Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Homeland of warriors

About seven years ago I wrote an entry in this blog on our present bizarre usage of the word "homeland."  

I should probably expand this into a general essay on linguistic corruptions arising from empire.  I am thinking at the moment of the word "warrior" as used to refer to  American soldiers.  Unfortunately, despite Google Ngram and some academic linguistic databases, as far as I know it's not possible to find out if this word was used for soldiers in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, simply because that kind of search requires that the database classify general context in a way that such databases--again, as far as I know--don't do.

So I will go with my impressionistic memory, which may well be wrong.  Maybe this usage, which seems to me to be a neologistic amalgam of jingoism, macho chest-pounding, and adolescent fantasy, has appeared in times of war fever before.  If so, I will stand possibly corrected, in advance. 

But I think the present meaning of warrior as  "one of our soldiers" is unprecedented.  In fact Americans generally reserved the term for adversaries we considered barbaric, as in "Comanche warriors attack wagon train."   The word was commonly used for Viking looters, Genghis Khan's cavalrymen, and any and all nomadic raiders plundering their citified neighbors throughout history.

Despite our thinking that such people were barbaric, there is nevertheless an undertone of attributive personal prowess, which, in times like ours, appeals to the male adolescent imagination.  And there's the problem.  Even though I don't think the "Army of One" recruiting geniuses came up with the present use of the word, I am sure they love it.  I am not even sure that American exceptionalism-worshipping Republican ideologues dreamed it up, but again, I am sure they love it too.  And Democrats, always on the defensive and perpetually quaking with fear of  being labelled less patriotic than Republicans, have jumped on the warrior bandwagon.  So it's a bipartisan usage…unfortunately.   It would be good if a major political party had the courage  to stand up and point out that calling our soldiers "warriors" is both stupid and demeaning. I am not holding my breath.

Anyway, I was reading a NY Times book review of _No Easy Day_, the account of the raid to kill bin Laden.  The book was written by one of the commando team, Matt Bissonnette, with the help of a ghost writer.  No doubt there will be a movie.  I was surprised, given the excesses of SEAL admiration by the reviewer, that the word "warrior" appeared only once.  The phrase "killing machine" appeared twice, the second time with a resonance of irony, but even if it was irony (I hope it was) it was pretty muted.

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