The first signs of the winds of war these days are usually those little gusts caused by military ad men shuffling through thesauruses looking up new words for murder. Now that "collateral damage" and "friendly fire" have lost currency and been relegated to the crueller routines of hip comedians, it is time to rouse again those crack teams of euphemizers for the noble work of razzle-dazzle.
What is a snappy way to say incinerate? "Burn alive" isn't working. Oh yes, the bon mot makers are hard at work these days writing their jingo-jingles. They are particularly proud of the phrase they've come up with to describe the planned "rapid dominance" of Iraq in which thousands of cruise missiles will fall each day for two consecutive days. They call it "shock and awe."
It makes it sound almost non-violent, as though people will see the luminous face of some God of fireworks and fall to their knees -- impressed into surrender like superstitious natives in an old Tarzan movie.
Ready to agree to anything -- democracy even. The verbiage may be new, but the technique is very familiar. At least to me, because my parents lived through the shocking and awing of London in the second world war. Hitler, though, had a different name for it: blitzkrieg. The lightning strike. To my ear "blitzkrieg" sounds even snappier and more pizzazzy than "shock and awe" -- but I guess it also has a certain taint to it.
Another catchphrase making the rounds these days is "mother of all bombs," the U.S. military's jocular nickname for the new "Massive Ordnance Air Blast" it's made to replace the smaller "daisy picker" bomb used in Vietnam and Afghanistan. But there's a logic problem here: this bomb cannot be the parent of the smaller bomb that preceded it. It is in fact a descendant -- an offspring, a child. Any euphemism with both "child" and "bomb" in it, though, is not going to offer much camouflage.
"Child of all bombs" clearly wouldn't "hunt." It might tend to make people think about the actual living children who will be burned alive or maimed for life or starved or mortally sickened in the war.
In any case, it was Saddam who started it when his own saucy sloganeers came up with the previous war's zinger: "The mother of all battles." But he, too, had things backwards. Still does. If, by the time you read this, the shocking and awing of Iraq has begun, it will once again be too late for the "child of all battles" -- the children of Iraq.
The Bush junta will finally have found its "smoking gun." They will be firing it.