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March 31, 2008

The Semantic War 4000

Steven R. Berryman

Survey says: You don’t want to hear it. The 4,000 war-attributed deaths in combat were reported as a “milestone” event last week in our Iraq War. Why did one have to turn to page A-3 in many papers to read the story? Strange, as we are told by President George W. Bush’s administration that this is the defining issue of our day, even in light of the “recession.”


As the metrics of the entire war discussion are up for grabs, how can we even debate the merits fairly? No wonder that election year politics are keeping this a “semantic war.”


Sen. John McCain (R., AZ) has taken ownership of the war issue, mostly from the Bush perspective, which insures the polarization of the electorate. As a real war hero, he is most serious about this position. But wait for the end of the primary season to get the full flavor.


My guess is that John McCain buys into the concept of “you broke it, you own it,” courtesy of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. We must finish what is our existing dilemma in an honorable way. That we went to war in the first place to fight terrorism is a loser concept for him, and he must seek distance during the general election to have a chance of winning.


Sen. Barack Obama (D., IL) was against “The War” before any other candidate running for the presidency in November. In his book, “Audacity of Hope,” he mentioned that he was struggling with the issue though. He must have been doing the struggling while fortunately skipping church on those couple of days when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was spewing racism.


Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., NY) also struggled with the “War Vote.” Her struggle, however, was based upon which side of the issue she was actually on. Did she base her support on bad information from the CIA and Colin Powell, or was this – in fact – conditional support, based upon a future war front on terrorism. Quite clairvoyant, if so.


Personally, I can’t escape from the image of “it’s a slam dunk” and “missile tubes knowingly presented as centrifuges.”


But what about the semantics of this “struggle?”


Is this in fact even a war? The famous Sun Tsu quote about war being a logical extension of diplomacy does not seem to fit as there was premeditation as opposed to any requisite diplomacy. War planning was begun before 9/11, according to many authoritative reports.


To make matters worse, we abandoned the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan prematurely to get to Iraq, enabling future life for Osama Bin-Laden. Perhaps we are in a “War on Competence?”


This looks like a conflict to me, as opposed to a real war. I’ve seen real wars, mostly in black and white footage on The History Channel and in old books with swastikas.


Where is the element of sacrifice by the general public on the home front? Old video news sources such as cable news and the ancient broadcast format news still lead with the latest from Wal*Mart same store sales, and ugly information about the price of gasoline. This is a far cry from getting bad news about rationing sugar and rubber, let alone melting down pots and pans.


War Bond sales? A patriotic Hollywood making heroic movies? Not so much.


Is this a police action? Is it a battle against an insurgency? Young men and women are dying every day, and that element it has in common with a war. Semantics!


If it is a war, is it a “War on Terror?” That’s a false question. One has to assume with all of the forward momentum and truly unopposed march to war what we do is in the United States’ best interest. That is a fair assumption. The real motives and justifications may never be known as they could be destructive to said cause.


Normal metrics, the measurements by which we evaluate success or failure, don’t work here, as this is an asymmetrical war, if it is a war.


Simply adding up four new Americans killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) style roadside bomb to reach the 4,000 is a statistical matter, not a milestone. Didn’t we learn that body count as reported during Vietnam is a misleading indicator? When fighting an entrenched insurgency, it is truly misleading.


Even single American war death, if unnecessary or avoidable, is tragedy for me. Round numbers fail to impress.


It bothers me that we have enforced self-censorship of Iraq War footage from battle where injury is involved. It troubles me that casket footage of transports returning to Dover, Delaware, with flags draping, is not allowed. This serves to desensitize the people at home, safe with our televisions.


The pain of whatever Iraq is must not only be born by the families of the fallen and wounded if we are to evaluate fairly its costs and consequences, especially in human terms.


This is especially important with the selfishly skewed semantics from both sides of the aisle for purposes garnering support in the coming election for president.


Instead of arguing surge and troop levels and the exact metrics that describe what is a clear win for America, and what we represent to the world, let us work together towards a solution that selflessly bottom-lines this mess.


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