Effective messages require understanding, development and deployment of the proper words – not only as Americans understand them in English, but as the rest of the world understands them in many cultural contexts.
Message-making requires sophisticated understanding of both friend and enemy. It requires confident self-knowledge. It requires instinct about how information works today. Most of all, successful message-making requires personal courage against critics abroad and at home.
Inexpert use of words undermines the mission and inadvertently aids the enemy every bit as much as the careless dropping of bombs or the military indiscipline that made Abu Ghraib a metaphor for America’s presence in Iraq.
- We study how words are used as instruments of conflict and weapons of warfare.
- We look at how the meanings of words differ among languages and cultures, and often within the same language and culture.
- We examine how the nation’s adversaries and enemies have used our own understandings of words against us, and how we accepted those hostile definitions as our own.
- Finally, we discuss how we can take the language back from the enemy and make it work for the wartime and long-term interests of civilized society.
The human mind is the battlespace of the war of ideas. Words and images create, define and elaborate ideas, and are used to popularize or destroy their appeal. They require relentless repetition. Words are not static objects. The written and spoken word, as George Orwell said, can be used “as an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.”
In his famous essay “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell explained the relationship between language and thought: “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better.” 
To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless