Flippant use of military terms skewers reality of war

Trail Times editor Guy Bertrand comments on the effects of social media and how it can de-sensitize vocabulary.

If the current social media revolution is teaching us anything, it is the impact that words have.

From that standpoint, words, be it on Twitter or Facebook, have proven to have a much larger, broader role than simply shouting anonymously at your television or mumbling to yourself.

Social media has shown that words do impact the way we think about ourselves, our society and the world around us.

So with Remembrance Day on the horizon I am reminded how the impact of words gets lost somewhere in the translation from thought to sound. Often if we actually stop and think about what we are saying, perhaps our choice of words would be somewhat different.

I always think of that around this time. And more so after reading Sheri Regnier’s story in a Trail Times edition last week on the Royal Canadian Legion’s poppy launch and the life of Cliff Dawson a World War II veteran.

I remember vividly in the aftermath of 9-11 when people in the media vowed to correct their analogies of events before comparing something to a war or a battlefield.

Of course that only lasted as long as the next headline. Words like “battle,” “war,” and “do or die” were once again used to describe everything from games to elections.

It’s sad to see military terms used in such a cavalier way. I guess it’s an easy and lazy way for media types to describe something that isn’t remotely close to an actual war.

Granted a lot of terms have become part of our lexicon over generations –  “rally the troops,” “down in the trenches,” or “back in the foxhole.”

But in the last decade or so everything has become a “war,” or the latest athlete’s exploits are “heroic.”

Perhaps we’ve become de-sensitized to the entire transition in our use of such adjectives.

War was never viewed like that in older generations. Wars were defining moments in history, that galvanized much of the world, gave birth to revolutions or help fuel societies against governments that initiate it.

Wars took lives, left gaps in family trees and altered future generations.

Now war is a selling point – especially in the media. Networks spare no expense on graphics, expert panels, breaking video, foreign correspondents and even Oscar winning movies.

If you can tag the word “war,” to it, then it can be sold to the public, whether you’re in the media, politics or entertainment.

We’re repeatedly told there are “wars” on everything from terrorism, to drugs, to Santa Claus and Christmas trees.

If a mixed martial arts fight isn’t labelled a “war” then there’s barely a reason to watch it.

If a politician doesn’t declare “war” on inflation, poverty or cross-border shopping then they’re simply not doing enough on the issue.

If an accident or disaster isn’t compared to a “war zone” then it’s hardly worth noting.

If it isn’t a “war of words” then it’s barely a whisper.

Politicians retreat to their “war rooms” to strategize. Companies build up a “war chest” to fend off competitors.

Unfortunately the over-used cry of “war” barely causes us to pause while flipping through the channels.

And sadly it’s not the only word we’ve come to throw around quite loosely.

For the record;

Canada rallying with two third-period goals to win an Olympic gold medal is not “heroic.” Fighting to defend your country is “heroic.”

Tiger Woods is not “brave” for withstanding torrential rain and sinking a 25-foot putt to win $5 million. Signing up to join the army, like Mr. Dawson did at the young age of 18 years old, is “brave.”

And you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in our federal government worthy of being called “honourable” nowadays. We should remind ourselves that “honourable” is a term that is earned, by the men and women who fought for our country, not something won in elections.

If you stop and think about what “war” actually means, you’ll find the definition hasn’t changed over the years only its usage has.

We still watch young soldiers march off to war in a foreign land for a fight even many of them, let alone the public at large, don’t understand. We watch in dismay as the very government they fought for quibble over simple rewards and the dignity to grow old gracefully and under the belief that their sacrifices were well deserved and appreciated.

It saddens me to read about veterans living in poverty or veterans denied proper treatment when they return from a tour of duty many of us will never experience or understand.

Which brings me to another word.

“Remembering” isn’t just a snappy slogan conjured up for license plates and bumper stickers.

It’s a moment when we pause to fully absorb what people have given heroically, bravely and honestly.

In truth, there are really no words to describe what they’ve done.

So that’s why we do it with a moment of silence.

If nothing else take that moment on Nov. 11.

Guy Bertrand is the managing editor of the Trail Times.

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