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Wartime Language Used by Civilians On The Ground

Effective Living > Communications > Language

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Summary. Wartime language and military language have increasingly found their way into mainstream communications. This document provides a brief history of this.

Iraq War Influence. On 20 March 2003, the U.S. war in Iraq began. As non-stop news coverage of the war flooded the airwaves, the language of war slowly became adopted in common conversations. References to “our troops on the ground” morphed into common language as described below.

Media Influence. In an effort to appear tough as well as show unity with the military, reporters were embedded with soldiers. Increasingly, the public was accustom to seeing reporters dressed like soldiers. Even when covering other events, the military look and language became a signature style for some reporters, such as Anderson Cooper. News agencies began referring to their broadcast journalists as their people on the ground. Where else would they be?

Political Influence. It’s common for politicians to refer to campaigning as a “fight.” However, during the convergence of the Iraq war and the 2004 presidential campaigning, there was an increase in wartime language among politicians. In the winter of 2003, the 2004 U.S. presidential campaigns were building up. So, war language and political language merged. This was, in part, an effort on the part of the Democrats to show their ties with militarism and demonstrate that Democrats can be hawkish. In the same way a career veteran might inadvertently weave military language into their daily speech, politicians began weaving military language into their daily speech. Politicians would refer to their people on the ground, or their ground campaign. The absurdity of their usage of these phrases was clearly evidenced by a simple retrospective consideration of the meaning of the phrases. In wartime, there might be an air, sea, and/or land campaign. There might be members of the armed services fighting in the air, or at sea, or on land. In politics, there are not campaign workers on aircraft carriers. There is no air campaign. A political campaign is only on the ground.

Organization Influence. As the Iraq war dragged on, leading up to the 2004 presidential elections, T. Boone Pickens founded the PickensPlan.com website as an initiative to promote the use of natural gas in an effort to reduce wars over oil. Pickens frequently begins his video and written communications by referring to his followers as Troops.

Traditional Masculinity. Men who desire to demonstrate their manliness will often express affinity with militarism, hunting, monster truck rallies, tractor pulls, and/or Nascar. The 2004 presidential campaign resulted in claims that John Edwards and John Kerry were effeminate, and some reports suggested they were gay lovers. Edwards responded to the accusations challenging his manliness by publicly stating he was against gay marriage because of his religious and traditional upbringing. This little rhetorical tennis match continued, and in the process, it seemed to raise the watermark of homophobia in the United States causing numerous conservative radio talk show hosts to rise up in popularity like ships on the water. By 2005, when the film Brokeback Mountain was released, the homophobia was at its peak. This caused the language (and thinking) of militarism and machismo to become permanently engrained in the U.S. psyche. It should be noted that a person’s machismo or femininity have little to do with homosexuality. Despite this, these characteristics are mistakenly used by some people as the basis for what they call their gay-dar (like radar).

Conclusion. The above factors of media influence, political influence, organizational influence, and social sentiments, have resulted in the language of militarism to become (seemingly) a permanent part of the English language.

By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com