Saturday, May 14, 2005

I LOVE THE LANGUAGE OF WAR. Here is one description of the 7-day invasion by 1000 U.S. Marines in western Iraq, near the Syrian border:

The U.S. military wrapped up a major offensive in a remote desert region near the Syrian border Saturday, saying it had cleaned out the insurgent haven and killed more than 125 militants during the weeklong campaign against followers of Iraq's most wanted terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Cleaned out. Like you clean a house. And why do you clean a house? Because it's dirty, of course. And the insurgent haven was cleaned out for the same reason. Because it was dirty. The insurgents were the dirt. Well, listen. Who wouldn't want to get rid of dirt? If the insurgents are dirt, no one has to feel bad about killing them. They're not people. They're dirt.

Here's another description, from the same article, about the "successful operation."

The U.S. military said the seven-day operation "neutralized" an insurgent sanctuary.

My American Heritage dictionary says that "neutralize" in this context means "to remove as a threat, especially by killing." But "neutralize" has an innocuous, harmless sound to it. It masks the reality of 125 human beings shot up and bombed to death, bloody and mutilated, with flies crawling all over their bodies. Are you feeling disgusted by my words? That's the reality of war. And that's why the military uses words like "neutralize." They're being considerate. They don't want to disgust anybody.

And then there is the language designed to deny that a military operation powerful enough to destroy an insurgent "sanctuary," kill 125 men, and injure what the AP report calls "many more," might also be terrifying to local residents as well as dangerous to their health, and even, maybe, lethal. This schizophrenic split that makes war simultaneously deadly to the ones we call the "enemy" and harmless to the ones we call "local residents" creates bizarre inversions of logic like this one:

Thousands fled the area during the offensive, pitching flimsy tents along sand-blown desert highways or seeking shelter in schools and mosques in nearby towns.

The military denied resident reports that they had been without water and electricity in some areas since the offensive began.

"Throughout the course of the operation, Marines strove to ensure the well-being of the local Iraqi citizens," the statement said. "According to commanders in the area, the Marines were greeted with greater hospitality from local villagers than is normally encountered."

The military, in "denying resident reports," is implicitly acknowledging that the reports themselves are real. In other words, the military agrees that residents reported they had no water or electricity, but denies the truth of those reports. At the same time, the same statement from the military is saying that the local residents were friendlier and more hospitable to the Marines than is usually the case. So here is the split: How can it be true that local residents complained of being without electricity and hot water (putting aside the issue of whether those complaints were truthful); and also true that local residents were quite hospitable to the Marines? Also, that line about the Marines "striving to ensure the well-being of the local Iraqi citizens" comes off as total bullshit. An invading force of 1000 Marines engaging in fierce combat involving firefights, F-18 fighter jets, rockets, and bombs, rolling their tanks in an endless line through tiny villages, terrifying the residents so much that they flee their homes by the thousands: This is the polar opposite of ensuring the well-being of anyone within miles of it. If the Marines were "striving to ensure the well-being of the local Iraqi citizens," why did the sight of their tanks rolling through their villages send "frightened villagers scurrying into their homes"? If local Iraqis' well-being was being nicely looked after, then why was it that "[t]housands fled the area during the offensive, pitching flimsy tents along sand-blown desert highways or seeking shelter in schools and mosques in nearby towns"?

These are some of the questions I should be quite pleased to have answered in the military's next statement.

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