The language of defeat

This week, MPs voted by a bitterly narrow margin on whether the government should extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan by two years. While NDP, BQ and some Liberal members opposed the extension (after supporting extension days earlier), Conservatives unanimously supported the motion and Canada will now continue in Afghanistan until at least February 2009.

During the national discussion on Afghanistan, a couple of terms keep coming up from both the media and members of the opposition. These terms are politically designed for maximum impact to dissuade Canadians from the mission.

Members of the media that would have Canada abandon its international obligations to our allies and to the people of Afghanistan have been using the term ‘body bags’ to describe the return of deceased Canadian soldiers from Afghanistan.

As the CBC’s special coverage of ‘ramp ceremonies’ (a term now part of our lexicon) has taught us, our fallen Canadian heroes do not return home in “body bags” but in proper coffins. Body bags are used in a disaster, in a chaotic and unorganized situation. Indeed, they are used as a temporary and efficient way of dealing with the deceased. In a massive third-world earthquake, body bags are used to collect the scores of dead, and in the context of Afghanistan, the term is used to paint an image of indiscriminate death and disorder (and quagmire). Canadians soldiers are not ‘returning home in body bags’ as the anti-war members of the media would have us believe. On the (thankfully) infrequent occasion when a Canadian soldier is tragically killed, however, he or she makes the sad flight home in a flag-adorned coffin. The term ‘body bag’ is pessimistic and not even honest.

In fact, Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi makes himself useful and illustrates my point:

“President Clinton stated, and it was his policy, that he could not stand to have any of the soldiers coming back in body bags the way that tens of thousands of body bags came back from Vietnam. It made it necessary that they could accept great losses on the ground but they could not accept significant losses of the military.” — Andrew Telegdi, Liberal MP

So, “body bags” = disastrous military quagmire

The media has been using the politically loaded and dishonest term to argue against the military mission in Afghanistan.

For an example of news stories that use the term, click here.

The other politically loaded term that is being used by the opponents of the Afghanistan mission is “exit strategy”.

“Exit strategy” is currently a widely used talking point in the US and it is used in the context of the increasingly unpopular American war in Iraq. Many in the American media and on the American left have compared the conflict to Vietnam and frame it as a military disaster. Regardless of the veracity of this comparison (perhaps a debate for another day), critics of the Iraq war want American troop withdrawal and an “exit strategy” before what they envision as a rooftop helicopter evacuation of Americans from the embassy in Baghdad akin to what happened in Saigon.

The term “exit strategy” is parlance for a war that is lost. What was the allied “exit strategy” against the Germans in World War II? It’s quite an absurd question if you think about it. The exit strategy then was nothing short of victory and the allies were in Europe until after the last shot was fired. Can one imagine a televised British parliamentary debate on troop withdrawal from France? The members of the opposition that decry the mission in Afghanistan likely don’t believe that we are losing this ‘war’, but they do want Canada out of Afghanistan. Therefore, when they use the term “exit strategy”, they are being somewhat dishonest as they conjure up images of the military’s worst case scenario for that central asian country.

When I was growing up trying to learn proper English grammar, I learned the literary technique of euphemism by example of the casket. Apparently, the term, as it is associated with death, became so unpleasant that the casket became re-termed euphemistically as the “coffin”. My teacher at the time mused that eventually we may have to re-invent the term again and call the wooden boxes “demise chests”. I’m not sure that there is an antonym for euphemism, but I believe that the left has done so for “coffin” and “casket” with “body bag” and have instead of finding the same for the word “victory” they have dishonestly labeled Afghanistan as a defeat and have termed it “exit strategy”.

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