Sticks and Stones may Break my Bones, but Words can be Fucking Scary!

As a writer I know the power of word association. Anyone can tell you that words have incredible power to anger, incite fear, and to conceal anything. Just watch any White House Press briefing and you can see in action the very best wordsmith, the White House Press Secretary, do a beautifully choreographed ballet around facts and truths to deliver an inspired briefing with little to no actual content, but oh so many words. Lyrics of music can make us cry and labels placed on us can make us weep just as hard. In recent times words have become the tool of the symphony of the press. Now more than ever we rely on the careful word choice to portray our story, and the choice of one synonym over another can drastically change the skew of a story. In America we have begun to use very specific words to comfort and explain events, and as such have begun to follow mindlessly the explanations we are presented for the questions we ask.

I speak on this because of the swirling controversy surrounding the most recent ‘terrorist’ plot on America. In this piece I will not go in to the details, if you want to know then check out any paper in the country. Instead I want to cover the language being used and the power in it if we make some very small changes, or had decided to do so a long time ago.

First let’s look at two words that have been used thus far in the coverage of this most recent event: “thwarted” vs. “botched”. When this story first broke, I got my usual NYTimes news alert that there had been a botched terrorist attempt on a jetliner. The connotation of botched is that the person in question had screwed up. This specific word means that the terrorist failed in his own regard and that the failure to pull off the intended money shot was his own fault. A few days later though, the idiot terrorist suspect was now some great mastermind with ties to Yemen, and we as a nation had “thwarted” his attack; it was now our victory in our war on terrorism and the hard work and diligence of parties involved that kept this terrorist from getting the job done. In a matter of a day or two we had gone from lucky as a nation, with the incompetence of our would be assassin, to an incredible crime-fighters, like we had kicked in his door and found him making the bomb at a work bench delivering justice with the business end of an M-16.

As you can see, the subtle change from botched to thwarted moves us from the role of doofus to hero in the matter of one additional syllable. This is not uncommon. All the time we see the choice phrase or word to change the tone of an action or event. In our American history books in schools today we see this choice. When the Indians slaughtered our American soldiers it was termed a “massacre at (blank)”; but by the same token, when our boys crushed men, women, and children, it was termed “the battle of (blank)”. In Vietnam they had their “search and destroy” missions, but this was seen as too harsh of a term, so for the very same activity they came up with something like “survey and secure” or whatever. Do you see the subtle difference? Same fucking thing was occurring in both situations, but the words chosen were very different in their association. How about our “shock and awe” we so liked? Could have easily been called “bomb the shit out of those bastards”, but the same event would have been seen as something ugly, and not the July 4th fireworks display the official moniker seemed to indicate.

This brings me to something more sinister in this event, and more or less all events since 9/11. I hate the blanket use of the word “terrorist”. This word has been used for every kind of attack over many different groups and has been prostituted since day one for the express purpose of policy and partisanship in this country. Since we were attacked we have declared a war on it, stamped anyone with ties to the middle east and a hard-on for explosives with it. We have used it to push policy, law, and a couple of wars, simply on the use of this word. The WORD “terrorism” is actually scarier than the actual act or the small sliver of people that actually deserve the label. Now, every time there is an event of violence, a foiled plot, or a group that we don’t like that feels just as strongly about us, then they are labeled terrorists, and as such, since we have declared a war on them, we now reserve the right to fuck you up. If there is any single event planned by some disgruntled jackass he is now a terrorist, and by a very close association that we have cultivated, he is now in league with Al-Quaeda and probably gave Bin Laden a half&half in a remote cave on request.

It is so typical of Americans to need these labels like ‘terrorist’. We don’t like the idea that there is an ether that anti-american sentiment is floating around in. As a country, a frenzied mob of hysterical elitists, we feel the need to label and therefor categorize our fears. It is in our blood to lump those things that scare us in to nice little boxes we can point at and fill with all the stuff that we don’t want to handle on a case by case basis. It is so easy for us to just grab a ton of different, independent events and ideas, and shove them in to the world’s worst toy box, closing the lid so we can breath again. For Christ’s sake, there is a color coded system of fear we are told we should be feeling! When did that come in to existence, when the Bush administration felt that there needed to be a carefully crafted system for the American people to refer to when they weren’t sure if they should grab a helmet, stock up on gas masks and water, or just shit their pants. (FYI, “shit your pants” is actually a course of action when we hit level “orange”)

When we label these individual zealots “terrorists” we are giving them the power of the word. When we think terrorist, we think of some shadowy mastermind in charge of a vast network of well-funded and intelligent operatives that want to blow up your house and rape your wife, literally YOUR wife specifically, like you, John Q. Public, is actually pinned to a cork board in some cave filled with plan-hatching psychopaths that don’t like your fucking pretentious corn-flower blue tie and are ready to do something about it. This specific label lends itself to re-inflating the fear balloon I had hoped we had popped, and giving the actual terrorists like Osama more power, when, in all actuality, he had nothing to do with it. When we give this power to these isolated events plotted and carried out by misguided, misinformed misanthropes with a panache for the dramatic, we continue to feed our own fears and add to the paranoia that has gathered en masse in this country. It’s like calling some 10-year-old learning the G-chord on his Christmas guitar the long-lost fifth Beatle.

I have a simple solution for this situation, stop buying in to it! “Terrorist” has been retarded by our use of it, and we need to get back to basics and call these vigilante bombers what they are, though ‘vigilante bomber’ is perfectly acceptable; they’re Assholes! Don’t you like that better? Isn’t the world a little less scary when there is a “poorly co-ordinated, rag-tag bunch of assholes” out to get us rather than a “shadowy network of sleeper-cell terrorists” that are capable of attacking at any time, any where? Hey, it is the same exact group of people in both statements, but the latter is a much easier pill to swallow, and just as accurate. Don’t believe me? Well if they were so fucking good, then why are they recruiting idiots like this guy to do their work? Seems to me we might already have the cream of the ‘terrorist’ crop locked away in Gitmo and Ba’ram.

This brings me to the other side of the word; association among the terrorists. Now hear me out, what if calling this asshole, or the Fort Hood jag-off, a ‘terrorist’, is offensive to real terrorists? I can just see it now, Osama is kicking back in some cave with satellite TV, reading the Times when he stumbles across an article about this Yemen-connected idiot.

“What the fuck is this!? He is no Allah-damned terrorist, I’m a terrorist!” He screams. A fellow terrorist comes storming in.

“What is the matter, Osama?” He inquires nervously.

Pacing about the cave-den, “The Americans are calling this guy a terrorist! Remember, about six months back we had a meeting at the lodge and that gangly looking kid from Yemen showed up?” His cohort nods feverishly. “Well it turns out humus-for-brains over here thought he could pull off that Airliner job he was ranting about. Guess what, couldn’t do it.

“So now the pig/dog Americans are saying they ‘thwarted’ a terrorist attack and are still safe.” He shakes his head, looking around for effect and bugging out his eyes. “This guy is killing me, Mamud!” Mamud gets a bit nervous now. “This crazy bacon-eating bastard comes to ONE meeting and now he thinks he can go out there and make me look bad, undermining everything I have worked for. My fifth wife has more “terrorist” in her pinky finger than this goat-lover had in his entire body!”

He drops down in to his Barack-a lounger (get it?) and heaves a sigh while rubbing his temples. His companion shuffles nervously and slowly makes his way out of the room when Osama speak, stopping him in his tracks.

“You know, Mamud, kids these days just think they can go out there and be terrorists. They have no idea what it takes to really get organized work done when you have to break five times a day for prayer; it really throws a wrench in things. Who is he to try and blow up a plane…that’s my thing, I did that. I mean really man, be original; just taking all the fun out of the job.”

…and scene.

What do you think? Maybe there is something to this? I don’t know, but I do think that we can’t go on categorizing and quantifying our fears with labels and carefully orchestrated dances of the silver tongue. Fear is not even coming from these attacks anymore. I was not more afraid of terrorism after Fort Hood, and I am no more afraid of terrorism after this botched attack. I am only afraid when a man in a three-pice suit utters the word “terrorism” in speeches and interviews in Washington. My fear now comes from which policy or act they are pawning off as necessary now. I am most afraid of what it will cost and what it will not accomplish. It is time we faced the fact that there is more than Al-Qaeda out there. We need to realize that there are many fractured groups and individuals out there, and though it may be comfortable, they don’t all fit in to the terrorist box. (though a terrorist box would be cool, just put ‘em all in there and chuck it in the ocean) It is time we called these people and groups what they are, a bunch of Assholes. Calling them this would end the war on terrorism because we wouldn’t have anymore terrorists, just a bunch of assholes; besides the world’s already brimming with those, so what damage can a few more do?…Then of course we might declare a War on Assholes, definitely would take more than eight years though.

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