Throw away the rest of your entry blanks. Throw away your miserable little attempts to win the big prize. The contest for the 1982 George Orwell War-Is-Peace Sweepstakes is over. Ladies and gentlemen, the winner, hands down, is The Great Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan.
It was Ronald Reagan who alone among all of you had the insight, the flash, the sheer unmitigated nerve to rename the MX missile, "The Peacekeeper"!
Not once in recent years, not since the Atomic Energy Commission began to measure atomic fallout in "Sunshine Units," not since India dubbed its bomb a "peaceful nuclear device," have we witnessed such a dazzling example of linguistic alchemy. The judges were simply overwhelmed.
By the use of euphemism, the wave of a verbal olive branch, the most destabilizing weapon yet suggested for our arsenal of weapons was transformed on network television into a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Who among us can but admire the way in which the president won the title of Master of the Word Game of the War Game.
There is a bit of history behind this victory. In the beginning of our nuclear age, there was only the most meager atomic vocabulary. In the '40s, before the Department of War had been renamed the Department of Defense, our government struggled mightily with the big, bad public relations given the poor little atom. Even in the 1950s, the Atomic Energy Commission was unsuccessful in its attempts to promote atomic bomb-watching vacations.
But slowly, the nuclear wordgamesmen found ways to help us think about the unthinkable, to regard the bomb as a handmaiden of peace. Now, we are into the post-psychobabble era of nukespeak.
"Nukespeak," for all of you who are still unaware, is the word culled from George Orwell's description of "newspeak," and the name of an insightful new book. "Newspeak" was the language developed by the government of Orwell's "1984" to manipulate the way people think. Nukespeak is the language developed by our own government.
"The key reason for using language like that," says "Nukespeak" co-author Stephen Hilgarten, "is to try and make the public believe this weapon is something we need for our security. The reason for euphemisms is to justify the military position as being morally correct."
There is nothing startling in all of this. The government has been cleaning up and cooling down the language of conventional war since Vietnam. But it's reached a fine art in nukespeak. The experts not only talk about "clean bombs" and "devices" and "nuclear exchanges," but they have made terms so obscure that only the Military Experts could talk the same language.
Rory O'Connor, another co-author, has been amazed at the rash of new entries into nukespeak. O'Connor, a television producer, says, "I think that there is a 'veritable energetic disassembly,' as they say in nukespeak, a proliferation of nuclear language, simply around MX and Dense Pack."
Among the words that he ticks off his list are old ones given nuke meanings, such as "fratricide" and "decapitation."
O'Connor is convinced that the public has to learn the vocabulary of nukespeak or be left out of the debate about survival.
But the worst insult of nukespeak is the manipulation of war and peace. "It is pure Orwell," says O'Connor. "In newspeak, everything means the opposite. In nukespeak as well. Atoms for peace are really atoms for war. START (the name of Reagan's disarmament initiative) really means stop, as far as I'm concerned. If they adopt the MX, the Department of Defense is really the Department of Offense, because the MX is a first-strike weapon."
No one knows yet whether the MX Peacekeeper will be laughed out of the dictionary or added to the current MAD(mutual assured destruction)- ness. No one knows whether it will win a role in the "scenarios," carry weight in the "balance of terror," and be responsible for "megadeaths."
But the hawks have one consolation. We are beating the Russians in the words race.