Seamans: The Definition Of War

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(HOST)  When is a war not a war?  Commentator Bill Seamans has been contemplating that question.

(SEAMANS)  It really was no surprise that President Obama did not mention the word "war" when he defended his reasons for intervening in Libya.  That was a result of his spin campaign to play down the image that the U.S. is in a shooting war with the country of Libya rather than specifically against Muammar Gaddafi and his regime.  We are spun by the story that we are  following the U.N. Security Council’s decision to impose a no-fly zone to avert a humanitarian crisis threatened by Gaddafi.

But It appears that the media cannot avoid calling the Libyan action a war despite the White House and Pentagon effort to wipe out the word with an Orwellian semantic scrubbing.  We could recall that tedious debate over what the meaning of "is" is – and now we are involved in a discourse over what the meaning of "war" is.

Libya’s sovereign air space has been invaded by 122 American cruise missiles which deliver thousand-pound bombs that have destroyed Gaddafi’s ground antiaircraft installations.  Most of the planes patrolling over the no-fly zone are American which also are diving down to shoot up Gaddafi’s tanks and troops on the ground – but this is not a war.

I feel that I’m trapped in a parallel semantic universe by the euphemisms being used to avoid uttering the word "war."  Defense Secretary Gates called it a "kinetic military action."  White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called it "a time limited, scope-limited military action."  Then, among other benign descriptions there is "armed conflict," "the use of force," "a military intervention," "strategic pressure," "a police action," and simply "the situation in Libya."

To say the least, the Obama promise for more transparency in government is being fogged by this semantic political debate over whether attacking a country and causing death and destruction for whatever the  great noble reason – is, indeed, an act of war.  We can  expect more debate over the political, legal, diplomatic, and military interpretations of the meaning of the word, war.

A recent commentary in Politico argues that the political imperative for Obama to avoid the term "war" is obvious – that he was opposed to the Iraq War – that public opinion is against adding the human sacrifices and financial burden of yet another war – that Afghanistan and Iraq are more than enough and that Obama doesn’t want the legacy of starting another one so he’s avoiding calling it a war in Libya.

Finally, we ask does this all mean that we have reached back to Orwell’s 1984 lexicon and achieved universal peace because war is no longer war?

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