Thursday, December 10, 2015

Journalists and Bad Guys

I have this image in my head of a journalist who likes to believe he or she is a realist. I imagine a reporter thinking of himself as being knowledgeable, after tromping down these mean streets, and after attending university. But I’m wrong, of course. Being a hard-boiled reporter went out with fedoras and trench coats. Precious few Canadian journalists, whether from formal education or being self-taught, “remember” my dad’s war.

It’s as if these guys managed to get through university without taking a single non-journalism course: To me they seem awfully innocent about war and peace. I would hope that even a reporter who had no ambitions to be a columnist one day, or to ever write like Hemmingway, would know that, for a writer, words are his “bread and butter.”

Buddhists tell me “words build your world.” Maybe reporters didn’t get the memo.

People are talking about words this week. As I write, there is talk of more action in Syria, either by a coalition, or by NATO if France invokes “defensive war” under article 5 of the NATO agreement. And what in the world do we call that terrorist region we might target? What words? Monday morning, the anniversary of Pear Harbor, on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio, two experts told the CBC host that saying “Islamic State” is wrong, partly because it isn’t a state, “don’t give it legitimacy,” and mostly because it isn’t Islamic, not as most Muslims would understand the term.

On Tuesday a British newspaper went into some depth covering various possible words: ISIL, ISIS, Daesh, or Islamic State. (Here is the link)

At home in Canada, it is as if the reporters have forgotten such details as sauerkraut being called liberty cabbage during my dad’s war, and German shepherd dogs being called Alsatians. This means they have forgotten the concept behind the details. Our soldiers in fearful combat did not use a neutral term like “Germans.” No, the opposing soldiers were called “the enemy,” krauts. Surely great fear causes great hatred. Maybe in some fantasy la-la land soldiers may kill as a job… impersonally, without malice. But in the real world, unlike in the Hollywood movies, soldiering will never be “a job.” There is no cheer in a foxhole-shaped grave.

In a democracy like my dad’s the soldiers are just as innocent as we of the general population, a population that has decided that all of us are supporting some of us to go carry out our wishes. As a united nation of killers, on the home front we say "liberty cabbage."

I don’t know what to think of citizens who are reporters. The main detail is that Canadians are attacking with just a few fighter bombers, flying high and remote from the “killing ground.” The obvious concept is: Don’t send our boys to bomb unless you are willing to kill. There’s more: If you would kill, whether with remote bomb or close bayonet—there’s no true difference—be realistic in your words. Don’t call the enemy a name you would use for your dear daughter.

I have heard of two girls in my city named Isis. Poor kids. The previous prime minister, Stephen Harper, and his minister of defense, quite rightly said Isil. As does President Barack Obama. But despite this, the reporters for the CBC, all across Canada, every day, are saying Isis.

I can imagine, if ever push came to shove, stiffening my gut and shoving my bayonet at dirty Isil!”…. But a guttural bellow of— “Isis?” Go ahead, try it. Not the same. Besides being a pretty girl’s name, it’s a classic name for an Egyptian goddess. But reporters, I guess, pass through university without reading the classics.

I can understand how if two names are equally short then a journalist, for commercial reasons, will choose the sweetest sounding one. Profit is good. But war should never be commercial or sweet. As soon as I heard that wrong word being used all the time I knew that Canada’s six warplanes in Iraq would NEVER be reinforced, no matter how many mass graves and how many refugees. Now, I don’t think the CBC contains leftist conspirators who thought to keep the war from increasing. No, they just didn’t think.

Sean Crawford
Update: I was correct that our conservative party led government would not increase our six fighter-bombers. What I didn't anticipate was that our liberal party led government would remove all six planes. A google search shows our liberal prime minister saying both ISIS and ISIL, but I think he mostly says ISIS.

~I wrote a lovely essay called Troy, the Iliad, and Music, putting Troy into the context of our modern democracy with reservists, citizen-soldiers. The post, archived January 2014, has achieved merely an average hit count, but I still think it’s a lovely piece.

The Iliad is Homer’s classic three thousand year old story where, (unlike U.S. movies) unless you know history, you can't tell which side wrote the story about the horror of that war—without any glamorous Trojan Horse. No such horse. It’s all tragedy, and I was moved.

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