15 March 2008

Divided by a Common Language: How Different Governments Spell “Program”

Yesterday the Independent newspaper in Britain ran an article about "a lesson plan commissioned by an organisation called Kids Connections for the Ministry of Defence aimed at stimulating classroom debate about the Iraq war." (Thanks to HNN for the pointer.)

A British teachers' union complained, and the newspaper's quotations appear to confirm, that this lesson plan includes a one-sided set of talking points on the benefits of invading Iraq. The material avoids mentioning civilian casualties, regional destabilization, difficulties in reconstruction, worldwide disapproval, and other weak spots in the pro-war arguments.

Among the points in the military-supplied curriculum, the Independent quotes:

“Iraq was invaded early 2003 by a United States coalition. Twenty-nine other countries, including the UK, also provided troops... Iraq had not abandoned its nuclear and chemical weapons development program”. After the first Gulf War, “Iraq did not honour the cease-fire agreement by surrendering weapons of mass destruction...”
The newspaper notes errors of fact, such as how Iraq had in fact abandoned its nuclear and chemical weapon programs years before the invasion.

Indeed, the newspaper may have missed some errors: In March-April 2003, the period of the invasion, fourteen countries besides the US--not twenty-nine--provided troops in Iraq, according to Perspectives on World History and Current Events.

What I thought most interesting is how much weight the newspaper puts on the quoted phrase “nuclear and chemical weapons development program.” That's the American, not British, spelling of “program.” Elsewhere in the same document “programme” appears. Obviously, some of these Ministry of Defence talking points have their roots in American word-processing files. And for the Independent and much of the British public, that's not a good thing.

British anti-war groups started protesting this "Defence Dynamics" curriculum last August, according to the New Statesman and other news sources. The "organisation called Kids Connections" is actually a London advertising agency; its website says, "we specialise in marketing, research and school programmes targeting toddlers, tweens, teenagers and their families." It lists many commercial enterprises among its clients, but not yet the Ministry of Defence.

No comments: