Credit: Mr. Fish
Sight Gags” is our weekly nod to the ironic, satiric, parodic, and carnivalesque performances that are an important part of a vibrant democratic public culture. These “gags” may not always be funny or represent a familiar point of view, but they attempt to cut through the lies, hypocrisy, shamelessness, stupidity, complacency, and other vices of democratic life. We typically will not comment beyond offering an identifying label, leaving the images to “speak” for themselves as much as possible. Of course, we invite you to comment … and to send us images that you think might deserve a laugh or at least a wry and rueful look.
The initial idea here, of course, is that the phrase ‘humanitarian intervention’ is but a linguistic cover for its synonym, ‘war.’ Visually, war is depicted as death itself – or at least the agent of death. A striking image, for sure.
One may be tempted to grant the visual metaphor: war is murder, war is evil, war is hell, and so on. According to the logic in the illustration, if the only difference between ‘war’ and ‘humanitarian intervention’ is rhetorical gloss, then, in actuality, these two concepts signify the same thing. Therefore, ‘war’ and ‘humanitarian intervention’ are synonymous.
Rhetorically, this illustration uncovers the linguistic gamesmanship involved in merely dressing up old concepts in new clothes. You can’t fool us, we say.
But wait. This illustration also gives voice to the psychological benefit of linguistic evolution. And while the illustration implies it, I’m not so sure that there is a moral deficiency in recognizing – and acting upon – the need to reframe and re-situate our motivations for a problematic practice like ‘war.’
At first we point a finger with the charge that a change in language does not amount to a moral improvement. (Said change may actually be a moral failure). But this is where it gets sticky. For doesn’t the linguistic evolution (from ‘war’ to ‘humanitarian intervention’) evidence, at the very least, an advancement in moral sensibility, and should we not celebrate this step?
Very interesting comment. I think that, yes, the change in expressed motivation could be a moral advance–if accompanied by changes in practice. Humanitarian interventions would have some but not all the characteristics of more total war or more unjust wars. If the change is only in the name, however, then we are on the slippery slope to an Orwellian world where war is continuous while being called peace.