We talk a lot about language as it appears in advertising and marketing, and especially in the names that define brands, but the most crucial arena for finding the right words is in international diplomacy, where our very survival is at stake.
In the latest development in the tug-of-war over potential war with Iraq, the United States and France are wrestling over the language of the proposed United Nations resolution that would force Iraq to disarm, or else…. The sticking point comes down to two words: “material breach,” in this case of Iraq’s past U.N. obligations. The U.S. wants very badly to include those two words, “to show the Security Council’s resolve in the face of Iraq’s failure to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.”
The French, however, were concerned that the mention of “material breach” would allow the United States to attack Iraq on its own. Diplomats said French and the U.S. diplomats were talking about ways to change the wording to make the text acceptable to both sides.
Not quite the home run that “It depends on what your definition of is is,” perhaps, but startling nonetheless, as yet another reminder of how history is often painstakingly built upon a foundation of words.