War's verbal camouflage ...


THERE IS no such thing as a "smart bomb." The two words contradict one another. Pilots do not really "deliver" bombs, nor do their "ordnances" simply "neutralize" their targets or cause some kind of abstract "collateral damage" to them. Bombs do not hit "facilities."

Missiles do not "cruise;" luxury liners do. Missiles are not "patriots;" people are.

Soldiers are not really "deployed" to battle areas; the weapons available to the soldiers are not actually "assets."

War is not a "campaign;" thus, "projections" and "speculations" made on the basis of "bomb damage assessment" do no apply.

War is not really "staged" in a "theater." The effectiveness of bombs is not judged by their "performance."

War is not a game. It does not have a "game plan" and cannot be discussed with a "play-by-play" analysis. Thus, cliches like "at this point in the game" and "going the whole nine yards" are inappropriate to describing war. No one really "wins" a war.

"Wild weasels," "hornets" and "tomcats" are animals, not fighter jets.

Radar cannot be "engaged;" chemical warfare cannot be "married" to ballistic missile heads.

"Carpet bombing" does not provide a soft, plush ground cover. A "sortie" is not a Nintendo-like "mission" which simply produces "precision gun camera video footage" and "forecloses the ability of the enemy to respond."

"Operation Desert Storm" is not a medical procedure. Nor is it a series of "operations" made up of more or less "clean surgical" strikes which may result in a "relatively bloodless victory," which may, unfortunately, entail some "trauma," "future operational details" notwithstanding.

Terrorists are not "operatives." The phrase "professional terorist organizations" is a self-contradiction. The phrase "indiscriminate terrorism" erroneously implies that less harmful, "discriminating" terrorists also exist.


Nearly 50 years ago, George Orwell wrote that "political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible" and that "the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language." On a more hopeful note, however, he added that "one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end."

Since Orwell's writing, the weapons of war and their power to destroy human life have multiplied almost unimaginably. Disguising and sanitizing our war language obscures the terrifying reality of war and distances us from its horrible consequences -- so much so that we are actually able to feel an initial euphoria over our efforts. In turn, from the vantage point of our verbal safety net, we do not so much mind allowing the horror to continue and even to escalate.

In reality, war is never anything better than a "necessary evil." In war, human beings use weapons to destroy one another. People experience hideous pain and even death in the tragic, bloody carnage that war brings. We need to know this naked truth; even more important, however, we need to acknowledge it if we are ever to bring about the end of warfare on Earth.

Margaret L. Benner teaches at Towson State University.

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