Saturday, June 02, 2012

Killing by another name...

Newsweek's current issue knows how to get the reader's attention with the cover headline "How Obama Learned to Kill," but somehow the article inside goes all wobbly when it comes to describing the president's ordering death sentences in the Middle East.

In the Newsweek story we learn that Anwar al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico and ringleader of terrorists in Yemen, isn't "killed" at all in an American missile attack.

He is "eliminated."

To parse the difference, "killing" is what the president and our government did; "elimination" is what happened to al-Awlaki. It's similar to the difference between using the active and passive voice.

Obama ordered the killing of Al-Awlaki. (Active)

Al-awlaki was eliminated. (Passive...we don't know who did the eliminating). By the way, professional basketball teams are "eliminated" from tournaments. So far, none has been killed.

George Orwell in his classic essay "Politics and the English Language" wrote, "... political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness." One example he uses reads like front page news. "Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called 'pacification'."

Well, actually, it is now called "elimination" and we use robotic drones to do the dirty work, but you get the point. "Pacification" is what we had in Vietnam, 15 years after Orwell's death. Today it is "elimination" and it takes place in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and Afghanistan. Tomorrow, no doubt,  our government will be eliminating in Iran.

There's more Orwellian mind-twisting in the Newsweek story, much of it created by our government's "intelligence" strategists. Drones are sent to "eliminate" "signature" targets — those that bear the "signature" of being terrorist gatherings. Never mind that weddings and harmless tribal meetings have the same "signature." Willy-nilly, the signatures of those attending invite death warrants.

They become "collateral damage."

As Orwell notes, "...every such phrase anesthetizes a portion of one's brain."

One could easily extend the anesthetizing metaphor to our military, political, industrial, communications culture today. Indeed, the language we choose to use, to read and listen to anesthetize us all.

Orwell went on to write about such a society in his classic "1984." It's worth reading and rereading.

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