Sunday, March 04, 2007

Dick Cavett on bellicose vocabulary

I was thrilled when I found out that Dick Cavett was writing a blog on Times Select. His weblog posts have ranges in topic from the English Language to ghosts, to anecdotes about the Marx brothers. His latest post blew me away. What My Uncle Knew About War (subscription required) is a blend of English Language and anti-war posts. He tells of his uncle Bill, a WWII veteran.

The phrase Bill hated most was “gave his life.” That phrase is a favorite of our windbag politicians; especially, it seems, the dimmer ones who say “Eye-rack.”

“Your life isn’t given,” I remember him saying, “it’s brutally ripped away from you. You’re no good to your buddies dead, and when the bullets start pouring in you don’t give a goddamn about God, country, Yale, your loved ones, the last full measure of devotion or any other of that Legionnaire patriotic crapola. You just want you and your buddies to see at least one more sunrise.”

Hmmm, sounds to me like he's saying that all soldiers in foxholes are atheists. But most importantly, he hates euphemisms for violent death; he thinks the popular ones with politicians are fundamentally dishonest. And I agree! I've given my time as a volunteer. I've given money; I've given blood; but I wouldn't consider being murdered on the battlefield "giving my life."

This reminds me of a post by Massimo Pigliucci about the "war" metaphor. He was upset with the "war on terror, war on drugs, war on poverty," etc. It's not a very good analogy, and hence a bad metaphor. But even worse than that, the use of that metaphor glorifies war. It takes the most horrible and horrific invention of humankind, and uses it as an ideal paradigm that we should shoot for in our other endeavors. Yet the blowhards love to call everything a war. What I find most ironic about it all is that the same windbags who love the war metaphor, use the term "militant" as a derogatory slur. Putzes!

But back to Dick Cavett's uncle Bill.

The other word Bill hated was “sacrifice.” Sacrifice is something you give up in order to get something in return. What good are we getting from this monstrous error? Cooked up as it was by that infamous group of neocons (accent on last syllable) who, draft-averse themselves, were willing to inflict on the (largely unprivileged) youth of this country their crack-brained scheme for causing democracy to take root and spread like kudzu throughout that bizarre and ill-understood part of the world, the Middle East.

What service is this great country getting out of all this tragedy, other than the certainty that historians will ask in disbelief, “Was there no one to stand up to this overweening president?”

The short answer is that it's serving the egos and (for a time in the past, at least) short term political aspirations of the above mentioned neocons (you know where the accent goes). However, that doesn't stop the talking heads from using the term.

Earlier this week, John McCain made the same "blunder" that Barack Obabma had made earlier. He, like Obama, was forced to back off from his statement.

"I should have used the word, sacrificed, as I have in the past," the Arizona senator said after Democrats demanded he apologize as Sen. Barack Obama did when the White House hopeful recently made the same observation.

(emphasis mine)

Sorry John, but I think you were closer to the truth the first time.

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