Opinion: The obscene language of modern war

As the dust settles over Fallujah and the Iraqis begin to count civilian casualties, are the self-styled 'Death Dealers' of the US Marines 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion congratulating themselves on how effectively they obeyed the command to 'kick some butt'? Or can even the marines on the ground see that the situation has, if anything, increased in complexity. It is a received wisdom that for an armed force to operate effectively, it cannot wrestle with moral ambiguities. For millennia, language has proved a motivational tool, enabling soldiers to distance themselves from the human cost of military action. And as technological advances have rendered warfare more remote, war's lexicon has expanded to include a plethora of phrases designed to motivate and obfuscate.

So after a period of 'softening up the battle space', Fallujah was apparently 'depersonalised' before Phantom Fury was unleashed - something which must come as news to Mohammed Abboud, who watched his nine-year-old son bleed to death from shrapnel wounds - an example of 'collateral damage', possibly the most obscene of all the phrases to have emerged from modern warfare.

The 'liberators' use of language bears a remarkable similarity to that of a conqueror. How will locals view the renaming of areas of Fallujah with American names such as 'Queens'? And how are Muslims expected to react to the significance of the wood cross adorned with skull and crossbones attached to the Death Dealers' armoured vehicles?

The Multi-National Corps - Iraq (MNC-I) recently hired bespoke American comms agency Iraqex to mount an 'aggressive advertising and PR campaign that will accurately inform the Iraqi people of the coalition's goals and gain their support'.

The MNC-I admitted that an increasing number of Iraqis are questioning coalition aims, with anti-coalition forces sowing the seeds of 'doubt, fear and distrust'.

One can only hope for the sake of the coalition and the future of Iraq that Iraqex will take a strong line on the use of language. The oversimplification and jingoism that leads military leaders to describe action in Fallujah as 'kicking ass' may help morale on the battlefield or even salve the conscience of voters at home - but it can only serve to undermine any attempt to bring ordinary Iraqis on side.

At the very least, the liberating forces could do the 'Eye-raqi' people the dignity of calling them by their proper name.

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