The Corner

English and Iraq

If one were against the U.S. effort in Iraq, , then one would do the following with the English language:

Always use the passive voice: “Violence was unleashed”, “Fifteen Iraqis were killed”, “More casualties arise from spreading brutality”-anything other than naming an active agent that might suggest one culpable party–the -ex-Baathists and Muslim jihadists who blow up, shoot, gas, behead, and torture their enemies and innocents daily.

Always use the word “civil war” as in “We are caught in a civil war” or “We have no business in a civil war.” And when called on its imprecise usage, retreat to lofty platitudes like “I won’t quibble over a mere term when thousands die” or “Call it what you will, thousands still die” or “This is a stupid debate.”

But a civil war — two clearly defined sides, each striving to seize power, with antithetical ideologies and agendas — is hardly Iraq, where Sunni tribal elders, Shiite clerics, an elected government, and coalition forces all try to stop 10,000 or so nihilists from murdering so barbarously that they incite a backlash from Shiite gangs or a general sense of hopelessness among the population at large that both loathes and is fearful of these terrorists. There is a reason that histories of the Civil War have a special chapter on Quantrill with the assorted specialized vocabulary like “raiders,” “outlaw,” “bushwacker,” “Jayhawker.” What culminated in Lawrence, Kansas — arson, shooting of civilians, settling grudges, targeted assassinations, and general mayhem — was something different from Grant, Lee, etc.

Avoid the word “jihadist,” and especially “murderer” or “terrorist.”

Prefer “militant,” “gunman,” or “insurgent” — any term that disconnects suicide murderers and jihadists from what they exist for (to kill).

It is much worse, after all, for a Marine to kill a “gunman” or “militant” or an “insurgent” than a “terrorist” , “jihadist” or “murderer.”

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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