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William Astore

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If Our Troops Are "Warriors" and "Warfighters," How Can They Not Fight Wars?

Posted: 06/22/11 11:40 AM ET

In a telling piece in TomDispatch.com, Jonathan Schell notes the pretzel-like linguistic turns the Obama administration has taken to deny the U.S. is at war in Libya. Especially disturbing is his comment that as long as no American troops are being killed, and as long as we can attack the enemy with impunity, with virtually no risk of any reprisals, the Obama administration believes it's justified to assert that we're not waging war, even as combat jets attack and Libyans are killed.

Of course, the Obama administration is employing its own version of Orwellian language in an attempt to deter Congress from asserting the American people's rights under the War Powers Act to restrict the president's ability to embroil our country in undeclared, unnecessary, and unconstitutional wars. And Obama is wrong to do so, as his own lawyers explained.

There's an irony here that speaks volumes about our leaders' propensity for endless war. Even as they try to deny that our country is waging war -- employing linguistic somersaults that would make even the most avid post-modernist scholar turn green with envy -- they celebrate the status of our troops as "warriors" and "warfighters." (Our troops even have a "Soldier's Creed" and an "Airman's Creed" to remind them that they are, first and foremost, "warriors.")

How, Mr. President, can we possibly deploy "warriors" and their deadly war-fighting weapons and not call it "war?"

Orwellian language is the tool of manipulative dictatorships, not open democracies. And that's precisely the point.

There's an old saying that the first casualty of war is truth. Perhaps we now need to amend that: The first casualty of the new "non-war" is the English language. With plenty of collateral damage to our democracy.

Professor Astore writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and can be reached at wjastore@gmail.com.