The euphemisms we use say much about us as a society.
They point out what makes us uncomfortable and help us ignore unpleasant things.
Nine Iraqi police officers were killed Sept. 12 in a “friendly fire” incident, and more than 105 American soldiers have died in “non-combat operations” throughout the war and subsequent occupation.
Though it is encouraging that these things bother us, at times like these we must be more willing to confront the meaning of these phrases so as not to dismiss them.
The term “friendly fire” may conjure images of accidentally shooting a teammate while playing paintball, but when applied to warfare its meaning is a bit different.
It is doubtful the American soldiers, Iraqi police and civilians that died in “non-hostile incidents” and “friendly fire” found anything particularly friendly or even non hostile about it.
Another popular euphemism, one that has been in the headlines ever since the invasion, has been “collateral damage.” This phrase is particularly bothersome to me. It seems the focus is on property damage rather than innocent lives lost.
“Webster’s Dictionary” defines damage as “harm or injury to property or a person.” When people die, this is not damage. It’s death. Referring to death as damage cheapens lives.
When a farmer’s cattle dies, that is damage. When a human being dies, that is death.
When people die prematurely as the result of another person’s actions, they have been killed.
Another term originating from warfare, though applicable elsewhere, is “post-traumatic stress syndrome”.
This sterile piece of vocabulary has evolved from the “shellshock” of World War I that many soldiers contracted after their ordeals in the trenches. “Shellshock,” however, was too unpleasant for our everyday use.
The term paints a very negative image in one’s mind: one of someone huddled in a trench with bombs are exploding around them and bullets sprayed everywhere.
When World War II came along, we started calling the phenomenon “combat fatigue.”
It’s much more comforting, but hearing it still evokes too much emotion from the listener.
But during the Vietnam conflict, it finally reached the final stage in its evolution by being referred to as “post-traumatic stress syndrome,” a term that has nothing to do with fighting or war.
Perhaps the most extreme euphemism in the Iraqi war was the name we gave to the endeavor itself: “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
This war was never about the humanitarian situation in Iraq, and if we were to begin policing the world there are much better places to start.
After all, what better way to free somebody than to kill them?
Maybe the administration sensed the uneasiness of the American people in engaging in a “preemptive strike,” another euphemism, meaning we are the aggressors.
Perhaps the administration feared its reasons for attacking Iraq would not hold up over time, and having a backup reason seemed necessary.
Kyle Wind can be reached at Temple_News@hotmail.com