The Horrible Truth

3/01/02 Indian religious riots kill 196 (Yahoo News)

Americans are often accused of placing a lower value on the lives of people in other nations. It’s not our fault. It’s the media’s fault for propagating outmoded terminology and ignorance. The whole framework of ‘first’ and ‘not-first’ world country perpetuates in the American mind the perception that there is only chaos, savagery and lawlessness in these ‘other’ countries. When we hear the term ‘third world’, we picture huge crowds of people being shot at by the local regime (and not even with rubber bullets). We think of civil wars, indiscriminate shelling, and endless refugees. We’re used to it. We even imagine they’re used to it. But each time we’re not outraged and saddened, as are we, for a few minutes, when it does happen here (and it does), we tacitly reinforce this perverse value judgment. We equate these nations with strife because it’s the only thing we see of them. Imagine the local news with no happy segment, no guy who dove into freezing water to save a complete moron. No dog who saved his eighty-year old owner from a bogus grocery coupon scam, by eating them. You don’t think that happens in the Republic of R? If our media only showed us the bad side of things, it could make the U.S. look pretty underdeveloped too. Of course this is what good foreign films are for, if only we watched them.

But there are other ways in which the words we choose foster/enable a [insert word meaning 'when we think our lives are worth more than theirs']. The other day, I heard about this 'cool' new bomb we've got called the 'daisy cutter.' Daisy cutter? On the one hand, I thought, "Hey, we got some cool shit. We bad." But wait, these weapons were designed solely to kill large numbers of people as opposed to say, blowing things up (like tanks). Isn't it perhaps a bit tasteless or at least grotesquely euphemistic to refer to them affectionately as gardening tools? Yes, next we'll be going after Bin Laden, the light brown hair, using the Black-and-Dekkar 'cave snake', a highly advanced weapon consisting of a loud speaker attached to the end of a pole, which blasts the McDonald's theme song directly into the cave. Any Al-Quaida not killed instantly will be driven sane, and thus, rendered ineffective. And if that doesn't get him, we'll pull out the 'genie juicer'. And we'll all be having Bin Laden smoothies by New Year's. Clean up on aisle six.

So why don't we just call things by their actual names? For the answer to that one, we must go way back, all the way back, to Saving Private Ryan. I ask you which sounds cooler, P-51 or 'tank buster'? Okay, they both sound pretty cool, but that's only because I'm a guy, and so of course my little model kits would say things like P-51 on them. And numbers are cool if you're a guy. Though somehow I don't imagine the 1:32 scale 'daisy cutters' are exactly flying off toy store shelves, and you'll never hear any kid in some basement playroom say, 'Oh yeah, well I'll just use my XP324j and turn all your men into a mass of smouldering flesh'. Or at least I hope not. But then by using these cool names, we (the public) get to feel cool, in a rather unspoken, unchallenged, pathetic/vicarious way. And that's why the Pentagon periodically unveils cool, new gadgets, with ever cooler names, and ever more sophisticated CNN graphics: it's all in an effort to build public morale, which translates into more money, for the military. And war, which CNN then gets to cover mercilessly all the while complaining about the senselessness of it all.

Ever wonder how they get such great names? Well it's not by accident. The Pentagon actually has test groups to see how people will respond to different names. In fact, they've even gone back and changed the names of some older weapons in order to reconcile them with the times.1 Oh, and here is my perfunctory counterargument to seem fair. One reason for 'daisy cutters' and 'cluster bombs' is that those are pretty good descriptions of what these things do. Studies have shown that the use of appropriately descriptive terminology facilitates strategic thinking on Capital Hill.2 I propose that we continue to have dual names, but that the public be informed of both the 'cool' as well as the boring alphanumerical name. That way, we can use whichever one we want to suit our own individual temperaments. We don't all have to be cool.

[note: this was written for the Afghanistan invasion, and before the second Iraq war, and so the below paragraph is now outdated, sort of]

If we really wanted to claim the moral high ground in this war not against the Muslim faith, we would have to let go of this no-casualty nonsense and stop tolerating the use of these awful 'cluster bombs', which effectively become land mines when they fail to explode. We would also have to be willing to use American ground troops. But even if we did make this decision, we still shouldn't feel comfortable sending our troops to be killed on foreign soil. Why? Because we all know it's no fair for a bunch of young people to go overseas and get killed, so the rest of us can sit around arguing about why Muslims hate us. It would be different if we were all making sacrifices, but so far, the only sacrifice we've been asked to make is to spend more time shopping, which is really a huge sacrifice because I hate shopping. I doubt anyone who hasn't seen Blackhawk Down actually expects to be going into combat and dying when they enlist. If so, the pay would be higher. I propose that we take a poll of all military personnel to see whether they wish to deploy in [insert hotspot here]. If they vote yes, then that's that I guess, and as long as Sean Hannity is one of them, I'll just go ahead and shut up. But if they vote no, then we must offer them more pay until they vote yes. If they still hold out, we buy them a mockingbird. And if that mockingbird don't sing, we'll give them one of Barry Bonds' rings. Meanwhile, we could get serious about alternative energy, so at least we can stop financing our own enemy. Bla. Joe Biden's a tool.


1 Haven't you ever read something in an article that was obviously not true and wondered how on earth it came into existence. Could someone really just sit down and completely make something up? I've always wondered if that were possible. So this was a journalistic experiment to see if it could be done. I'm calling it, 'complete lying'. And actually, it wasn't that hard to do. I even felt as though I had broken some new story that nobody else new about. It was like once I wrote it, it just made too much sense. It had to be true, so I figured I should leave it in.

2 Oops, I did it again.

In Other News:

I bless you madly, sadly as I tie my shoes
I love you badly, just in time, at times, I guess
Because of you I need to rest
Because it's you that sets the test

So much has gone and little is new
And as the sparrow sings
Dawn chorus for
Someone else to hear
The Thinker sits alone growing older
And so bitter
"I gave Them life
I gave Them all
They drained my very soul...dry
I crushed my heart to ease Their pains
No thought for me remains there
Nothing can They spare
What of me?
Who praised Their efforts to be free?
Words of strength and care and sympathy
I opened doors that would have blocked Their way
I braved Their cause to guide, for little pay
I ravaged at my finance just for Those
Those whose claims were steeped in peace, tranquility
Those who said a new world, new ways ever free
Those whose promises stretched in hope and grace for me"
I bless you madly, sadly as I tie my shoes
I love you badly, just in time, at times, I guess
Because of you I need to rest, oh yes
Because it's you that sets the test

So much has gone and little is new
And as the sunrise stream
Flickers on me,
My friends talk
Of glory, untold dream, where all is God and God is just a word
"We had a friend, a talking man
Who spoke of many powers that he had
Not of the best of men, but Ours
We used him
We let him use his powers
We let him fill Our needs
Now We are strong And the road is coming to its end
Now the damned have no time to make amends
No purse of token fortune stands in Our way
The silent guns of love will blast the sky

We broke the ruptured structure built of age
Our weapons were the tongues of crying rage
Where money stood
We planted seeds of rebirth
And stabbed the backs of fathers
Sons of dirt

Infiltrated business cesspools
Hating through Our sleeves
Yea, and We slit the Catholic throat
Stoned the poor on slogans such as

'Wish You Could Hear'
'Love Is All We Need'
'Kick Out The Jams'
'Kick Out Your Mother'
'Cut Up Your Friend'
'Screw Up Your Brother or He'll Get You In the End'

And We Know the Flag of Love is from Above
And We Can Force You to Be Free
And We Can Force You to Believe"
And I close my eyes and tighten up my brain
For I once read a book in which the lovers were slain
For they knew not the words of the Free States' refrain
It said:
"I believe in the Power of Good
I Believe in the State of Love
I Will Fight For the Right to be Right
I Will Kill for the Good of the Fight for the Right to be Right"
And I open my eyes to look around
And I see a child laid slain on the ground
As a love machine lumbers through desolation rows
Ploughing down man, woman, listening to its command
But not hearing anymore -
Not hearing anymore
Just the shrieks from the old rich

And I Want to Believe
In the madness that calls 'Now'
And I want to Believe
That a light's shining through

And I Want to Believe
And You Want to Believe
And We Want to Believe
And We Want to Live
Oh, We Want to Live

We Want to Live

- Cygnet Committee, David Bowie

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