October 13th, 2009
This piece in the Economist got my wife all riled up yesterday. “Bastards saying bad things about us! Who the hell do they think they are?!” and all that. Fair enough. It seems to be one of those pieces which uses mostly easily verifiable and undeniable facts to support a conclusion not all will like, and the tone of the article is rather negative. I’m inclined to sympathise.
But one thing that got lzh’s blood boiling was the word “goose-stepping”, and I got to wondering if the word is actually derogatory in and of itself. Here’s the sentence in question:
Goose-stepping soldiers, tanks and intercontinental ballistic missiles filed through Tiananmen Square, past the eponymous Gate of Heavenly Peace, where, 60 years ago, as every Chinese schoolchild is taught (wrongly, it now seems), Mao Zedong declared that the Chinese people had “stood up”.
It is clear from this sentence, and from the whole paragraph and many similar references scattered through the article, that the author is trying to build a rather ominous picture of military might on open display. There is even a reference to 19th century Prussia and Japan (ooh…) for those who may have found the article too subtle.
Now here’s my question: For me, the word goose-stepping refers purely to a style of marching. It’s a style I find immensely uncomfortable- a few minutes with my first years, a couple of third years, and a drill instructor during first year military training at my school in Taiyuan was more than enough. It’s a style I really don’t like to watch because it looks so unnatural and uncomfortable. But it’s just a style of marching. At least, that’s how it is in my brain. Indeed, when I watched the parade, I did not like to see how the soldiers were marching because of how uncomfortable and unnatural that style of marching looks to me, but I was very impressed with the soldiers and the incredible stamina and discipline they displayed.
But then I got to thinking about it: It’s a style of marching one generally associates with Nazi Germany and evil, menacing Commie soldiers. So perhaps there is something offensive about the word “goose-stepping”. But wherein lies the offense? In the word itself, or in the kinds of soldiers we associate it with? After all, your average Chinese might not see much to worry about in Communism, but for those of us raised in “the West” it has long been held up as a boogeyman and the soldiers of “Communist” countries portrayed as a menacing, mindless, faceless horde of evil threatening to swarm into our happy, Capitalist lands and enslave us. And of course, there’s no need to comment further on the Nazi association.
Tangent: And so we see that all media is propaganda.
And so here I am wondering whether the word “goose-stepping” should be considered offensive. For me, personally, it is a simple, value-free statement of fact to say that the Chinese soldiers taking part in the National Day parade were goose-stepping. On the other hand, given the associations the word “goose-stepping” brings to mind and the overall tone of the article, I certainly understand why lzh took offense and fully agree with her opinion on the article.
And so I put the questions to you: Is the word “goose-stepping” offensive? Why or why not?