October 17, 2002, Episode Twenty-Two: A War of Words

This week's episode is different from our usual format.  On October 3, 2002, former United Nations Chief Inspector Scott Ritter visited the University of Victoria campus and gave a lecture regarding the situation between the United States and Iraq.  

Because so much rhetoric is being heard in the political arena, we thought it would be important to provide a sociological analysis of Ritter's social problems claims and to offer a model for those who would like to deconstruct other claims being made. A partial transcript of the show is offered below.

We aired sound clips from both the press conference Ritter gave before his lecture and from the lecture itself.  We encourage you to listen to the full lecture and a recording of the press conference.

Other sites of interest to learn more about these issues:

President's Remarks at the United Nations General Assembly

Tony Blair's Dossier on Iraq Threat

Text of Bush's Draft Resolution on Iraq sent to Congress 

House Joint Resolution Authorizing Use of Force Against Iraq 

Bush Describes "Urgent Duty" to Confront Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein’s Deception and Defiance

U.S. Senator Robert Byrd's Remarks to Congress regarding Iraq 

Interview with Noam Chomsky about U.S. War Plans (August 2002)

National Security Strategy of the United States (September 2002) 
    This a .pdf file.  It is also the document mentioned by 
    Scott Ritter in his lecture as an important read.

Rebuilding America's Defenses:  Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century (September 2000) a report by The Project for the New American Century

This is a .pdf file.  It is the document that many believe the September 2002 document is based upon.  Former members of the Project include Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice-President Dick Cheney.  PNAC's article below is an analysis of this document. 

PNAC'S Present Dangers As Blueprint for Bush Doctrine

Tens of Millions March Worldwide To Denounce Bush's War Plans

We Stand Passively Mute (12 February 2003) US Senator Robert Byrd Senate Floor Speech 

Websites of peace and anti-war organizations:

End the War

Peace Protest.net

Victoria (British Columbia) Peace Coalition


We encourage you to learn as much as you can and then to decide for yourself how you want to respond to your government.  We are indebted to Donileen Loseke's book, Thinking about Social Problems, which served as a framework for our analysis.  


As we record this episode for broadcast, the United Nations has begun a two-day general debate on the Security Council’s new resolutions on Iraqi disarmament.  At issue is how forceful the United Nations wants to be in enforcing disarmament and other Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.  Specifically, does the United Nations want to engage in military action against Iraq?  The United States, a member of the 15-nation Security Council, is calling for a policy that will result in regime change in Iraq if the current regime does not meet all of the United Nation’s demands. In his September 12, 2002, speech to the U.N. General Assembly, George W. Bush stated:

[INSERT SOUND BITE FROM BUSH’S SPEECH:  If Iraq’s regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively, to hold Iraq to account.  We will work the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions, but the purposes of the United States should not be doubted.  The Security Council resolutions will be enforced, the just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable, and a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.]

Regime change is not allowed as policy according to the United Nations charter.  There is considerable resistance to taking the United Nations as far as the United States wants to go. 


Central to all of this seems to be the future credibility of the United Nations.  United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan summed up the opportunity before the UN in a recent statement:


Quote, If we handle this properly, we may actually strengthen international cooperation, the rule of law and the United Nations – enabling it to move forward in a purposeful way, not only in this immediate crisis but in the future as well, close quote.


Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution last week giving George W. Bush sweeping authority to use force in Iraq to, quote, defend the national security of the United States, close quote, and to, quote, enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq, close quote.  It should be noted, since it has not been noted by any of the corporate news agencies, to the best of our knowledge, that the resolution that the U.S. Congress passed did not go as far as Bush had asked. 

Bush wanted authorization to use all means that the President, quote, determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolutions referenced above, defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq and restore international peace and security in the region, close quote. 

What Bush got was a resolution that required the president to report to Congress prior to use of any force, if possible. If not possible, the president must report to Congress no later than 48 hours after any military engagement and must justify his actions on the basis of it having been a last resort after all diplomatic attempts had been exhausted.  This is not the blank cheque for which Bush had hoped, no matter how it is being spun in the corporate press after the fact.  But even with Congressional accountability, the United States is moving closer to a war with Iraq, with or without the United Nations’s approval. 


Protests against any war with Iraq have grown worldwide.  Earlier this month nearly a half million people hit the streets in London, England, protesting Great Britain’s support of the war effort.  Elections in Germany were essentially determined on the basis of the party support or opposition to the impending war, with those favouring opposition being elected.  Anti-war organizations can be found all over the Internet, calling for a peaceful means to disarm Iraq and to avoid war. 

It has been said that politics makes strange bedfellows.  Former UN Chief Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter is a strange bedfellow of the anti-war movement.  He is a proud ex-Marine intelligence officer and a self-described policeman.  Unlike many of those who come to listen to his lectures on Iraq, he is not anti-war.  He has stated unequivocally that he would serve in what he terms “a legal war.”  He declares himself a faithful Republican and, while not happy with the current president, he admits to having voted for him in the last election. 


So why did nearly 1500 people turn out earlier this month in Victoria to hear what Scott Ritter had to say?  Why is he invited to speak all over the world, including to the half million who met in England?  How do some people’s messages get heard, respected and heeded from the many voices available to hear, respect and heed?  There are certainly political answers to these questions.   There are certainly psychological answers to these questions.  In today’s episode of First Person, Plural, we will examine a sociological perspective on the case of Scott Ritter.

Essentially, Scott Ritter is making social problems claims.  He is suggesting that there are problems with the ways in which the United States government is handling the Iraq situation.  In addition, he is claiming that social action is needed to solve the problems he is identifying. 

Sociologist Donileen Loseke, in her book Thinking About Social Problems, offers an excellent framework upon which to examine social problems claims such as Scott Ritter’s.  It is her framework that we will be using this hour as we look at what Scott Ritter had to say during his visit to Victoria in an episode we call “A War of Words”


Loseke’s approach to understanding a social problem is to understand the process by which a claim is made, received, accepted and implemented into social action.  What makes a claim powerful enough to draw crowds and media attention is the focus of Loseke’s perspective. 

We are not going to be concerned during this hour with how truthful Ritter’s claims are.  We have our opinions on the United States’ policies and on Ritter’s claims.  These opinions are not the focus of today’s show.  Instead, we hope to share with you how we came to believe what we believe about Ritter’s claims and to help you see how he is making his claims well known and legitimated. 

Loseke begins with the claimsmakers – the people who say and do things to convince audiences that a social problem is at hand.  Social problems claims are made all the time.  Just sitting around the donut shop with friends, one is bound to make a dozen claims about what is wrong with the world and how it might be fixed.  However, Ritter isn’t sitting around the donut shop.  He is on an active international campaign and seems to be gaining support for his point-of-view. 

So what is it about Scott Ritter that makes his claims more legitimate?  Several possibilities are available when thinking about a claimsmaker.  Some claimsmakers speak from the authority of status.  Certainly George W. Bush’s claims about Iraq are heeded simply because of the position he holds in his society.  Depending upon the claim, physicians, scientists and other experts are often afforded more credibility.  Organizational backing also creates attention as spokespersons representing specific organizations often carry more authority than individuals.  Celebrities who already have our attention often make social problems claims that are given more weight than those by the average citizen are given.  Perceived motives also give credence to claims.  Claims made by those who would profit from the solution are regarded as less credible than those that seem to be borne from altruism. 

In a press conference before his lecture, attended mostly by CFUV spoken word broadcasters, we asked Scott Ritter why he was travelling around the world giving lectures.



Loseke suggests that the making of a social claim is the constructing of a morality.  A social problems claim is a claim to what the right thing to do should be.  This morality argument is based upon not only how legitimate the maker of the claim is, but also upon how well the claimsmaker convinces his or her audience that the claim is justified morally.  This can be through the evoking of shared values such as religious, organization or humanitarian moralities. 

Ritter is essentially making two claims:

  1. The United States is violating international and constitutional law by advocating and working towards regime change in Iraq.
  2. The United States is starting on this path because certain members of the government are intent upon unilateral American world domination, what he calls American Imperialism.



Loseke suggests that once a moral base is constructed, strategies for claimsmaking need to be adopted.  How moralities are evoked can be seen as the strategy that a claimsmaker uses to get the claim heard by a social audience.  The claim is not just made.  It is made in a way that evokes a response, else it is never heard or heeded.  Successful claims are successful, in part, because the best strategies were chosen. 

Strategies can include multiple approaches.  Strategies must consider competing claims and address these claims.  Strategies must consider the audience, including mass media coverage. 

Ritter has testified before governmental bodies.  He has lectured before crowds on all seven continents.  He has been interviewed by news agencies all over the world.  He has had public debates on major networks.  He has written books and authored articles for major news agencies. 

The content of Ritter’s claims have remained essentially consistent throughout all these media with a list of eyewitness accounts and political analyses of what he has seen and experienced.



In order to be successful, a claimsmaker must assess who his or her audience is and construct a vision of the audience for the audience.  Because the problem is being approached as a social problem, it requires an understanding of a social response.  To do this, claimsmakers have to construct particular kinds of conditions affecting particular kinds of people.  Conditions include the frequency, severity and causes of the problems as well as the efficacy and feasibility of the solutions.  The people are villains, victims, or good guys. It is not sufficient to convince an audience that there is a problem.  The claim is about a solution to the problem.  The claim is also about what the audience can do to effect the solution. 

Ritter has an international audience that has run the gamut from government officials to anarchistic protesters.  In order for his claims to be successful he must convince this wide range of people that they have a part to play in stopping American imperialism.  Clearly, his villain is George W. Bush and Bush’s cronies who seem bent on world domination.  Sadaam Hussein is also a villain.  The victims are the Iraqi people, Americans who stand for democracy and members of the international community interested in a peaceful and secure world.  The good guys are the United Nations and those who support international law. 

Where does the audience, in this case a Canadian audience, fit into Ritter’s claimsmaking?



We hope this analysis will help you to sort through the war of words surrounding the U.S./Iraqi situation.  Ritter is, of course, only one claimsmaker catching the interest of audiences around the world.  We hope that you will think critically about all the claims that are being made at this most dangerous time. 

We also want to encourage you not to take our word for it.  You can hear the full lecture presented by Scott Ritter from the Internet at the URL: http://www.uvss.uvic.ca/awu/

You can find a link to a recording of the Scott Ritter Victoria press conference by visiting our website at http://culturalconstructioncompany.com

Go to CCC Radio Shows and then to the link for First Person Plural, then link to this week’s episode, which is #22.

We hope you will stay as informed as you can be and will encourage our leadership to do the same.  Thank you for listening; we’ll be back next week.

copyright by Pattie Thomas and Carl Wilkerson 2002


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