Stop calling it “war”

April 13, 2007 | By | 63 Replies More

For a long time now, I’ve been deeply frustrated and annoyed by the ongoing use of the term “war” to describe the situation in Iraq.  Pardon me, but the “war” in Iraq ended several years ago, when all of their troops surrendered.  What we have there now is a military occupation.  You might think this is an unimportant matter of semantics, but it is not.  It is a very useful matter of semantics if you happen to be a Bush-loving, neo-con Republican. 

Why is a “war” better than a “military occupation?”  “War” implies a threat, which makes garnering public support much, much easier.  “War” demands money.  “War” demands resources.  “War” demands increased military production.  “War” demands lives.

“War” is romantic, attracting both patriotic individuals who want to serve their country, and military and political leaders who want to cloak themselves in it.  Bush supporters like to call him the “war president” — do you think any would call him the “military occupation president?”

“War” justifies autocratic leadership.  “War” justifies sacrifices in personal liberties.  “War” justifies espionage, both at home and abroad.  “War” justifies sending large numbers of soldiers to be killed or maimed.  “War” justifies killing people, even innocent people.  “War” justifies prison camps.  “War” sometimes even justifies torture.  When does a military occupation justify any of this?

“War” creates images of valor and heroism.  “War” creates the myth of an innocent nation fighting back to protect itself.  “War” creates “the enemy.”  And not just any ordinary enemy (e.g., a terrorist hiding in an Afganistan cave), but a worthy enemy:  “global terrorism.”  Who is the enemy in a military occupation?  Insurgents.  Locals.  Nobodies.

In sum, “war” is what neo-con Republicans want every American to call the situation in Iraq, because this one word gives them more power than they could possibly get any other way.

It is time we stop calling it “the war in Iraq,” and time we start calling it what it is:  the military occupation of Iraq.  This is not just semantics.  It is a matter of life and death.


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About the Author ()

Grumpypilgrim is a writer and management consultant living in Madison, WI. He has several scientific degrees, including a recent master’s degree from MIT. He has also held several professional career positions, none of which has been in a field in which he ever took a university course. Grumps is an avid cyclist and, for many years now, has traveled more annual miles by bicycle than by car…and he wishes more people (for the health of both themselves and our planet) would do the same. Grumps is an enthusiastic advocate of life-long learning, healthy living and political awareness. He is single, and provides a loving home for abused and abandoned bicycles. Grumpy’s email: grumpypilgrim(AT)@gmail(DOT).com [Erich’s note: Grumpy asked that his email be encrypted this way to deter spam. If you want to write to him, drop out the parentheticals in the above address].

Comments (63)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Rob, the choice is not abandoning Iraq versus a status quo that is acceptable. The status quo is a nightmare.

    You are assuming, as fact, that life for the Iraqis will be worse if the U.S. pulls out its military. That's a huge asumption.

    What is going on in Iraq right now is not acceptable, in terms of loss of life, destruction of families, loss of infrastructure, loss of homes (the U.S. has bombed out more than a few), the loss of the Iraqi middle class. What's going on in Iraq must change. If there is any doubt, check out this timeline from Think Progress:

    Here's another thing to consider: Isn't it possible that the the U.S. military presence in Iraq, combined with the U.S. permanent bases, plus the U.S. plans to control Iraqi oil are fueling much of the violence? We are occupiers and people hate occupiers. They hate any movement or ideas that they associate with the occupiers. The continued presence of the U.S., in my opinion, is going to make any Iraqi grassroots democracy movement suspect in the eyes of most Iraqis.

    In my opinion, it's time to do SOMETHING different. U.S. Iraq strategy reminds me of Einstein's definition of insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    My apologies, Ben, for using your name in place of Rob's. I trust my correction meets with your approval.

    Indeed, your last point about absolving responsibility is a good one. Had there been no (unjustified) invasion, there would be no responsibility to absolve.

  3. Ben says:

    Thanks for taking me off of the hotseat… unfortunately I don't fall into the group which was enlightened enough to know that the war was a mistake from the get-go.

  4. Dan Klarmann says:

    Re: Grump's Kennedy card: I don't think there would be much of a deterrence effect from a mutually assured destruction scenario. When intellectuals were running the superpowers, this policy seems to have worked.

    Now, both sides are ruled by religious fundamentalists with significant factions dedicated to the idea of imminent Armageddon, and glee at the thought of their own inevitable blessed survival after the event. Where is the deterrent effect?

  5. grumpypilgrim says:

    Dan asks: "Now, both sides are ruled by religious fundamentalists with significant factions dedicated to the idea of imminent Armageddon, and glee at the thought of their own inevitable blessed survival after the event. Where is the deterrent effect?"

    I mentioned only the possibility: "…*maybe* the threat of mutually assured destruction will do for the Iraqis what it did for America and Russia during the Cold War…" (emphasis added). If the scenario Dan describes is correct — that there is glee on both sides at the thought of slaughtering each other — then is the peace process not accelerated by letting them do so? Why not pull out U.S. troops and let the crazies hack each other to bits, instead of inviting them both to hack U.S. troops to bits while waiting until they can have a better shot at each other? If they truly do want to slaugher each other, then the sooner they do so, the sooner the reconstruction can begin. The job of a U.S. soldier is to defend America, not to act as cannon fodder between two groups of religious fanatics, in a foreign country, bent on destroying each other. I might feel differently if a U.S. military presence was, in fact, preventing a genocide, but the clear evidence in this case is that it cannot.

  6. Edgar Montrose says:

    It grates on my nerves every time I hear it …

    The Republicans are so good at finding inflammatory words to be used as labels for things with which they disagree. Lately they have been calling the withdrawal provisions in the Iraq Funding Bill "Surrender Language".

    Inflammatory. And inaccurate.

    An occupier does not "surrender" from an occupation. An occupier can "end", "cease", or "terminate" an occupation. An occupier can "withdraw" or "exit" from an occupation. An occupier can "leave voluntarily" or can be "expelled". An occupier can simply become weary of an occupation and "depart". But an occupier has, by definition, already defeated the enemy, at least locally, and cannot "surrender" from an occupation.

    And it's about time that Democrats, Independents, rational Republicans, and everyone who wants to put an end to this occupation became very clear, concise, and adamant about this distinction.

  7. grumpypilgrim says:

    Further to Edgar's comment, I've noticed Republicans are also calling the Democrats' budget for Iraq, which sets target dates for troop withdrawal, "an abandonment of our troops." They don't call it what it is — a rebuke of Bush's failed policies…an expression of the American voter's discontent…a realistic plan that is long overdue, etc. — it's "an abandonment of our troops."

    Sadly, the reason why Republicans do this is because it works for them: their supporters fall for this nonsense.

  8. Turambar says:

    “War” creates images of valor and heroism.

    Really? Now, I begin to understand what's wrong with the US: you have never been occupied or had foreign forces invade your country – all Americans who have experienced war were soldiers, not helpless civilians. That's a good thing, of course, but it may explain the otherwise incomprehensible patriotism when it comes to war. But reading articles like this gives me hope that Americans will learn the lessons without having to do so the hard way eventually.

  9. Erich Vieth says:

    "Trouble is it never really was a war because there was no opposing side."

    "A just solution won’t come without a cleansing and we are fortunate to have one handy. Impeachment will tell a story about how and why we started an aggression. It will contain sub-plots about indefinite detention and torture and the means of repression here at home, including the suppression of dissent."

  10. Doug says:

    This thread certainly brings up some very good discussion points, thanks for bringing this important subject up!

  11. Thank you for enlightening me! I was not aware of this difference. I will be sure to share this article with others equally as concerned about the current military occupations the US is engaged in.

  12. John says:

    Wow… you are annoying. When did you decide to make up a new definition of war? And no… i'm not one of the neo-cons you are describing and I'm not happy with our little "war." But you my friend, you are a hippie.

  13. Tom says:

    Totally Agree.

    (I don't think that torture is *ever* justified though – even at war).

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