Violence is a subject we all like to think is not a huge issue but know in the back of our minds that it is prevalent throughout the world for various reasons. However, what we do not often consider is how our word choices perpetuate violence within our culture and society. Elizabeth Howe opens our eyes to how our language affects this issue.
During her undergraduate years, Howe was invited to work with Dr. Paul Heilker's Nonviolence in Communication Research Group. When asked about her work, Howe answered, “the research group was such a great project in that all eight of [the students involved] were able to adapt the topic to fit our specific interests, and the research we produced varied across all fields of the humanities.” Howe’s project within the group was influenced by her experiences as a military child, an ROTC cadet, and an aspiring journalist. Her work in military journalism “drew [her] attention to the relationship between the military, mainstream media, and the masses” and the conflicts that arise from these relations. She states that “certain euphemisms, enthymemes, and logical fallacies are enlisted to partially obscure truths or convey strategically constructed messages,” and this is the main idea that she draws from in her research paper.
In her paper Howe explains each side of the argument: whether violence was being inflicted through skewed communications (language) or the public was being sheltered from violence in this way. The culmination of a semester's work with Dr. Heilker, her paper takes an objective stance toward her thesis, explaining the issues while simultaneously anticipating the counter argument.
Howe first draws from everyday speech and common phrases that have an underlying connotation of destruction or violence. This example clearly explains to the reader that this is not only a problem in military communications, while also giving a simpler example to start off with. She then goes on to elaborate on euphemisms used in military communications, making examples of contemporary issues such as American operations against forces in Iraq and speeches made by former President George W. Bush.
Not only does Howe bring contemporary issues into the spotlight, she turns back to America’s past to display that this is not a newly-learned habit in our military communications. She asserts the euphemisms that are currently used were part of a generation-to-generation inheritance of common language, resulting in the current issue.
Howe also offers criticism to this idea of institutionalized concealment in our language and as result, our media. She shows that language can deceive or reveal what is truly happening in our world. If we choose to use words that deliberately change the connotation of our communications, are we protecting our citizens or keeping them in the dark? It ultimately comes down to whether the public should know the movements and operations of our nation’s military to its fullest extent. This subject is clearly open to further debate, but Elizabeth Howe offers a truly stellar piece of research to the table.