FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Good Old-Fashioned Incursion

“This is not an invasion of Cambodia,” explained Richard Nixon in 1970. Clearly. An invasion would have been unpopular, not to mention illegal. No, it was an “incursion,” and staffers were ordered to call it such.

The term was openly mocked by media commentators as a gross example of Orwellian doublespeak, on the order of “Vietnamization,” “pacification” and “terminate with extreme prejudice.” Our government and those who spoke for it were deliberately using language to lie. Society was divided between those who could see that and those who wouldn’t.

Several students protesting the “incursion” were shot to death by National Guard troops performing their own “incursion” of Kent State University.

More than thirty years later, we read daily of the Israeli “incursion.” Journalists in print and on the air use the term with no apparent sense of either irony or history. It seems to roll right off the networked tongue.

It is by far the “easiest” word to use. Almost any other that comes to mind would seem “harsh” and “judgmental.” What could you call it that wouldn’t seem critical of Israel?

On the one hand, we have “suicide bombings” and “terrorist attacks.” On the other, where we might have “ethnic cleansing” or “juggernaut rolling over the bones of children” we have “incursion,” a word that suggests a quiet, off-the-books transaction involving our solicitors, who certainly have no emotional stake in the outcome. It lends an air of reasonableness, a suggestion that whatever might be going on, it is necessary and justified.

“Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain,” it seems to say.

If it is problematic for journalists to substitute another term for “incursion,” it is finishing the sentence that makes real trouble for them. Nixon ordered an incursion into Cambodia. At least we know who or what he “incurred.”

But to write, “Sharon ordered an incursion into …” is to plunge immediately into the big thicket. An incursion into Palestine? Try getting that past the copy editors at the New York Times. Most writers who bother to finish the sentence wind up giving us a long, awkward construction such as “territories under control of the Palestinian Authority,” but alas, the Israeli tanks bulldozing homes and hospitals lend a certain je ne sais quoi to the words “under control of,” don’t they?

So, most often, it is simply “the Israeli incursion” and never mind “of what.”

In other words, to speak of an “incursion” is to mention what is happening without naming it truthfully, describing it forthrightly or invoking the reality of it.

The phrase “discusses and settles these matters without mentioning them,” as a critic once said of a Wallace Stevens poem.

Having deplored the incursion, we now call for a “pullback.” Compare this euphemism with demands that Arafat “stop the terrorist attacks” and “publicly denounce, in Arabic, the suicide bombings” which of course “justify” and “provoke” the incursion.

Will General Powell demand that Sharon “publicly denounce, in Hebrew, the destruction of Palestinian homes and killing of civilians”? Or will the Middle East be digging its way out of a blizzard before that happens?

Back in the time of Nixon’s original incursion, Walter Cronkite was once informed on the air by a NASA spokesperson that a moonwalking astronaut who had dropped a monkey wrench had “re-established visual contact with the object.”

“Are you telling me he’s found it?” asked Cronkite, in a tone of voice that explained more than a hundred deep backgrounders.

It’s always good to ask what they are really telling us. When someone tells us there is an incursion going on, they are telling us not to look too closely at who is doing what to whom, and where. They are telling us that nothing in particular is happening to no one in particular, and what is not happening is happening nowhere, really.

David Vest writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He is a poet and piano-player for the Pacific Northwest’s hottest blues band, The Cannonballs.

He can be reached at: davidvest@springmail.com

Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com

 

 

 

More articles by:

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

November 14, 2018
Charles Pierson
Unstoppable: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and NAFTA
Sam Bahour
Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take
Cesar Chelala
How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health
George Ochenski
What Tester’s Win Means
Louisa Willcox
Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation
George Wuerthner
Alternatives to Wilderness?
Robert Fisk
Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East
Dennis Morgan
For What?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Government is Our Teacher
Bill Martin
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend
Rivera Sun
After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North
Jamie McConnell
Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing
Thomas Knapp
Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?
Bill Glahn
Snow Day
November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
Patrick Howlett-Martin
A Note on the Paris Peace Forum
Joseph G. Ramsey
Does America Have a “Gun Problem”…Or a White Supremacy Capitalist Empire Problem?
Weekend Edition
November 09, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing
Andrew Levine
What Now?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Chuck and Nancy’s House of Cards
Brian Cloughley
The Malevolent Hypocrisy of Selective Sanctions
Marc Levy
Welcome, Class of ‘70
David Archuleta Jr.
Facebook Allows Governments to Decide What to Censor
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Zika Scare: a Political and Commercial Maneuver of the Chemical Poisons Industry
Nick Pemberton
When It Comes To Stone Throwing, Democrats Live In A Glass House
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail