Following our first issue dealing with doublespeak and descriptive language in the mass media (Why Iran is a 'regime' and Afghanistan a 'government'), we will now focus on the umpteenth death of a Spanish soldier in Afghanistan as a way of illustrating another interesting trick used by the powers-that-be to manipulate the masses.
According to the language used in the mass media, Spanish military personnel are always just that: military officers, soldiers, sometimes government officials, i. e., workers similar to any other worker, but differing in their greater self-sacrifice in the service of ‘all of us’. In spite of the fact that all of them work for an armed organization earning an average salary that during overseas military operations reaches levels that are the envy of other public servants, and the fact that a significant percentage of them are foreigners from poor countries, they are never called ‘mercenaries’, a term which could well be applied to them for reasons of semantic fairness, among others.
Nevertheless, the troops they confront in asymmetrical wars such as in Afghanistan are never made up of military officers or soldiers, nor even guerrilla fighters. In the best of cases, they are ‘insurgents’, though they are usually just called ‘taliban’ (a term which when translated to the common language of those who watch so many Spanish TV news bulletins and read so much of newspapers like El País and ABC means something like ‘uncivilized turban-wearing islamist fanatics who force their women to wear burkas’). In such cases, they are outright called "terrorists", as if they were not the ones being invaded and as if their civilians were not the ones ‘mistakenly’ killed by the dozens in the brutal bombings perpetrated by our allied air forces. Not just killed, but slandered as well.
The Colombian mercenary serving the Spanish state who lost his life in Afghanistan the other day during a military campaign in which at least three Afghan rebels also died was, according to the almost unanimous criterion of the Spanish media, ‘killed’. However, the Afghans were ‘struck’, ‘died’ or ‘dispatched’ –depending on the source— by our troops, who did it, according to what we are told for example by the newspaper La Razón, to ‘avenge’ the death of the Colombian soldier. It is important to understand that this newspaper endorses and is proud of this retaliatory attitude, so removed from the spirit of ‘peace missions’ suggested in government propaganda. Surely our readers did not miss the different connotations of the terms used, some of which convey lawfulness and legitimacy, whereas the other –’killed’-- seeks to convey harshly the moral misery in which ‘the enemy’ lives.
It is not that we consider the use of the word ‘killed’ to be inappropriate when a person’s life is violently taken during a military mission. What we consider offensive is the double standard. If we wish to use ‘kill’, let’s do it in all cases. Both the Colombian mercenary and the three rebel Afghan military were killed. And, of course, let’s not say anything at all about the Afghan civilian shot to death a few days ago by Spanish army soldiers just because he was in a hurry and tried to pass a military convoy on his motorbike. For this man (his passenger on the motorbike was also injured) who was not even involved in the war – but was, no doubt, killed by our troops – there will be no ministers to clarify what happened or to transfer his corpse, no moving state funerals, no news bulletins praising him to the point of boredom, no frontpage news to cover his death for days, and no one to judge those guilty of his death.
It seems that, like words, some of those killed are more important than others…
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Source: Nuestros soldados "abaten”, ellos “asesinan”
Original article published on February 6, 2010.
About the author
Ana Atienza is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, translator and reviser are cited.
URL of this article on Tlaxcala: http://www.tlaxcala.es/pp.asp?reference=10123&lg=en