All week this word's been haunting me.
Ever since Hillary Clinton channelled her inner Doctor Strangelove on ABC-TV, vowing to "totally obliterate" Iran for some imagined attack on Israel in the future, that word's hung in the air like a tiny mushroom cloud. Of course, to the corporate media, a casual threat to incinerate millions of innocent people doesn't have nearly the importance of a lapel-pin--but to anyone who believes the Schoolmarm-from-New-York's own dictum that "words matter," the choice of that particular verb is tremendously revealing.
Merriam-Webster tells us that the root of "obliterate" comes from the Latin word "littera", for "letter," so that obliterate really means to destroy the alphabet--to erase not only every word but the very capacity to create words. Or, as the dictionary puts it: 1 a: to remove utterly from recognition or memory; b: to cause to disappear (as a body part or a scar), or collapse (as a duct conveying body fluid; 2) to make undecipherable or imperceptible by obscuring or wearing away."
What kind of human being--knowing what we do, on this post-Hiroshima planet, at a time when Shock-and-Awe tactics have multiplied the number of dead babies throughout the so-called Third World---what kind of person would even choose the word "obliterate?" "Obliterate" doesn't even pretend to any strategic logic; "totally obliterate" is the language of terrorism, the rhetoric of cruelty unbounded--horrific if meant seriously, and even worse if employed as a throwaway campaign line designed to prove the speaker has "balls"--when, ironically, that's the one attribute of Senator Clinton's that no one really disputes.
And what does it say of one's readiness--on Day One or any Day--to deal with the rest of the world? Though this grotesque, post-Cheney threat has drawn little comment in the US media (except from Robert Scheer, and a few others), rest assured it's still being heard, with rage and disbelief, throughout the rest of the world--most notably from our own allies. The Saudi-based daily Arab News, generally loathe to deviate from a US-propaganda line, was moved to unusual eloquence:
"This is the foreign politics of the madhouse. It demonstrates the same doltish ignorance that has distinguished Bush's foreign relations. It offers only violence where there should be negotiations and war where there could be peace. At a stroke, Clinton demonstrated to everyone in this region that if she were the next occupant of the White House, Iraq-like death and destruction would be the order of the day."
And that's from our friends in the region, folks. But criticism is raining in from everywhere: from England. From New Zealand. From many progressive voices within Israel itself. From all the places in this world where bowling-styles and tabloid sleaze don't dominate the airwaves.
From a global perspective, the "obliterate" threat is way more grave than John McCain's "a hundred years in Iraq" remark. At least McCain didn't promise to commit mass destruction; it could only be inferred from what he said. And it's infinitely more serious than McCain's "bomb Iran" ditty. So among other things, Clinton has--with one word--rendered herself impotent to criticize McCain on any moral basis whatsoever. But then Clinton's never had anything to say about the morality of the war in Iraq: her main argument for stopping the carnage has been that those lazy Iraqis just can't get it together, so why the hell should we keep being so good to them?
Really, in its logical stupidity--its rhetorical overkill, since "totally" is redundant with "obliterate" anyhow--this remark summons up no-one more clearly than George Bush II. You can easily picture his lips sliding around the words even as his brain sluggishly works to transmit the concept. But we're coming off eight years of "total obliteration" thinking, and "total obliteration" speaking. We have a once-in-a-lifetime shot at a fresh start. Is this really the voice we want on the business end of that 3AM phonecall--the dead-affect voice of yet another Obliterator-in-Chief?