Words have meaning. To misuse a word or an expression may turn around the entire content of what one is trying to relate. Precision in language, written or vocal, is often scrutinized carefully so as not to convey a wrong impression.
In world politics, examples of such confusion are legion. During the Cold War, Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union once declared (1956) that “we will bury you,” interpreted in the West that he was preparing nuclear war. Khrushchev later explained that he meant in economic competition, but this was too late to avert a major U.S. arms increase and fear throughout the entire world.
The word “détente” has more than one meaning. In its original French, it means a “release from tension” but, as it was interpreted in the West, it was often defined as a Soviet tactical policy to disarm NATO into a false complacency. Policy disagreements in the 1970s between Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who pursued détente, and his opponents, including Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, often reflected this semantic confusion. The Reagan Administration abandoned détente altogether, with President Ronald Reagan calling the USSR an “evil empire” while building up a vast offensive and defensive arms machine. Ironically, Reagan later implicitly pursued a form of détente himself, minus the word, while negotiating with Mikhail Gorbachev to end the Cold War.
In the political world, domestic and foreign, the word “acceptance,” and its opposite, “rejection,” are often invoked, if just implicitly, to determine policies. Whether or not a country accepts the status quo or rejects it may well define the difference between peace and war.
Briefly, acceptance means consent, agreement, or to accede. Rejection means to dismiss, repudiate, or refuse. While the degrees of difference between both are substantial, they are often disguised in the so-called “gray” areas of political discourse. Sometimes, these disguises are real, i.e., meant to “deceive” the other party. Precedents abound:
- Few in Britain before 1775 understood how deeply Americans rejected “taxation without representation.” The result was a war for independence that changed the course of history.
- The expression “states-rights” in the political vocabulary, including slavery, was defined by the southern states as essential to their life. The North, including President-elect Lincoln, rejected this. The North was taken by surprise when South Carolina seceded in December 1860. Civil War was declared three months later because, for one side, the situation was unacceptable.
- In 1919, the Versailles Treaty blamed Germany as solely responsible for World War I, deprived it of its colonies, forced it to disarm, and forced enormous reparations on the population. The Treaty was wholly unacceptable to almost all Germans, which allowed Adolph Hitler and the Nazis to take over.
- “Containment” as a foreign policy was adopted in 1947 by the Truman Administration but was later critiqued by his Republican opponents as too defensive and reactive to produce any result. By 1981, the Reagan Administration found containment unacceptable, abandoned it for a policy of “rollback,” and terminated the Soviet Union within a decade.
These examples are from American foreign policy but can be applied to domestic political life as well. Here, too, can be found similar semantical distinctions that have defined world politics since time immemorial. The same definitions of “accept” and “reject” that have directed the world are likewise present here at home.
Today, two months before the next presidential election, the group Black Lives Matter (BLM) has taken center stage by directing a nationwide set of urban disturbances stemming from the death of a man named George Floyd in Minneapolis (May 25). Normally, the death of a single person would not attract much attention, since in history tens of millions have been executed by the home regime. But the BLM organization has succeeded in elevating this death as symbolic of the country itself, putting the USA in the same category as Soviet Russia (40 million civilians murdered) or Communist China (60 million). This is quite some political “deception,” but it has, somehow, captured the public imagination, including millions of dollars from business. The Mayor of the Capital City has surrounded the White House with the name of the movement in bold letters.
Thus, instead of a civil rights issue, the movement has skyrocketed into a question of the very character of the people and their history, with a deliberate intention to expunge both character and history. In short, the country itself is “unacceptable.”
The deception occurs when the BLM organization and allied groups pretend that they “accept” the content and nature of the country they, simultaneously, are trying to replace. By calling the deficiencies of the American culture and its people “systemic,” they are declaring that the entire enterprise, not just the policies, the times, nor the individuals, have become unacceptable and thus rejected and, ultimately, replaced.
Behind the rhetoric for the late Mr. Floyd, there is a “hidden agenda” that surpasses any reference to individuals or racial beliefs, now or before. The BLM organization was founded by three Black women in 2013 who are professed “trained Marxists.” While its public persona belies this ideological origin, the website proclaims causes that have little to do with standard civil rights issues, including but not limited to: “colonialism, sexism, trans-gender-antagonistic violence, misogyny, defunding police, western nuclear family, queer affirming network, heteronormative thinking, ageism, environments where men are not centered.”
In the short-term, the BLM organization’s tactics appear momently disruptive, but its long-term goals are, indeed, “systemic” and, by definition, revolutionary.
Just as America rejected the British, as the South rejected the North, as the Germans rejected the Versailles Treaty, and as Reagan rejected containment so, too, does the BLM organization reject America.
Immediately prior to each event in history: did anyone know that the British would lose America, that the South would secede and over 700,000 soldiers die, that Versailles would disappear and history’s greatest war take over 76 million lives, that the Soviet Union would collapse without a single shot?
Even more remarkable was that all this was done by a relatively few: a small group of New England and Virginia Patriots, several hundred plantation-owners, basically one man (the Fuhrer), and a tiny group of Reagan National Security advisors.
In all cases, the status quo was unacceptable, but few living within the status quo knew it or believed it. As the late Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn wrote of the “Loyalists” (pro-British) inside the American Revolution, “they were outplayed, overtaken, by-passed.”
Question: where do we stand in this perspective?