I’m playing a new PC game at the moment, ‘Command & Conquer Generals’ and I have to admit, it’s pretty enjoyable. You get to be the Americans, the Chinese or the GLA, the terrorist equivalent. You can’t be offended at the use of stereotypes, because it’s a game, with phrases from the GLA suicide trucker like ‘watch out for the bump’ and ‘why don’t you drive?’ and quips from the Chinese such as ‘making China bigger’ and ‘expanding the Chinese empire’. The American phrases are the most laughable, with ‘protecting freedom’, ‘doing the right thing’, ‘protecting our people’, ‘fighting the enemies of the free world’, amongst others.
It’s funny, and tolerable, because it’s a game. I admit it started off as being obnoxious, because over the years I have trained myself to pick out those kinds of words and see the bullshit, but after a while I just started to see the amusing element to it.
Because it’s just a game.
Last night after switching off this game, I caught a show on Discovery called ‘Future Weapons’, in which it showcased the new and upcoming instruments of death being utilized by the U.S. Army and other military organizations around the world. It discussed the new ‘Thermobaric Cave Bomb’, the BLU-118B warhead. It is specifically designed to kill people in tunnels and cave systems because it sustains a high degree explosion with sweeps through the tunnels in a kind of rolling ball of flame. Very nasty.
What is interesting is the kind of language used by interviewed bomb experts and scientists who were involved the project, the language that utterly separates humanity from the destruction, and the use of formulaic and rhetorical terminology to justify their actions.
I remember sitting there wondering how these bomb designers, like those who develop nuclear weapons, justify to themselves what they are doing, and just like magic the chief scientist Anh Duong, answered my question. She said that her reasons were because how ‘preserving freedom and democracy was important in light of the events of Sept 11th.’ She also mentions in her interview with the Washington Post that in defense against critics:
“People will ask why I’d utilize my intelligence and training to make explosives . . . but [rather than destruction], foremost in my mind is coming up with ways to protect our troops.”
It’s just rhetoric, using the often seen ‘protect our troops’ catch phrase. I heard someone say once that stating it is absolutely essential that you support the troops is similar to approving of someone walking into a burning building. When you cut the crap, look past the bullshit, it makes sense. Words like that, words of little meaning but huge implications are all over her terminology. She talked about how her bomb will easily ‘defeat the target’, how it ‘creates a lethal environment’ and ‘provided a destructive force’. She justifies what she does by using language that separates herself from the horrific damage her bombs cause to life and limb. It’s the same way that the news networks detach people from the pain that the government inflicts on people around the world for the sake of oil, profits and power. It allows them to maintain dinnertime conversation and flippantly discuss America’s successes in war without making them actually think through the implications of their statements. When I hear someone mention that ‘enemy suffered casualties’ I feel like slapping them in the face. It means someone actually died! Run that through the brain for more than ten seconds, or speak to a soldier, and then you might get close to understanding what it feels like.
With language, life can remain sterile, safe, boring and numb. As Bruce says so eloquently in his blog ‘The River’:
…the War on Terror is, for the majority of Americans, a TV show. Unreality is our reality. The United States of Fantasyland. This state of affairs gives enormous power and advantage to the owners of mass media. They do indeed control the horizontal and the vertical. The “TV show” frame excludes everything of importance and spins simplistic and increasingly fear-based yarns.
And carrying on what he’s saying there, I think people prefer that false reality, and prefer that language, those simple words over the caustic and truthful.
Here is my translations of the language Ms. Duong used when she described what her explosive concoctions would do:
“Creates a lethal environment” – (As opposed to the bombs that create a nice environment?) Surrounds the air around you with spinning shrapnel/boiling chemicals, killing you quickly, but with excruciation pain.
“Defeat the target” – This seriously sounds like it’s an effort to kill someone with a 2,000lb bomb. This literally means that the person whom you dropped this bomb is no longer there, no single organ remains intact.
“Exhausts the targets capacity for retaliation” – The people you were shooting at are either so disorientated, probably bleeding from the ears and therefore deaf, or are hideously wounded so as not to be able to stand and surrender.
“Complete target package” – Not one word of this comes even close to describing what it actually means. It describes attacking people over a large area, and since the last conventional war was in 2002 (and I use the term ‘conventional’ very loosely, that probably means attacking insurgents, which therefore includes civilians. Israel used this to their advantage very recently.
I also heard on an NPR interview regarding Iran that it is America’s duty to spread peace and democracy, freedom and liberty to the rest of the world. Only problem is, now that freedom is practically a marketable thing (a complete contradiction), it is the good ‘ole American brand, making the words freedom and justice inseparable from the American way of life, inextricably linking that word with the distorted template of American life that we feel we should impose all over the place.
‘Freedom’ is the ultimate ‘bullshit’ word, as George Carlin calls them, the concept of which is spoken by many and understood by so very few. But much like how the mere mention of Osama Ben Goldstein inspires terror into most hard working Fox-watching zombies, freedom is the word that in our fear we fanatically try to protect, even as in its name we watch our liberties come crashing down.
Death is death, not causality, or collateral, or a target.
Life is important, be it here or in Iran.
Bombs don’t protect anyone.
Killing is always the same, brutal, awful.
It’s not a game.
…and the words don’t make it okay.