What do collateral damage, friendly fire, special rendition and disposition matrix have in common? They are euphemisms for distasteful operations done by the military. For instance, collateral damage refers to civilians killed in a war zone. Friendly fire refers to soldiers killed by their fellow troops. Special rendition refers to a kidnapping and disposition matrix is a kill list.

Since 9/11, another dubious string of words snuck into the military lexicon, "enhanced interrogation techniques," instead of torture. These words almost have no meaning, at least not in any traditional sense and that is their purpose. They are meant to obscure, obfuscate and conceal acts that otherwise could be considered at the very least inhumane and in the extreme criminal.

Euphemisms fall into use in everyday instances of uncomfortable or even tragic circumstances. When a loved one dies, euphemisms like passed, expired, succumbed or perished are commonly used instead of using died. Some believe it softens the fact that a person is dead. Whether it does or not is open to question. Usually, most euphemisms are harmless expressions used out of respect or concern for an individual or group.

I have written many obituaries as a journalist and words like expired and passed were strictly forbidden. A person either died or was killed. A euphemism does not change the fact that a person or persons are dead as far as news is concerned. Unfortunately, the media regularly uses military euphemisms like collateral damage apparently with little or no thought in describing military actions.

Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands civilians have died and continue to die with the military's continued involvement in the Middle East. They are not just civilians and certainly not collateral damage. They are people, dead people, but nonetheless people. Innocent people die in wars. Sometimes, it is unavoidable. The public deserves to know that civilians were killed, not collateral damaged to death.

Will it change anything? Probably not. Americans have become so self-involved and desensitized that the woes of others have become meaningless or just another story. As distasteful as it was during the Vietnam War, there was a body count telling how many Viet Cong were killed. It was not comfortable, but it exposed the public to the horrors of war.

In many ways, the media is a willing dupe of the military in hiding information by the simple parroting of “militaryspeak.” Perhaps, it might be distasteful to say words like die, torture and hit list when referring to our armed forces, but speaking in euphemisms is equivalent to hiding information. For adults, killed, died and tortured are words we have heard before. Those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attack were not collateral damage they were killed and it was reported as such.

When it comes to military actions euphemisms like friendly fire and police action do not present a realistic portrayal of the events they are used to describe. They also rob the public of a chance to speak out pro or con about happenings that may affect them in some manner. With that said, I am terminating this piece. Maybe I will end it also.

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Tags: away, death, died, euphemisms, expired, military, passed

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Comment by Donald R Barbera on April 25, 2014 at 7:39am

Actually, that's a real picture used during the trials showing how the Muslims prisones were treated. That's one of the better pictures.

Comment by Vincent on April 24, 2014 at 6:20pm

Ye gods what is that photo? Some kind of twisted photoshopped joke? Or, worse, an actual photo

Comment by Luara on April 22, 2014 at 3:55pm

The enterprises of the military are enterprises of our nation.  We benefit from them, or at least we're supposed to benefit.  What the military does for our benefit is horrible, so euphemisms are used, by the media as well as by the military.  We have an interest ourselves in distorting reality in this way, because not distorting reality might make it more difficult to enjoy the benefits we get. 

And the purposes of wars are misrepresented to seem noble, when often nobility is the farthest thing from what is really going on. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on April 21, 2014 at 8:17pm

Luara--you picked a fine nuance most don't notice and that is the distinguishing game. In the military a casualty can be dead, wounded or lost. They are purposely left undistinguished so as not to give comfort to the enemy nor upset the home crowd. Their civilians are collateral damage while ours are killed or died. Part of it is semantics and part of it is just plain deception. I have a study from Stanford University on how the media acts as a cheerleader for the military. I'm going to post pieces of it. I think you will find it interesting especially when you see just how much the media and  the military are in lockstep. 

Comment by Luara on April 21, 2014 at 12:02pm

WHo appointed himself as official name changer has been kept hidden.

It might be journalists you know :) Trying to be politically correct.  They might have a big influence on language, both in print and on the internet. 

"African-American" actually seems like it might be offensive, as in "When do I get to be just plain American??" 

No other ethnic group is routinely referred to that way.  It seems very formal.  Italians for example living in the USA, are simply called Italians if they're called anything special.  The "American" part is redundant, and it's also redundant in "African-American".

"Casualty" is also a euphemism, and a confusing one.  Does it mean people killed in war, or killed and wounded? 

I had to look up "black ops" and "wet work".

What the military euphemisms express is "This is just a job.  A dirty job, but an enterprise of our nation".  To make it seem more suitable as a way to preserve our access to oil, or whatever the purpose is. 

So is there a difference in journalistic language when the other side kills our soldiers or civilians, vs deaths when we kill their soldiers or civilians? 

I bet when our civilians are killed, it would be called deaths. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on April 21, 2014 at 11:22am

Thank you Pat. When corporations, government or the military start throwing around these innocuous sounding euphemisms, I want to know what they mean and how it may affect life in this country.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on April 21, 2014 at 10:28am

There are millions of dark skinned people in the world and not all of them are American. Some are German, some are Swiss, English etc. Most prefer the term black. As most have never been to Africa and feel little kinship as do true Africans hen it comes to their far removed cousins around the world. It only workks if you happen to be American. Of course, hyphenated named are de rigueur nowadays.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on April 21, 2014 at 10:24am

On African American I must say that I am just as surprised as you. I was around when blacks were colored even though black indicates the absence of color while white is just the opposite. Skipping the side bar of color theory, I've often wondered who made the change. Was there a committee? I silent bid like at an auction? Did it come from the black thought police. I don't know. Once upon a time Negro was the proper term, which linguistically comes from the Latin term "nigrum," which morphed into the Spanish or Portuguese word negro denoting black. El gato negro mean simply the black cat. From Negro came black, which is a redundancy. Following black came Afro-American and then back to black. Finally, one morning I woke up and discovered we had been renamed--again. WHo appointed himself as official name changer has been kept hidden.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on April 21, 2014 at 10:14am

Luara--Radius of impact sounds like a possible boxing term or a description of a car wreck. When I served, things were pretty straight forward, but as television and lice reporting became a reality in combat theaters, high ups figured out that war was not just about destroying and enemy, but a public relations and marketing job. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on April 21, 2014 at 10:10am

Loren--You have touched several issues dear to my heart. As a newsprint, television and magazine journalist there are certain things that drove me mad and euphemisms were a major thorn. To me, and I'm only speaking for myself, "visually challenged" is a category I could fit because I can't see and damn thing without my contacts or glasses. My wife is "visually challenged when she drives at night, but she can  make it home with no problem. However, Stevie Wonder, Jose Feliciano or Ronnie Milsap can't do it because they are BLIND. They are not challenged, they cannot see a thing. I am not against euphemisms, just the one that have gone so far as to become meaningless or laughable. I am not vertically challenged, I'm freaking short. Handicapped is not a bad word. It implies that a person is in some way unable to to function as the majority of people in the world. It is not shameful. Even though many handicapped people find ways to work around their particular disabilities, nevertheless they are handicapped because they can't they can't function in a "regular" manner without some type of assistance whether is is a device, seeing eye dog or prosthetics such as those used by world-class sprinter Oscar Pistorius, also known as the blade runner because the prosthetic devices he wears that allow him to function. Pistorius is on trial for murder, but his disability had nothing to do with it. I haven't suffered any health crisis, but I have been damn sick. In our  quest to avoid hurting anyone's feelings we have become sensitive to the point of idiocy. Still, euphemisms have a valuable legacy especially considering others conditions. Nevertheless, my main point in writing this was to speak of military and government jargon. We all know what black ops and wet work are, but we wouldn't have the first time we heard them. These are the euphemisms I am concerned about. The terms are used to misdirect, conceal and even alter perceptions of things that if the public knew what they really meant might cause an accounting by those using the terms. I guess what ticked me off is that I heard an interview with former Vice-President Dick Cheney where he was asked multiple times if the US used torture on the prisoners at Guantanamo. He answered no each time and when the reporter brought up the term "enhanced interrogation techniques" he denied that it was torture. 

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