Thursday, April 26, 2007

Arbeit macht schtupid

This outstandingly tasteless and tin-eared lede just about speaks for itself:
The officialspeak is "forward operating bases." The honest words are death camps. There's no other way to describe the risk American soldiers face dispersed in dangerous Iraqi neighborhoods, outside secure walls.
Well, to paraphrase Lou Grant at one or another of Mary Richards' hapless parties: "No, Mary. That's not a death camp. This is a death camp."
For God's sake.
The lede illustrates a couple of mirror-image assumptions often made in news language:
One, a term the writer doesn't understand must be some form of Orwellian "officialspeak," meant to hide the "truth" from the public. Sometimes that's true. Other times, words do what they often do in life, which is distinguish stuff from other stuff. If you hang around with a lot of other Eskimos who need to distinguish main operating bases from forward satellite sites used for tactical operations, you probably know 20 or 30 words for "forward operating base."* We only have the one in American English, but, y'know, it seems to work.
Two, dysphemism makes you stronger! The louder and more harshly you say something, the truer it must be. This makes you, um, a speaker of TRVTH or something. Unless you forget that "death camp" has so many cultural overtones already that, on the off chance your first point had any merit, your second would overwhelm it with your cluelessness.
By itself, that's all bad enough. But there's more going on in this column. Let's have a look (and, as copyeds, we want concrete stuff; we aren't going to get too far arguing about the tone, even if it's as abysmal as "death camps").
It was also the largest loss for the celebrated 82nd Airborne since June 1969, when 12 paratroopers from the 3rd Brigade Combat team were ambushed and killed in Vietnam, according to the division's historical records.
Some perspective:
... When the Tet Offensive swept across the Republic of Vietnam in 1968, the 82nd responded, fighting in fearsome quarters such as Hue-Phu, Mekong and Saigon.
Hmm. Funny place names alert! Where is this "Hue-Phu" of which we speak? A ranging shot suggests that the construct originated, sort of, in those pesky "historical records":
During the Tet Offensive, which swept across the Republic of Vietnam in January 1968, the 3rd Brigade was alerted and within 24 hours, the brigade was enroute to Chu Lai. The 3rd Brigade performed combat duties in the Hue-Phu Bai area of the I Corps sector.
Looks like we got a little careless with our ctrlV-ctrlC there. "Hue-Phu" isn't a Bai area; "Hue-Phu Bai" is the area we wanted (as noted in Sheehan's "A Bright Shining Lie," Phu Bai -- now an international airport -- is an airfield hard by the old imperial capital). And "Mekong" -- tell us, historical records, are those fearsome quarters a city?
Later the brigade was moved south to Saigon, and fought battles in the Mekong Delta, the Iron Triangle and along the Cambodian border.
Guess not. Usually, in English, we mark rivers and deltas and such with the definite article. Washington didn't cross Delaware, he crossed the Delaware. This isn't "perspective"; it's "cutting and pasting random words and phrases that sound vaguely exotic to the writer."
But aside from playing fast and loose with texts, there are some deeper problems here. Basically, the paper, which has been distinctly pro-war throughout (in sort of a genteel Southern as-long-as-it-doesn't-scare-the-horses sort of way), has now decided to stamp its foot:
There comes a time in all conflicts when good people can no longer defend the status quo.
Such a moment arrived in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963, when a firebomb killed four black girls getting ready for the morning worship service.
(Why was it that "good people" were able to defend the status quo before this?)
Such a moment arrived later that same decade when it became apparent President Lyndon Johnson had told outright lies about the extent of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. (So we'll have rather flexible definitions of "moment" and "conflict"?)
Many people in North Carolina have reached that moment about Iraq. Many, many more are close.
Meaning ... "many people" in North Carolina have reached the point where "good people" can no longer defend the status quo? Just checking.
Sounds as if somebody's trying to use the Local Angle as a way of sneaking out of the pro-war camp under cover of night. If that's the case, somebody has a little more explaining to do before the change of stripes is going to be believed.
* ONLY KIDDING. Just because Eskimos would have individual "words" designating FOB Liebling, FOB Scoop and FOB Sentence-Final Preposition doesn't mean they have more access to the concept than we do.


Blogger Denise said...

Uh oh, it's only the lede, and it's already time to invoke Godwin's Law and quit reading. . .

10:52 AM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger unclewilly said...

I understand why you chose "Eskimo" here, but please tell me you'd use "Inuit" for important stuff.

2:26 PM, April 27, 2007  
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1:06 PM, April 30, 2007  
Blogger Strayhorn said...

I've commented before on the idiotic tendency in trying to pin the local angle on any soldier who spent time, however brief, on one of NC's many military bases.

The death camp comment makes me wonder of the writer has a substance abuse problem. I hope so. That makes a better excuse than stupidity.

But the mangling of the brigade history proves once again that cut-n-paste from a website is often your enemy.

2:29 PM, April 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how can they be "death camps" when the danger lies "outside" the "secure" walls?

If the danger is outside, and the walls are secure, wouldn't the camp itself be a haven?

7:36 PM, May 09, 2007  

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