Killer Euphemisms

Syria has fallen out of the news as of late, but I fear it will make headlines again soon. And when it does... let the euphemisms fly! I don't purport to be anywhere near smart enough to make world-changing decisions with regard to the use of chemical weapons or how to remove them from the hands of people who shouldn't have them. That is a hard call. I don't believe any country, including America, should have access to evil in a spray can, but like I said, I am not as smart as I probably ought to be in order to make a cogent argument for this.

I am smart enough, however, to recognize a euphemism when I hear one, and I can't stop thinking about "boots on the ground." During those days of back and forth debate on how to respond to Assad's heinous use of poison on innocent citizens including children, President Obama promised there would be no "boots on the ground." This was supposed to reassure me. But I am not easily reassured by this phrase. Each time I heard it I envisioned a movie screen upon which thousands of soldiers were running through muck and all you could see were their boots... faceless, nameless young men and women running from something horrific toward something else horrific. We all watch war movies like this. And afterward we go out for burgers and fries.

"Boots on the ground" is a very catchy phrase. "Placing young men and women who may have graduated from high school as recently as last year in the line of fire when all they want is an education they can afford and an opportunity to serve," doesn't trill off the tongue quite as elegantly.

Referring to fresh-faced young people with their whole lives ahead of them as "boots on the ground" is depersonalization of the worst kind and it minimizes their sacrifice. Referring to a mother and child who die on their way to the market as "collateral" damage is equally unsettling. I know the word "theater" can be used in numerous ways, but I hate the words, "the theater of war." To me, the theater is a sacred place where people are educated and enlightened and entertained. It's a place where we become better at understanding the human condition, a place where we can learn compassion. How dare anyone defame that word by associating it with the worst that humankind has to offer.

And what about "surgical strike?" Is there anything about killing people that can reasonably be equated with surgery? Surgery is supposed to heal us. "Enhanced interrogation" means torture. And need I even mention the absurdity of the phrase "friendly fire?"

Euphemisms have been called Novocaine for the conscience. But Novocaine is used for toothaches and mole removal. We have become so desensitized to war over the last several decades I'd say we're long past the Novocaine days. We're all under general anesthesia.

Please don't "boots on the ground" me. I'm too smart to fall for that.