We have a duty to be honest and rigorous, with ourselves and with others, and to be able to brook contradiction and argument in our discussions of past wars and the present one in Afghanistan. But instead, in today's Canada, we have arrived at a point where the use of any language that is not euphemistic is greeted as an assault on the work of soldiers, on a singular view of our past, and therefore on the character of the nation itself. Ideology thrives. History hardly comes into it.
. . . .
Among the traditional words and phrases prone to high diction that [Paul] Fussell [author of The Great War in Modern Memory] lists are:
Earnestly brave... gallant
Cheerfully brave... plucky
Bravery considered after the fact... valour...
Not to complain is to be... manly
A soldier is a... warrior
The legs and arms of young men are... limbs
The dead on the battlefield are... fallen
The object of deliberate semantic confusion behind these turns of phrase is familiar to anyone who has followed the reporting on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such deftly evasive and ultimately propagandistic terms have only proliferated over the course of a century in which mass communications have been on the rise and the best fightback of government needing to dampen the emotive effect of war's bloody truths spreading via newspapers, then radio, television and the Internet, has been to control words and images, and to the extent that is is able, the media that proffer then.
The first Gulf War and the earlier one in Vietnam added to the deflecting lexicon greatly, even before the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Collateral damage, a euphemism believed to have originated in the Vietnam War, is probably the most notorious of these terms. . . Friendly fire is another stellar euphemism (and one that has acquired a particular resonance in Canada) that describes the inadvertent shooting of one's own troops.
. . . An appendix to Fussell's list, easily added to after a trawl of the Web, would include these and others terms accumulated over the course of the Vietnam, Gulf and Afghanistan wars:
Torture... enhanced interrogation
Torture by interrupted drowning... waterboarding
Bomb... soften up
The use of preponderant force against an enemy interspersed with a civilian, usually rural, population... asymmetric warfare
Lethal precision bombing... surgical strike
Journalists who cover a conflict in the prescribed company of armed forces and according to strict rules of censorship... embedded
Sending terrorism suspects to states that practise torture... extraordinary rendition
Popular uprising... insurgency
Escalation of a war going badly... mission creep
Government overthrow... regime change
noah richler on the language of war propaganda, and the dishonesty of present ideology
From Noah Richler's What We Talk About When We Talk About War: