Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

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September 17, 2013

War by euphemism

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi shared with reporters the other day her conversation with her 5-year-old grandson.

She recounted how he asked her whether she supported “war” in Syria. Before telling the rest of the story, she paused to note the precocious tyke’s overly aggressive language. “Now, he’s 5 years old ... and he’s saying ‘war,’” she explained. “I mean, we’re not talking about war, we’re talking about an action here.”

From the mouth of babes. The child has a better grasp of the connection between words and reality than his grandma. But, no doubt, he will grow out of it. By the time he becomes an elected Democratic official supporting some military intervention or other, he will have learned the necessary argot of euphemism and denial.

Secretary of State John Kerry is a master at it. In his opening statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said, “Let me be clear: President Obama is not asking America to go to war.”

Despite his reputation, Kerry is rigorously consistent — he’s anti-war when he’s opposing a war and testifying against it in Congress, and he’s anti-war when he’s supporting a war and testifying for it in Congress.

All of this wordplay is profoundly unserious. The last time I checked, Jane’s Defence Weekly doesn’t set aside a special category for the BGM-109 Tomahawk as a “weapon of action.” When you initiate hostilities against another country, when you blow up its buildings and military equipment and kill its officials and military personnel — as will almost certainly happen here — you are committing an act of war.

The unwillingness to admit as much speaks to the haze of ambivalence hanging over the proposed Syria strikes that goes to the very top. President Barack Obama can maintain an ironic detachment from almost everything: his own administration, his own country and now his own war.

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