Words of War

Politicians are expert at using phrases which convey an general impression but no specific meaning. When they contemplate war or warlike activities these phrases which have half meanings or in some cases two or three possible meanings are used.  So we hear words which can mean different things to different people and words which mean different things to different people have almost no meaning at all.

These are the words of war:-

Weapons of mass destruction: virtually every weapon, from a bow an arrow to a nuclear bomb can be deployed as a weapon of destruction; mass is a relative term: the English archers at Agincourt wreaked mass destruction on the French army; the Lancaster bombers over Germany provided mass destruction as did the dam busters’ use of the bouncing bomb; napalm destroyed masses of people, as did the atomic bomb; the gassing of the marsh Arabs involved a weapon of mass destruction. the Zyklon gas used by the Nazis was a weapon of mass destruction. What is meant by “destruction” in this phrase? is it the destruction of many buildings or people or both? How many people killed constitutes mass destruction? is it three hundred, three thousand or three hundred thousand?

Compelling Evidence: compelling evidence is not irrefutable evidence neither is it evidence that holds up beyond reasonable doubt. Compelling is not a term of art but a subjective term; what one person regards as compelling may be dismissed by another person as not evidence at all.

Chemical Weapons: it is hard to know what are chemical weapons and what are not chemical weapons; clearly many regard depleted uranium munitions as chemical weapons but such munitions have been regularly used as has napalm, agent orange and other chemical type weapons without incurring the wrath of the world and with the use of such weapons being regarded as the use of chemical weapons by many nations.

Necessary Measures: there are calls to take necessary measures to protect the Syrian people but what are these necessary measures? Do they comprise bombing of Syrian army installations or the bombing of Syrian fighters or the invasion of Syria. I do not understand what is meant by protection if in the course of such protection many innocent lives are lost. It does not seem possible to me to allege that you are protecting a group of people when you cause them loss of life and injury?

A simple limited response: I do not understand what a simple limited response means; it cannot mean a bombing strike, because if it did those using the phrase would simply say “a bombing strike”. I do not understand the concept of a response in the context of bellicose actions. If a war crime has been committed the proper course of action is to catch and punish those responsible; talking in terms of a response gives the talker using that word almost unlimited wriggle room to subsequently define what he meant according to how matters worked out.

Military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons: The user of this phrase (h M Government) has not defined what constitutes military action. It could be bombing or invasion. The use of the word proportionate” is difficult in the context. Surely H M Government know what they mean and they should spell out what they mean so that people can decide for themselves whether the proposed course of action is proportionate. The use of these words simply hides the intentions, rather than communicates the intentions.

Collateral Damage: I know what this phrase means; it means the killing of innocents which as not the prime purpose of the military action that killed those innocents. The phrase disguises, or attempts to disguise, the fact that innocents have been killed.

Unlawful combatants: this phrase simple means the enemy, but is used to deny the enemy captured prisoner of war status, which status prevents ill treatment and torture.

We must always be suspicious of the motives of people who cannot or will not speak plainly and communicate accurately. Their motives are seldom honourable and good, and in making war the motives of people who want to make war must be honourable and good.