National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly

Archives  | 

Send This Page to a Friend

 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

July 28, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 78




Dennis Coday Words can cause damage

Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer

Did you hear Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz on "Face the Nation" yesterday? What he said astounded me, and made me question (again) if the most powerful nation in the world has world-class leaders.

If you didn't hear him, you can read what he said. Just do a google news search on the words "miserable creatures." That's what he called the assassinated brothers Uday and Qusay Hussein. My search turned up 151 news Web sites carrying the Wolfowitz quote.

I have to tell you, I was offended by Mr. Wolfowitz's choice of words. I have seldom heard such shockingly intemperate language from a government official. I had to wonder if Mr. Wolfowitz realizes how insulting and incendiary this language is.

I know he was playing to a domestic audience, but he must know that the words would be broadcast worldwide. In just a few hours after he spoke them, the words appeared in newspapers like the The Irish Examiner and Bangladesh's The Daily Star.

In examining Mr. Wolfowitz's choice of words, I could cite all the literature about how one dehumanizes an enemy in a war situation, but I won't go there. I have also been shocked that -- except for in the NCR newsroom -- I have heard no discussion about the morality or legality of assassinating these two men., but I won't get into that either.

Mostly though, I am dumbfounded by Mr. Wolfowitz's complete disregard for diplomatic protocol. High-ranking government officials -- except for current U.S. officials, I guess -- do not talk like that in public forums. This is just another example of bellicose demagoguery that U.S. President George Bush's team uses to rally domestic support but that riles and reviles international audiences.

Does Mr. Wolfowitz not know this? Or does he just not care?

I lived in Bangkok for nearly 12 years before returning to the United States in March this year. I'll tell you what the "person on the street" there thought about the then-impending war on Iraq. Many saw war in Iraq as pay back time; the Hussien family, who had insulted and threatened the Bush family, was getting their comeuppance. Far fetched? Go back and read how many times President George W. Bush talked about "Saddam Hussein and his sons." That sounds like vendetta talk, doesn't it? I ask again, far fetched?

The prime importance of prudent diplomatic language is to demonstrate restraint and court respect. In this way, you can gain support from people who may not even agree with you. Bullies are feared and maybe obeyed, but never respected. To lead, leaders must be respected. Language like this earns no one's respect.

But then international respect and support has never been among the priorities of this administration.

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer and coordinates NCR's Web site. His email address is

Top of Page   | Home
Copyright © 2003 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111 
TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280