Before a conflict begins on an international scale, there is always the “war of words.”
Some of the most important words in global history involve presidents, kings or prime ministers framing the need to go to war. Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed Dec. 7, 1941, as “a day that would live in infamy.”
In the movie “The King’s Speech,” a king with a speech impediment calms a nation at war with words that were eloquent and forceful.
The “war of words” about Syria has hit a fever pitch in anticipation of possible military action to retaliate against an attack, which is widely believed to be chemical in nature.
The United States nervously awaits the president to address the nation about armed conflict with Syria.
President Obama drew a line in the sand a year ago, warning that chemical attacks by the Syrians would necessitate a military response by the United States. The “war of words” waged earlier this year has now painted our leader into a corner.
As a country debates its option, words are used to alienate, divide or emasculate those who would stand in opposition.
Those who oppose military options are being called “isolationists” or “doves.” The former word implies a certain naiveté about global politics, and the latter implies a certain weakness or timidity.
In a society that values aggression, those who would oppose armed conflict seem ignorant and weak.
We hear military language being used to nuance strategies and frame responses.
For example, when we hear the words “surgical strike,” it gives the impression that a military strike can be precise and accurate.
Experience tells us that rarely is any military strike “surgical.” The cuts are deep and bleed over on the innocent.
When speaking of surgical strikes, the phrase “collateral damage” is often used. It dehumanizes human life. It makes human life, which is inevitably lost in these raids, sound like a cost of doing war. There is always collateral damage and it is usually more than anticipated.
We hear the phrase “boots on the ground.” We are to be encouraged when we are told that there are no “boots on the ground” because it leads us to think in terms of limited engagement. Even conflict without boots on the ground comes at a heavy price.
Why is such a concept important?
Decisions about war are best made without emotion or drama. They are best made outside the angst of partisan politics and angry diatribe.
When a war of words ensues, it is difficult to make ethical decisions.
Ed Hogan is director of ministry at The Church Without Walls in Houston, Texas.