Book Review on War of Words – Language, Politics and 9-11

By admin ~ August 14th, 2011 @ 2:13 am

o Book Details:

Author: Sandra Silberstein

Paperback: 197

Publisher: Routledge, Taylor & Francis group

City of publication: London

Year of publication: 2002

Language: English

ASIN: B000OT8284

Price: USD $22.95

o About the author:

Sandra Silberstein is a professor of English at the University of Washington, Seattle. So far she has concentrated on women and language, choice reading, and technology and resources in teaching reading on the majority of her books.

o Book analysis:

The book “War of Words” is 197 pages long, divided into 8 chapters. The introduction attached to the first section of the book is a comprehensive one also summarizing whole the book in three pages.

This book can be recommended to all whose interests are on linguistics, even to those who are not expert in this matter.

Sandra Silberstein focuses on the creation of the national transformations including changes in American identity and national beliefs in post-9/11 by illustrating some examples which reveal U.S’s situation within the time of crises after 9/11 events.

the author does not go deeply into details regarding the field of linguistics and also she does not explain apparently how linguistics can be applied to the many phrases she has quoted;however those phrases and examples persuade readers to continue his/her reading to the end.

Sandra Silberstein in her book “War of Words: Language , Politics and 9/11” has cited the speeches of George W. Bush in post-9/11 just for the sake of linguistic analysis ,so it is difficult to determine her political slant. She tries to focus more on the words created national transformations and new American identity in post-9/11 than the events themselves. As a result Silberstein concentrates on rendering the terrorist attacks in presidential speeches , media texts and eyewitness accounts

The most interesting part of the book in my opinion is its cover, carrying many important meanings and messages. For example, a sentence in Persian above the picture of two Afghans implies that Iran is a terrorist advocator.

“It is essential to examine the diction surrounding the particular sentiments of the aftermath , as Sandra Silberstein did in her book War of Words: language , politics and 9/11 ( Routledge , 2002 )

The initial rhetoric surrounding 9/11 was rightfully comforting, allowing Americans to heal. President Bush’s calming speeches were compared by Silberstein to President Roosevelt’s words after attach on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The perception they both try to create is one of necessity and urgency. For instance, Bush said of the war on terrorism: “These measures are essential. But the only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it, and destroy it where it grows. “He was, in effect, holding a war rally, similar to what Roosevelt said in 1941: “… I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. I believe I interpret the … will of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again. “(Dunkin, Journalism after 9/11 Review)

“This is vital reading today. At a time when hysteria is bubbling below the surface, Sandra Silberstein is cool, analytical, highly readable – and sane”
The Guardian, UK

o Summary:

The book’s introduction is an imaginary window drawn by Silberstein, through which she as an applied linguist illustrates that how “words helped many things happen.”(xiii) And also “how language can be employed to render national policy….”(xiii)

From the introduction it can be interpreted that the writer feels a duty on her shoulder, as a person born in New York, to explain about the events happened on September 11, 2001 not only attacked to the twin towers and pentagon but also affected American national identity.

In the first chapter Sandra Silberstein tries to discuss in details that how a nation can be constructed at war. To obtain her goal the writer in chapter second concentrates on all speeches and statements made by President George W Bush at those first moments after terrorist attacks that changed his Presidential position as ” the candidate with the perfect bloodlines [who came] to office amid charges that his was a bastard presidency, sired not by the voters but by the courts”(p.40) to an American hero. Also the writer compares Bush’s speeches to the statements of President Roosevelt in the story of Pearl Harbor.

In chapter 3 which is the most linguistic part of the book Silberstein focuses on the eyewitness accounts, tries to “examine the role of television in creating September 11 narratives and in constructing social identities.” (p.61) by borrowing two linguistic tools: “the methodological analysis of news discourse by Ron Scollon, to question the norms of TV news coverage; and the oral narrative structure by William Labov , to observe the eyewitness narratives as a process of manufacturing the news into entertainment .”(Xuelin he, 2003)

Also she emphasizes on the journalists’ skills on framing the events which had been unfolded around ground zero. For example in one of the interviews, a journalist asked a single eyewitness the following questions:” Was there screaming? Was there violence? Was it eerie? Were you terrified? Did you see people bleeding?”(Pp.79-80).

The book in chapter 4 also reveals that how New York transformed to be America(n) and Rudy Giuliani to be an “America’s mayor” by exploring the rhetorical reconstruction within American culture in post-9/11.

Through chapter 5 “Selling America” and chapter 6 “The New McCarthyism”, patriotism turns to be a matter. In the former chapter Silberstein analyzes advertisements in relation with the current terrorist attacks, revealing that American people in post-9/11 supported the government and showed their patriotism by shopping as the way to mourn for their lost countrymen.

In the latter one, the writer criticizes the emergence of new McCarthyism which let to overdoing patriotism in post-9/11. According to her opinion, the ACTA took the “cultural wars” to a new level transformed a “war of words” to the “war on words” by publishing 100 examples of disagreeable voices of the American campuses.

The next chapter is a comparative study on ABC documentary, ” Minefield: The United States and the Muslim Word,”by Peter Jennings and CNN documentary on Islam by Christiane Amanpour. Although in a former documentary Islam is a worldwide problem, the latter one tries to avoid the clashes between two kinds of civilizations. “For the vast majority of Muslims, the terrorist attacks against the United States were an offence against the teachings of Islam.”(p.155)

“Despite the militants’ claims, nothing in the Koran, the Islamic holy book, justifies this kind of crime against humanity. … In fact, the Koran forbids suicide.”(p.155)

And the last chapter, chapter 8, deals with the new set of rhetorical transformations from the second anniversary and beyond follows the march of civic discourse from New York to Baghdad. In this part of the book the writer also covers the war in Iraq and accusations against the US president and the former heroes for their mendacity.

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