Oped: When it comes to war, words matter
Words matter. It's an important lesson learned by children on the playground and PR executives alike. That's why the unheralded word change to President Donald Trump's Department of Defense mission statement — which recently came to light in a report by veterans news outlet Task & Purpose — is unsettling, to say the least.
The change, made in early January, replaced a statement saying the department's mission is to "deter war" with one that pledges to "provide a lethal Joint Force to defend the security of our country and sustain American influence abroad." The new language appears on every page of the department's website, except the "About" page, in what may have been an oversight. It is overtly aggressive, befitting an administration that is not afraid to be seen as explicitly militaristic.
The U.S. government knows all too well the importance of words. After World War II, what had been called the Department of War was whitewashed and renamed the "Department of Defense." This retitling in no way changed the ideology of a department that sports a long history of warmongering, rather than defending a mainland that has not been invaded by "foreign" forces since Pancho Villa in 1916.
U.S. expansionism dates back to the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, which hypocritically opposed European colonialism in the Americas while greenlighting U.S. interventionism in the region. The American "sphere" grew with the seizure of Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guantanamo Bay in the 1898 Spanish American War, and continued with the annexation of Hawaii the same year.
Rather than defending the United States from external threats, the Department of "Defense" has instigated multiple invasions of other nations, including Korea (1950-1953), Vietnam (1955-1975) the Dominican Republic (1965), Grenada (1983) and Iraq (1991 and 2003-2011). The United States has also repeatedly threatened the use of nuclear weapons, from Iraq and China in 1958 to Trump's Twitter rant about Kim Jong Un asserting that the U.S. has a "much bigger & more powerful" nuclear button.
So, while the newly stated DoD mission is not surprising to those familiar with the history of U.S. foreign policy, it is foreboding in its explicitness. Its tone is fitting given that Trump's pick to head the department, ex-Marine Corps General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, has affirmed that he leads a "department of war" and actively embraced its use of violence, transforming murder into a twisted heroism.
"The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event," Mattis once told a group of Marines. "(T)here are some a–holes in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, cunning, obedience and alertness, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim. It's really a hell of a lot of fun. You're gonna have a blast out here."
Most symbolic of this administration's glorification of militarism is Trump's unprecedented request for a massive, multimillion dollar military parade on Nov. 10, during Veterans Day weekend, in Washington, D.C. At taxpayers' expense, the extravaganza will showcase U.S. military might, parading armored vehicles, weapons and aircraft through the capital.
In response, the Stop Trump's Military Parade coalition is planning a peace parade and other activities Nov. 9-11. The goal is to return Veterans Day to Armistice Day, a day to celebrate peace. Let's get the lingo right; let's come to the nation's capital to counter Trump's military madness and send a message that the United States should divert war dollars to human and ecological needs.
— Gayle Morrow is a volunteer writer and researcher for World BEYOND War, a global, grassroots network advocating for war abolition.