Although Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined "The pen is mightier than the sword" in 1839, the idea that language has more power to compel human action has been around at least as early as the Bible was written: the book Scott Roeder probably believes gave him the right to murder George Tiller.
It's a lesson we, as a species, learn and unlearn seemingly daily. We eschew traditional interrogation techniques in lieu of physical torture, believing the latter more effective, even as we run PR campaigns and write ad copy to convince our own people of the justification for war and of their supposed desire to enlist in the military to fight it. We mock and condemn the notion that Islamic jihadists believe there is a special reward awaiting them in the afterlife (how many virgins can a man really need?) for their supposed martyrdom as we eulogize our own service members and victims of terrorist attacks with talk of their special places in heaven. We learn about propaganda and yellow journalism and bitch about media bias as we increasingly consume media that agrees with and reinforces opinions we think we had before we began gorging ourselves. Entire professions and industries spring up dedicated to the cause of using language to convince millions (if not billions) of people to do things they wouldn't already do — but this product! vote for this candidate! believe in this cause! — and yet we all continue to believe our thoughts and actions are unique, unpolluted snowflakes.
Language is powerful because it is how we order our thoughts. Who among us really thinks in abstract concepts? But it is also a complex game of Telephone, in which messages are relayed, misinterpreted, misapplied, misrepresented and misunderstood. The use of language is fundamentally imperfect because one's listeners are always hearing it through individual filters.
Scott Roeder, who is being charged in the brutal murder of Dr. George Tiller, is obviously a deeply flawed person, but he is not alone in either his apparent beliefs or his willingness to break one of the most fundamental taboos of human society — killing other humans — in service to a political cause. For instance:
As news of Roeder's arrest traveled, Kansas City activist Regina Dinwiddie remembered the day a dozen years ago when Roeder hugged her in glee after trying to frighten an abortion provider by staring him down inside a Planned Parenthood clinic.
"He grabbed me and said, 'I've read the Defensive Action Statement and I love what you're doing,' " Dinwiddie said in a telephone interview. She was a signer of the 1990s statement, which declares that the use of force is justified.
"I said, 'You need to get out of here. You can get in a lot of trouble,' " Dinwiddie recalled.
Dinwiddie said she does not consider death of Tiller, the nation's most prominent provider of controversial late-term abortions, to be a homicide.
"I don't think he was murdered. I believe he was absolutely stopped in his tracks and it was long overdue," Dinwiddie said. She declined to say when she last spoke with Roeder.
But Dinwiddie isn't the only associate of Roeder's who reinforced his apparent position on violence against abortion providers.
Roeder also was a subscriber to Prayer and Action News, a magazine that advocated the justifiable homicide position, said publisher Dave Leach, an anti-abortion activist from Des Moines, Iowa.
"I met him once, and he wrote to me a few times," Leach said. "I remember that he was sympathetic to our cause, but I don't remember any details."
Leach said he met Roeder in Topeka when he went there to visit Shelley Shannon, who was in prison for the 1993 shooting of Tiller.
Or there's this quote, from Operation Rescue Founder Randall Terry:
George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama Administration will use Tiller's killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name; murder. Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the Law of God.
Even in rhetorically condemning Tiller's murder, some supposedly mainstream anti-abortion groups can't stop themselves when it comes to their own rhetoric (or self-interest).
The Kansas Coalition for Life Unequivocally Condemns the Shooting of Abortionist George Tiller.
Although at the time of this writing, it is not known who killed Abortionist Tiller, we do know for certain that this crime was NOT the work of any true proLife person. A true proLife person respects human life as a gift from God, and leaves all life and death decisions to God Himself.
This killing — if it is in any way connected to a genuine proLife group, has the potential to set back the proLife movement by 20 years or more.
One can even look to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly for examples of rhetoric calling Tiller a murderer himself, which are too numerous to list.
Calling abortion the murder of unborn children or referring to people who perform abortions or who are politically pro-choice as infanticide-perpetrators is a time-worn tactic of the movement to make abortion illegal in this country. It was a deliberate choice on the part of the anti-abortion movement, stemming from a growing public relations problem with referring to women that way.