The article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
Now that Washington has at least six wars cooking (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and more generally, the global war on terror), Americans find themselves in a new world of war. If, however, you haven’t joined the all-volunteer military, any of our 17 intelligence outfits, the Pentagon, the weapons companies and hire-a-gun corporations associated with it, or some other part of the National Security Complex, America’s distant wars go on largely without you (at least until the bills come due).
War has a way of turning almost anything upside down, including language. But with lost jobs, foreclosed homes, crumbling infrastructure, and weird weather, who even notices? This undoubtedly means that you’re using a set of antediluvian war words or definitions from your father’s day. It’s time to catch up.
So here’s the latest word in war words: what’s in, what’s out, what’s inside out. What follows are nine common terms associated with our present wars that probably don’t mean what you think they mean. Since you live in a twenty-first-century war state, you might consider making them your own.
Victory: Like defeat, it’s a “loaded” word and rather than define it, Americans should simply avoid it.
In his last press conference before retirement, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked whether the U.S. was “winning in Afghanistan.” He replied, “I have learned a few things in four and a half years, and one of them is to try and stay away from loaded words like ‘winning’ and ‘losing.’ What I will say is that I believe we are being successful in implementing the president’s strategy, and I believe that our military operations are being successful in denying the Taliban control of populated areas, degrading their capabilities, and improving the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces.”
In 2005, George W. Bush, whom Gates also served, used the word “victory” 15 times in a single speech (“National Strategy for Victory in Iraq”). Keep in mind, though, that our previous president learned about war in the movie theaters of his childhood where the Marines always advanced and Americans actually won. Think of his victory obsession as the equivalent of a mid-twentieth-century hangover.
In 2011, despite the complaints of a few leftover neocons dreaming of past glory, you can search Washington high and low for “victory.” You won’t find it. It’s the verbal equivalent of a Yeti. Being “successful in implementing the president’s strategy,” what more could you ask? Keeping the enemy on his “back foot”: hey, at $10 billion a month, if that isn’t “success,” tell me what is?