Thursday, February 06, 2003

We Must Demilitarize
The American Language

Comedian and language master, George Carlin, is famous for his routine comparing the pastoral patois of baseball to the war terms used in football. He's at his satirical best when he presents this bit (and I paraphrase): In baseball you wear a football you wear a helmet. Baseball is played on fields of various is played on a rigidly defined gridiron. Baseball has no set time to end (there may be extra innings) has a definite time frame (when the clock runs out, the game is over)...The object in football is to use bombs, sweeps and other offensive weapons to gain ground in your opponent's territory in order to shove the ball into his "end zone"...the object in baseball is to go home!

It's no coincidence football surpassed baseball as America's national sport during the cold war decades following World War II. In fact, our nation has been involved in one war after another for more than a half century. The constant pressure from our militarized foreign policy has had a severe, negative effect on everything we do.

Our daily lives are full of war-related terms projecting images of death and destruction. Our media are saturated with stories of incomprehensible conflict, torture and inhumanity. Our so-called entertainment fare is violence-oriented to a dangerous degree. America is so overwhelmed by these negative forces, we barely notice the cruel impact.

We casually use war language when playing cards, basketball or bowling with family and friends. We rarely notice how this raw language subconsciously affects us. We "soldier on" down at the factory or office as we "fight" to maintain our shaky sense of well-being. Day after day, "battles" are "waged" in our "struggles for survival." Why does no one notice how the language in our lives defines the very nature of our insecurity and helplessness?

The first major tennis tournament in Australia has just begun. The commentators are completely unaware how often they refer to the skills of the players in martial language. Guns and bombs abound on the tennis court according to the play-by-play analysis. No one notices how sensationalizing match play with war words is not in the best interests of tennis or any other sport.

Americans are alternately conflicted and ambivalent about the prospects of another war on the defenseless people in Iraq. This issue should be a no-brainer. No nation should seek to destroy another nation, especially when you weren't directly attacked and spent most of a decade discovering that nation is completely vulnerable to our weapons. An attack on Iraq under these circumstances is immoral and unjust. So, where's the outrage against this insane policy? Why don't we care about what's being done in our names anymore?

Americans have been desensitized by the war references in every aspect of our lives. It's not the terrorism of Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein which disturbs us. It's the incessant bloodlust words and images which dull our perspective and overload our senses.

We must call attention to this phenomenon and how it wrecks our lives. We must understand the damaging affect the constant preparation for and waging of war has on us. Recent reports about GIs killing their wives and the murderous spree of the Washington sniper should awaken us to the tragedy in our midst. All these men were veterans from the first Iraq war. The "out of sight, out of mind" attitude regarding war must be questioned. You can't send our young citizens to mass murder other people and not suffer consequences from this action. The war will eventually come home.

If America is ever to lead the world in beating our weapons into plowshares, we must begin the process at home by demilitarizing our language. This simple step is achievable because it costs nothing and each of us can participate in cleansing our language, hearts, minds and souls. The demilitarization of America must begin by rejecting war words and replacing them with the language of peace.

Franklin L. Johnson


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