Language and War
It’s been decided that Joe Carter will write his post first, after which I will respond to it in a new post here at the League. In the meantime, I’d like to draw attention to a recent blog post by my friend Barry Eisler, a former covert agent of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and the bestselling author of a series of politically-oriented thrillers. Eisler has been extraordinarily helpful to me in editing my upcoming book and helping to get it placed with the right publisher; he was also nice enough to assist me in trying to get the attention of National Review editor Rich Lowry after I had written an article for Vanity Fair defending my colleague Michael Hastings from an attack Lowry had written on the fellow in the wake of the McChrystal affair (Lowry ignored us, of course). He’s also been of understandable assistance on such occasions when I’m in need of expert analysis on intelligence issues such as those involved in the ongoing conflict between Wikileaks and the various obsolete nation-states, including our own, that are long overdue for overthrow and replacement by a series of technocratic entities making use of the altered informational environment that has come over the past two decades.
The post in question relates to an op-ed written by former CIA deputy director of operations Jack Devine, who argues in The Washington Post that the U.S. has been insufficiently violent in its fight against Islamic militancy. Eisler takes rightful issue with the terminology in which Devine seeks to present his preferred plan of action:
Devine’s reasoning degenerates further as he plows on. He argues that if “elements within the Pakistani government [are] an impediment to [bin Laden’s] capture, we should forget about nation-building in Afghanistan and, like Sherman marching across Georgia during the Civil War, march our army across eastern Afghanistan, pressing forward even into Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier, and continue the march until we capture him.”…… If we were talking about individuals, I believe Devine’s approach would be known as executing a hostage. At the national level, I don’t know how to describe a threat to destroy Country A in order to punish Country B other than to call it state terrorism…One of my favorite aspects of Devine’s piece is his linguistic dexterity. Not once does he use the word “invade” or any derivation thereof. Instead, we will simply “march” and “press forward” and “continue.” Euphemisms, Orwellian doublespeak, and other such mealymouthedness are hallmarks of this species of op-ed because they serve to conceal the naked brutality of the author’s proposal. It would be much more difficult for the Devines of the world to call for “destroying” or “invading” Pakistan, or “burning it to the ground.”