‘Homicide bombers’ and Sarah Palin

In her big speech at the media-saturated convention that purportedly represents the “Tea Party” movement, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin riffed on the meaning of words and the political manipulation of language, ridiculing the Obama administration for reportedly favoring the term “overseas contingency operation” to describe U.S. imperial adventures in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, over the more viscerally appealing “war”.

“We can’t spin our way out of this threat,” she told the cheering crowd in Nashville, Tennessee. This being Sarah Palin, though, the observation that politicians manipulate language was of course immediately followed by spin and a garbled manipulation of the English language. “It’s one thing to call a pay raise a job created or saved, it’s quite another to call it a devastation that a homicide bomber can inflict a man-made disaster.”

Putting aside the silly attack on a straw man, a “homicide bomber”, for those not familiar with Fox News’ reporting on the Mid-East, is the term favored by neoconservatives and popularized by the Bush administration for what the rest of us know as “suicide bombers” — the latter a term the armchair marines at places like Commentary and The New Republic believe is far too forgiving, “bomber” not being sufficient enough to signal that they are the baddie, and “suicide” perhaps prompting too much empathy toward the terrorist as a misunderstood loner. But while useful for propagandists, “homicide bomber” actually conveys less information than the term its intended to replace; a news report that declares “Homicide bomber kills 10”, for instance, would not impart the all-important information of whether the bomber died too.

But if we’re trying to best express impotent but righteous moral and patriotic certitude in our stories and bravely worded blog posts, why even keep the word “bomber”? To say someone has bombed something is a value-neutral statement, after all — it could be referring to a good bombing, like Hiroshima or Nagasaki, just as much as a bad one, like that Nigerian underwear guy — leaving some news consumers confused as to where their sympathies should lie. That being the case, I, for one, propose that we call all those who blow themselves on the behalf of some group other than the U.S. military homicide murderers, just to emphasize that in this instance we mean to say killing is bad. “Breaking: Homicide Murderer Strikes Baghdad Market” leaves little doubt we’re talking about some faceless foreigner perpetrating a heinous crime, not one of our boys or girls.

Moving along, the “Palin plan” for winning the war on terror:

“And when it comes to national security, as I ratchet down the message on national security, it’s easy to just kind of sum it up by repeating Ronald Reagan when he talked about the Cold War. And we can apply this now to our war on terrorism. You know, bottom line, we win, they lose. We do all that we can to win.”

To recap: the secret to winning the war on terror is doing all that we can to win. Now you know. Go out there and be a winner!

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About Charles Davis

A writer and producer with whose work has aired on television and radio and been published by outlets such as Al Jazeera, The Intercept, The Nation and The New Republic.
This entry was posted in Language, Sarah Palin, Tea Party. Bookmark the permalink.

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