The Language of War

Suddenly, the U.S. media has become blunt in its rhetoric about war. So too have U.S. leaders. We hear constantly of war crimes and war criminals, even of genocide and mass graves. The criminals, of course, are exclusively Russian, or so the media says.

Yet when U.S. leaders are talking about their actions, the language of war is very different, and words like “crime” and “genocide” are never heard. Perhaps this post from six years ago may serve as a reminder of the pliability of America’s language of war.

Bracing Views

languageW.J. Astore

The language of war fascinates me.  I was reading President Obama’s response to Donald Trump on whether Obama “gets it” when it comes to the threat of terrorism and came across this passage:

“Someone [Donald Trump] seriously thinks that we don’t know who we are fighting? If there is anyone out there who thinks we are confused about who our enemies are — that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists who we have taken off the battlefield.”

That’s such a curious phrase: “terrorists who we have taken off the battlefield.”  As if the United States has simply evacuated them or relocated them instead of killing them.

I think the distancing effect of air power has something to do with this euphemistic language.  The U.S. military “takes people off the battlefield” rather than killing them, blowing them up, and so on.  Obama’s personality may…

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23 thoughts on “The Language of War

  1. The U.S. government does the same thing with another now favored term: rules-based order. Sounds reasonable, as it’s meant to suggest “international law.” The resulting question of course is who makes the rules, and we know the answer to that.

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  2. “… taken off the battlefield” reinforces the idea that the way we wage war – unlike everyone else in the world – is a chess match, just like we’re constantly reminded football is. The analogy is as clear as a button hook in a bucket of well water. Yet another tie-in between the NFL and the military, as if another were needed.

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    1. Yes. We use “surgical strikes” with drones, they have suicide bombers. They use mercenaries, we use contractors. It comes down to good guys vs bad guys. “Tactical nuclear device” (good guys), “dirty bomb” (bad guys). The list goes on. Terrorist attacks vs righteous SEAL team operation.

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      1. When the US took the idea of a “dirty bomb” turned it into a reality in their arsenal, reading about it put me into a state of Apoplexy. the language of a Dirty Bomb sounded so UN-American so the name was changed to the innocuous sounding Neutron Bomb. The the US was going to stockpile some in it’s War Chest in 1974. I didn’t even believe in the Goodness of God at that Time.

        I was totally incensed the “good guys” as the Leaders of the Free World, were the ones who conceived the diabolical anti-human device, turning it into a reality. The very notion of it is repugnant to anyone recognizing the Dignity of the Person and the Evil of War. The Neutron Bomb exposed War for what it is, a racket!

        When it explodes, there’s a small area of material destruction so the most of the War Loot is not destroyed. The Evil it does do is unleash into the atmosphere, specially “enhanced” filthy dirty Nuclear Radiation, so only the People in the area will die a slow, torturous Death.

        I talked to my immediate circle for friends that we have to speak out against this evil device until I was blue in the Face. They didn’t care, and it meant nothing to their Social Life as it was so long ago when the Future looked Bright, compared to how the Present Future World looks for us all?


  3. My favorite is a “barrel bomb” !
    A flying IED not employed by the good guys!
    Scary man!
    Does much more damage for half the cost of our high tech bombs!
    And of course ours do no collateral damage like these uncontrolled bombs these do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dennis, thanks for posting a video of George. Whenever I need perspective, I always look for something he recorded. His “Why Education Sucks” should be required listening.


      1. An old Air Force friend of mine was a Big Fan of George and met him backstage after his Concert back in the day. He presented to George a Latch Hook Rug likeness of himself framed George sai
        d in perfect George Deadpan style “Oh great something for Dog to piss on!”

        Liked by 1 person

    2. tnx den; tanksful of hilarities from the inimitable george carlin! we have no TV, so i’ve been relying on you to keep these internet spots coming our way to the philippines from your notable perch in new zealand. we anticipate all you offer w/ great and glad-filled glee.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good afternoon Jeanie. Funny you should use the word “perch”.
        Here in New Zealand we use the phrase “to fall off ones perch” – to die! LOL
        Where were you born?
        Where exactly do you live in the Philippines? I want to Google Maps it.
        I live in Palmerston North. Was born in New Zealand. But lived and worked in Seattle for 41-years.
        Did you know your population density in the Philippines is over 800-people/ sq. mile. In New Zealand its about 50-people per square mile!


        1. apologies 1st to wja, for commandeering his blog to pass along personal edifications, den. to reply to your q’s: i was birthed in north conway, new hampshire in 1941, the 2nd of 6 bairns, my father was a VMD [dr. of veterinary medicine] who practiced both small and large animal medicine in new hampshire and maine. my mother was a teacher. my husband [82] and i retired to the philippines in 2014, following my final assignment on the island of grenada.

          we lived along the south china seacoast in central luzon for 2 years, then deracinated in 2016 to our present ecesis on the north central coast of mindoro island, located along the shores of the verde island passage. we live in the baranguy of balatero, west of puerto galera and east of aninuan. if you would like to share additional personal info i urge you to contact me at .

          decades ago, seattle was considered a fairly liberal refugium for anti-vietnam war iconoclasts, but after its maculation by such corporate behemoths as boeing and microsoft, i suspect it has long since abandoned that truncated status and has transmogrified into a principality for the elite.

          yes, the population densities in the major cities of manila, cebu city, and davao city are more insufferable than cairo’s, kathmandu’s, phnom penh’s, amman’s, vancouver’s, kuala lumpur’s, tokyo’s, montreal’s, freetown’s, mexico city’s, and other urban areas we were compelled to endure during our international contract work. indeed, the philippines is a catholic country, still devoted to the pope… over 110 million citizens now. however, we were ‘beatified’ [to borrow from the suborned and regnant ecclesiastical lexicon i abhor] to have uncovered thru one of our son’s contacts, this rusticated, tranquil, non-congested outpost on the jungled slopes of mindoro’s north coast.

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          1. ooops, i just noticed that wja’s site automatically eliminated the email address i gave you from my reply in the comments section, den. how then can i pass it along? new zealand is in close enough proximity that it is w/in the realm of possibility for us to host you on mindoro island!


  4. I highly recommend the BBC six-part series The Death of Yugoslavia which tells the story of the grab for power, the hope for a peaceful settlement, of easily stoked nationalism even on a small scale, and the rush for a solution by the European community and the US in contrast to the eagerness to perpetuate the Ukrainian disaster. There is so much in this series that is educational, it’s a must-see.


  5. I agree that the euphemisms and evasion employed by Obama et. al. are distasteful, even dishonest, but the swaggering, uber-macho BS spewed by Bush/Cheney is even more revolting.


  6. Further Thoughts on Lincoln, Slavery, and, especially, Secession raised in the recent “War and Weapons Are Strictly Business” post

    Whether Lincoln’s attitude toward Slavery changed over the course of the Civil War is subject to historians’ debates.

    However, his thinking about Secession definitely changed from what he said in his January 12, 1848 speech as a freshman Congressman on America’s first international imperialist adventure, its War with Mexico:

    “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right—a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.”

    In his first Inaugural Address thirteen years later, however, he declared: “I hold that, in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the union of these States is perpetual… . It follows….that no state, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void; and that acts of violence, within any state or states, against the authority of the united states, are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances. I, therefore, consider that, in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken.”

    Later that year, he added: “The States have their status in the Union, and they have NO OTHER LEGAL STATUS. If they break from this they can only do so against law and by revolution.”

    To see how this directly contradicted Jefferson, Madison, and virtually all of the Founding Fathers, see “The Real Lincoln: An Unconstitutional Dictator” at .


  7. Starting with smerconish of CNN Friday, I tweeted this same Message to all the major CNN & MSNBC talking heads, from Wolf Blitzer to Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Daughter on MSNBC with morning Joe.

    Only Time will tell if it had the desired effect on any one of the many recipients?

    Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained! What guarantees does anyone have in this Material World, beyond the Eternal Sabbath called TODAY?

    @smerconish Michael, it is Risky but Principled, to go against your employer’s proscribed for TV War Narrative, now the 5th Horseman of the Apocalypse. As a Human Resident of Earth, in the recesses of your mind, you know this Title is True.


  8. Apparently the word “wasting” is not language to be allowed in referring to weapons of war.

    “A Department of Defense Inspector General report on the Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) program reveals potentially billions in waste.

    The Pentagon audit found, “IVAS program officials did not define minimum user acceptance levels to determine whether IVAS would meet user needs. This occurred because Army policy did not require program officials to define suitable user acceptance levels. Procuring IVAS without attaining user acceptance could result in wasting up to $21.88 billion in taxpayer funds to field a system that Soldiers may not want to use or use as intended.”

    In the Redacted Report released to the public the word “wasted” was removed and rewritten.

    Douglas Bush, the assistant secretary for Army acquisition, responded to the Auditors report by demanding it be rewritten and the word “wasting” removed. “This is fundamentally flawed and inflammatory ….. and must be removed or rewritten…………the word ‘wasting’ must be removed. It is a biased word, intended to illicit an emotionally negative belief in a fictional outcome, without fact or proof.”

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