Talk, Questions, Silence, Grammar


How to Talk a Good War

There was never a good war or a bad peace.

- Benjamin Franklin

by David Rowan

Blowback (sl) - CIA slang for that upsetting tendency by regimes they've supported to turn hostile.  Didn't they back bin Laden against the Russians?  Didn't they put Saddam into power?  Some people are never grateful.

Bunker buster (sl, mil) - Military slang for huge GBU-28 bombs.

Collateral damage (euph) - A military euphemism for unplanned casualties, such as UN officials or refugees.  It was also the unfortunate title of Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest movie - whose release was been indefinitely postponed.  (Some good, then, comes out of "war.")

Crawl (n) - What TV networks call the news ticker at the bottom of the screen.  Popularised by CNN, it spread fast.

First casualty (phr) - The first cliche of war.  Under the Geneva Convention, every columnist is obliged to begin at least one article with the phrase "If truth is the first casualty of war ..."  Eventually, the enemy can stand no more and surrenders.

FOF (n) - A Friend-Of-a-Friend, who told you about the Arab who warned them not to go to Oxford Street/Birmingham/Watford on a specific day.  All urban legends need a credible enough source.  So be sceptical next time you hear about an FOF.

Folks (n, pl) - Terrorists, in President Bush's initial definition (as in "those folks who committed this act").  He then went on to thank "all the folks who have been fighting hard to rescue our fellow citizens", which must have really confused al Qaeda's translation department.

Hawla (n) - The paperless financial network that Al Qaeda uses to transfer money abroad.  Hawla, from the Hindi for "in trust", relies on handing over cash to murky strangers - rather like investing in Railtrack.

Kill boxes (n, pl) - US military jargon for special zones where aircraft can shoot at any "military targets" they like.  Ideally they will avoid collateral damage (qv).

MREs (mil sl) - The yellow food packs snowdropped over war zones: Meals Ready to Eat, in US military slang.  Soldiers dismiss them as "Meals Rejected by Ethiopians".

OMEA (adj) People "Of Middle Eastern Appearance", in the shorthand of the law-enforcers targeting them with "racial profiling".  In other words, if you're dark or bearded, you're off the plane.

PsyOps (n, mil) - Psychological operations - the military effort to sway hearts and minds, by dropping radios, leaflets and other propaganda tools.  It's part of the military's "perceptions management" programme - the release of selective information (OK, lies) to change how the enemy thinks.

Shutter control (n, mil) - The Pentagon's power to censor images from civilian satellites for "national security" reasons (that is, they might show collateral damage).  Last week, the US decided not to ban pictures - instead, it simply bought them up.

Snowdropping (sl) - How the UN refers to military's food drops.  Snowdropping, it says, will merely lead children into minefields.  Now how grateful is that for the gift of 100,000 moist towelettes?

Steganography (n) - The hiding of secret messages within text or images such as computer graphics.  It's one of the ways al Qaeda is said to be communicating.  If you look very closely.

Terrorism (n) - Something that does not exist, according to Reuters, which last month banned the word's use in case it offended certain groups.  Apologies, then, for any offence this entry may have inadvertently caused.

Targeting process error (euph, mil) - What causes US bombs to hit residential neighbourhoods, according to a military spokesman.  Collateral damage (qv), then.

Source: October 2001 © Associated Newspapers Limited

Is Questioning War Naïve?

by Tim Wise

To hear those who support war, those of us who doubt the likely efficacy of such campaigns, and who question their fundamental morality are not only insufficiently patriotic but dangerously naïve.  Lampooning the left for adhering to simplistic slogans such as "violence begets violence," self-proclaimed pragmatists insist that sometimes massive force is necessary and, in the case of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, little else could possibly serve to diminish the threat of terrorist attack.

It takes me back, all this self-assured confidence in the value of preemptive assault.  To 1986 in particular, when a co-worker of mine insisted that although our bombing of Libya had failed to kill Colonel Quadafi, that by killing his daughter we had nonetheless served the cause of peace.  After all, said my co-worker, she was destined to become a terrorist someday, so better to kill her before she grew.  That others might be able to apply the same logic to Americans - who, after all, could grow up to be Elliot Abrams - was lost on her, as she was convinced the world had been made safer that day.

Of course, come to find out that Libya had not been involved in the terrorist incident for which we claimed to be attacking them, but why bother with details?  And of course, just two years after my colleague insisted that our assault on Libya had made us safer, 259 people in a plane over Lockerbie, Scotland - and 11 more on the ground there - learned how dangerously ignorant such faith really was.  They as it turned out became the victims of actual Libyan terrorists enraged by the previous US attack on their country.

All this talk of what's naïve and what is realistic has seemed to be nothing if not bizarre.  It's as if words no longer have their original meanings, or perhaps mean the opposite of what one might otherwise think.  So to be realistic means to believe that bombing one of the poorest nations on Earth will not only reduce terrorism, but also fail to ignite a new round of anti-American fanaticism.  To be naïve, on the other hand, is to pay attention to modern history, which tells us in no uncertain terms that bombing people is rather likely to fuel their anger, resentment, and desire for revenge.

To be realistic is to think that pummeling two nations - Afghanistan and Iraq - will have some appreciable effect on the thugs in al-Qaeda, despite the fact that the group operates in 64 countries including many allies whom we have no intention of bombing.  To be naïve is to point out that terrorists aren't reliant on one, or even several countries to operate, and as such, we could eradicate every member in one country tomorrow without delaying by so much as a day any future attacks on our shores.

To be realistic is to believe our government officials when they insist they have proof of bin Laden's involvement in the 9/11 attacks or proof that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.  To be naïve is to wonder how an intelligence community that completely missed the signs of impending disaster, could be so sure, so soon, of who did the thing that they had no idea was coming in the first place.  And the WMD?  Well...

To be really naïve, I guess, would be to think that perhaps they might be lying.  Forget that that's exactly what they did so as to justify bombing Quadafi, and what they did when the CIA announced that armed Libyans were roaming the streets of America, planning to assassinate Ronald Reagan.  And it's what they did when they claimed the Soviets were building a military base in Grenada, or that the Sandinistas in Nicaragua were running drugs (actually it was our guys, the contras, who were doing that).  And it's what they did when they decided to dub a certain band of fanatics known as the Mujahadeen, "freedom fighters."

To be realistic is to say things like "all they respect is force."  To be naïve is to point out that the force we have demonstrated over the years by our support for Israel, or bombing and sanctions against Iraq, led not to something so kind as respect for us, but rather to a willingness to slaughter as many Americans as possible.  If this is how al-Qaeda shows respect, I shudder to think what disdain must look like.

To be realistic is to say, "we tried peace and peace failed."  To be naïve is to ask when, exactly, did the US try peace: in the region, in Afghanistan or in Iraq?  Was it when we were selling Stinger missiles to the Muj, so as to help them fight the Soviets?  Or was it after, when we left the nation in ruins, unconcerned about helping rebuild so long as the Russians had fled?  Or was it when we cosied up to the Taliban because they promised to crack down on opium cultivation, using the time-honored anti-crime techniques of extremist Islam?

To be realistic is to insist that nations harboring terrorists must be brought to justice.  To be naïve is to note that a) we aren't really serious about that - after all, many nations that do so are our coalition partners and b) by that standard, any number of nations would have the right to attack us.  After all, we have harbored and even taught terrorists and death squad leaders at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.  We have harbored known Cuban terrorists in Miami.  We even gave a tax exemption for several years to a neo-Nazi "church" affiliated with the National Alliance, whose leader has called for worldwide racial cleansing, whose words are credited with inspiring Timothy McVeigh, and whose members have committed bombings, murders and armed robberies across the country.

To be realistic is to believe that Afghans and Iraqis will be impressed by our packets of peanut butter, dropped from airplanes, and that they will thank us, and view us as their beneficent saviors.  To be naïve is to point out that the food drops - according to relief agencies - are insufficient to meet need, especially since our bombing has aggravated the refugee crisis to staggering proportions.  To be naïve to the point of disloyalty, would, I suppose, be to ask whether or not American soldiers in Pearl Harbor would have felt better about the bombing of December 7, 1941, had the Japanese pilots made a second run to drop sushi and edamame.

And yet I have no doubt that many of these American warlords will continue to go to church - those who call themselves Christians - and sing praises to someone whose teachings run completely counter to everything they are now doing.  But hey - King, Ghandi, Jesus: what did they know?  Dreamers all of them: naïve, simplistic, innocent, and not nearly as informed or clear-headed as say, Donald Rumsfeld, or Stephen Ambrose, or Tom Clancy, or White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Even more disturbing than the uniformity with which conservatives have labelled dissenters un-American and unrealistic (which at least is to be expected), is the rapidity with which quite a few progressives have accepted the need for, and ultimate propriety of war.

Again, maybe it's just me.  Or maybe it's 1984, and War Is Peace, and Slavery Is Freedom, and Ignorance Is Strength.  Or maybe all that is just bullshit, being served up on a silver platter, while the servers tell us it's really Goose Liver Pate.  It reminds me of something my Grandma once said: "You can call your ass a turkey, but that doesn't make it Thanksgiving."  Likewise, you can call a war just, and the rest of us naïve, but that won't make it so.

Tim Wise is a writer, activist and antiracism educator.  He can be reached at

Source: October 2001 (revised June 2003)

Improper Attitude?

Improper Prounoun

In your 8 October story "A New Reality Dawns for NJ Muslims," an Egyptian-born Wallington resident, commenting on the US bombing of Afghanistan, said, "They didn't have any reason to attack."

I thought for a minute about who "they" were and realised that "they" were us, "they" were America.  I am appalled that people living in America, and enjoying the freedoms America affords them, are still unwilling to consider themselves a part of us, a part of America.

In this crucial time, it is imperative that Americans come together and remain together.  I hope that this person merely failed to grasp the proper pronoun and that he meant to say "we" instead of "they."

Don Costagna
Queens NY

Source: The Star-Ledger [Morristown NJ edition] Thursday 25 October 2001

When the terrorist were living in Florida learning to fly, were "they" "us"?  Some distinctions seem too petty to be made.  I'd worry about something more important myself.

For articles on bioterrorism, patriotism enforcers, airport security, children in war, McCarthyism, humanitarian killing, Voice of America, pipelines, truth, lessons, anthrax, hatred and pain click the "Up" button below to take you to the Index page for this War on Terrorism section.

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