Ending War With Words

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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War is not funny, but the people who wage it are all too human and sometimes are.

Funny, that is. Even when they're waging war.

It would, for example, be difficult to find a bigger clown than Saddam Hussein. You would think the buffoon would have avoided all this by simply coming clean about the military toys he has hidden in mattresses and buried in coffee cans all over Iraq.

It seems so very basic, and yet he couldn't grasp the concept that he was going to start a war or something if he didn't comply. Is he that dense, or is what we have here a basic failure to communicate?

In support of this theory, some possible clues to his cluelessness emerged in a pre-war newspaper article updating readers on why "war with Iraq appeared all but inevitable" due to the "war signals" the White House was flashing.

In the article, "one State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity," said, "It certainly feels around here as if the preposition has changed from ‘if' to ‘when.'"

Being a person who makes his modest living with words, I can certainly appreciate a State Department official, even an anonymous one, who not only uses words (even if they are one syllable words), but who also classifies them grammatically. At least I could if this anonymous person were right.

Problem is, ‘if' and ‘when' are not prepositions. "If" is a conjunction and "when" is an adverb. That may account for why the State Department official wants to remain anonymous.

I realize that most people wouldn't catch this error, grammar being about as popular as one of those four-hour meetings of the PUSD School Board.

But put yourself in Saddam Hussein's shoes.

Iraqis speak Arabic, so English is at best a second language. As those of you who have learned a second language know, grammar and parts of speech are much more crucial when learning a new language than one's native tongue.

So when Saddam or his language guys came across this line from the anonymous State Department official, their brows no doubt furrowed and they muttered under their breaths (in Arabic, of course), "Say what?"

We are talking war here -- an attack on their homeland, so you have to believe Saddam and his goons are hanging on every word they read. I would guess Saddam's response would go something like this:

"‘When'? ‘If'? Prepositions? Is this some kind of secret code or what?"

Saddam might then turn back to the article in hope of some clarification. If he did, he would only find more confusion caused by misuse of the English language.

Speaking of "the widespread feeling that Bush has chosen war," the anonymous State Department official, goes on to say, "It certainly feels like there's a green light."

Now light is something that is seen rather than felt, so once again the Iraqis have got to be scratching their heads in bewilderment.

A little later in the article, President Bush himself gets into the act of abusing the English language.

"History," he says, "has called the United States into action, and we will not let history down."

I'm guessing Bush is trying to make the point that the lessons of history have shown us you can't appease tyrants, but if I, who speak (SPEAKS) the same language as the president, have to guess what he's talking about, you can just imagine Saddam's befuddlement.

Still later in the article, the evidence of Iraq's duplicity presented to the United Nations by Colin Powell is described by "others" as "more of a mosaic than a single ‘smoking gun.'"

The problem here is that flaw in logic where apples are compared to oranges. Smoking guns and mosaic patterns simply don't relate.

You can compare smoking guns to ones that don't smoke, or to daggers, arrows or even weapons of mass destruction. And you might possibly compare mosaic patterns to, say, random patterns.

But all Saddam is likely to get out of this mixed metaphor is confused.

While all of this might seem like splitting hairs, it has given me an idea for winning this war faster than you can compare two unlike things.

Instead of filling all our shells and rockets with explosives and stuff like that, we load them up with prepositions. Saddam will never know what hit him.

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