blunt: Iraq is not as dangerous as other countries, not much has been done for post-war planning, but the decision’s been made for war, and Britain must get on board. Here’s a link: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/09/24/bacevich-recommendedreading/AB2hAVr3scy7sz2X3tXsVL/story.html

      Truth is occasionally spoken privately and secretly within governments, but it’s not spoken publicly and openly to the American people, who are held in contempt by our “leaders.”

  2. Bravo, Mike, for a rhyme of “Southeast Asia” with “euthanasia”! The current US air war has turned to bombing crude oil facilities in territory seized by IS. Well, that’s brilliant, eh? Destroy the commodity the modern world is most dependent on, the one whose copious presence under Iraq’s soil brought this whole sordid situation about! The price of crude had been slipping of late, to the low-US$90s for West Texas Intermediate, and even Brent had slipped below a hundred bucks the barrel. Exxon/Mobil, et al., were doubtless concerned about that. What better way to drive the price of a commodity higher than to reduce the supply? Send it up in flames, pollute the planet some more, increase the corporate bottom line. I saw the headline for an opinion piece the other day, suggesting that Obama is the most “extreme” POTUS in history in terms of curtailing our civil liberties here at home. I imagine this was penned by a “Libertarian,” but it purported to reflect results of a poll of Constitutional Law experts. They seem to have forgotten that Lincoln pretty well suspended civil liberties within the Union during the Civil War. Therefore I would argue Obama only rates near the top of the list by dint of the technological advances that allow the government to insert its tentacles into almost every aspect of our lives. A more extensive surveillance, but not quite as intensive. Not yet, at least.

    • How I wish that President Obama had brought along Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Negroponte to sit behind him in silent witness as he gave one of the most transparently deceitful presentations ever to disgrace the United States and that assembly of world governments. Why the Russian delegation did not just get up and walk out in the face of such gratuitous and slanderous insults, I cannot understand.

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