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When soldiers die, the politicians who sent them to their deaths typically use euphemisms and circumlocutions -- like "lost," "fallen," or "ultimate sacrifice." On one level, the avoidance of blunt language can be seen as a sign of respect, but on another, it is just one more evasion of responsibility for the snuffing out of young lives.
There has been unusually wide (and for the most part supportive) reaction to my article of August 8 (They Died in Vain: Deal With It) on the killing of 30 American troops when their helicopter was shot down over Afghanistan on the night of the 6th. One website posting the article clocked 181 comments; scanning through them, I found many substantive, helpful ones.
Let me share one telling comment, which seemed to me particularly -- if sadly -- apt:
"Two lemmings are chatting while standing in the line to the cliff. One says to the other, 'Of course we have to go over the edge. Anything else would dishonor all the lemmings that have gone before us.'"
And so it goes, thought I, with our Lemming-in-Chief (LIC)
Barack Obama ... and those who lemmingly follow him.
The President's and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's words
about the 30 dead soldiers, including members of the elite Seal Team 6, were
very carefully chosen. But they bore the telltale earmarks of "the Lemming
"We will honor the fallen by showing our unyielding
determination to press ahead ... to move forward with the hard work," said Panetta
on Aug. 8.
That same day, President Obama also stressed how "our troops
will continue the hard work ... We will press on." There was also subdued talk
from both leaders about how the troops were "lost."
Gosh, I thought, I did not know that the 30 U.S. troops were
just "lost" or that they had simply "fallen." Sounds like maybe we can still
find them and help them get up -- when the hard truth is that they're dead.
Similarly, persistent use of "helicopter crash" seems to be a
deliberate attempt to hide the hard reality that it was a rocket-propelled
grenade that downed the helicopter and that this is why the troops ended up
"fallen." The anodyne language helps soft-pedal the fact that Afghans who don't
like American troops making middle-of-the-night raids all over their country
have access to RPGs capable of downing aircraft.
These angry Afghans are usually described as "militants" or,
in a sad reflection on the primitive level of the conversation on the war,
simply as "the bad guys."
Perhaps others of my (Vietnam) generation are hearing what I
am hearing as background music -- the plaintive lyrics of the song, "When Will
They Ever Learn?"
More evocative of such times -- then and now -- are the words Pete Seeger put to music during a large lemming infestation 44 years ago:
"We were neck-deep in the Big Muddy, and the big fool said to push on." Pete Seeger, 1967