One of the fun things about teaching children to read and write is that we get to do what is called “word study”. We look at the spelling, we break the word into its component parts, we think about Greek and Latin roots. Its so fun!
I love Word Study because it helps the children to be more precise in the language that they use in writing and in speech. Word Study lets me be very clear when I tell them that the word “like” means “to enjoy” or “to feel affection for”. So, like, they shouldn’t, like, you know, like put it in front of, like, every other word in the sentence when they, like, tell you what happened during, like, the, like, French and Indian war.
Of course it is incredibly important for our young people to be very precise in the words that they use when they speak or write. Of course it is.
We wouldn’t want them to use misleading or euphemistic language when they grow up to become the leaders of the free world, now would we?
It has been an interesting few weeks for a teacher who engages in word study, let me tell you. I was fascinated to read about the tragic events in New York, when a young black man was killed while walking in his own apartment building. He was shot by an NYPD officer. Oops, sorry, he wasn’t “shot”. He died “due to the accidental discharge of a firearm.” Gotcha.
It has been even more intriguing for a word study person like me to hear about the recently released torture report. I mean, I thought that “torture” was a pretty clear idea. Especially if you look at US law. There’s a clear definition of torture and it pretty much means just what you’d think. It means inflicting severe physical or mental pain on someone under your control.
But as I listen to the guys who actually ordered it, condoned it, sanctioned it and believe in it, I am hearing about things like “EITs”. They don’t say, “We tortured the guy until he told us what we wanted to hear”, they say “He revealed valuable information after undergoing EITs”. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was a cosmetic procedure.
At the very, very least, they should be saying “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”. I think we all know how these techniques are “enhanced”. They use processes like “rectal rehydration“. And waterboarding (also known as “near drowning”). Pretty damn enhanced, huh?
And lest you think I am simply anti Republican, let’s think about the drones that the current President is using to blast apart the bad guys in the dusty old middle east. Oops, pardon me. Let’s think about the “UAV”s (“Unmanned Aerial Vehicles”) that are dropping death onto the heads of terrorists and innocents alike.
You have to admit, it sounds much cleaner and much more moral to say that our government uses UAVs to neutralize a threat than it is to say that we used drones to kill a guy and his family.
It is much easier for us to feel good about ourselves when we tell the world that our EITs resulted in actionable intel than it is to say that we tortured a guy until he squealed and gave up his comrades.
I am not here to debate the morality of war, or the morality of torture, or the morality of dropping bombs from the sky on people who can’t strike back because the bomber is unmanned. For me, as a teacher and a mother and a believer in the sanctity of human life, there is no debate.
What I am here to say is this: If you are going to torture people and drop anonymous bombs on them and nearly drown them and shove water up inside them until they scream, at least have the courage to admit to what you are doing, and don’t try to hide behind the nuances of the English language. If you honestly believe that you are doing good and operating on the side of decency when you keep someone awake for 150 hours while he is chained naked to the ceiling, at least have the courage to say that you believe that sometimes it is morally right to torture.
Admit to your beliefs, admit to your actions, name them for what they are, and accept responsibility for carrying them out.