As a country, we can’t yet agree on whether we’re fighting ISIS or ISIL (as the White House would have it) and whether we should hunt them down in Syria, or not.
But we’re abundantly clear that “boots on the ground” is jargon du jour for the people we’re sending to risk their lives. At water coolers and cocktail parties, our divided country is now lined up either for “boots on the ground” or against them.
The president is in the “no boots” column, at least for the moment. We’ve heard him take hard-line positions before — a red line in Syria, a hard-and-fast pre-election commitment to immigration reform — so don’t be surprised if his verbal boots eventually do some walking.
Airplanes carrying “boots” not “on the ground” may get shot down to the ground. Circumstances have a way of overtaking even the best intentions.
Yellow-bellied, chicken-hawk members of Congress like the phrase because they use it to whitewash the stain of their complicity in acts of war and aggression. In my Dictionary of American Political Bullshit, I write that “from the safety and comfort of their offices,” elected officials count on the public’s forgetting the “connection between boots on the ground and the blood of men and women spilled on the ground.”
Out of their mouths, it’s a cynical “euphemism, whose sole purpose is to make you share their lack of moral qualms about sending living, breathing men and women to kill or be killed, maimed or be maimed” — or, these days, possibly beheaded.
It’s one of the major lessons official Washington learned after the Vietnam War: Never show or remind the American public of any war-related unpleasantness — no more flag-draped coffins, no body-bags, no official funerals — or lose support.
Desperate to sound like members of the in-crowd, the sycophants who pass for our press corps parrot “boots” or “no boots,” anaesthetizing the public to grim reality. “Stay safe,” say TV anchors to their colleagues with boots on the ground — typically far from any action.
No wonder that, in the cocoon of their La-Z-Boy recliners, average, insouciant Americans allow themselves to be led like lambs to a moral slaughter. With our all-volunteer military, chances are they don’t know anyone whose boots will ever be anywhere but shined and in their closet.
But the public should be declaring, “Boos from the ground.” As I also wrote in The Dictionary of American Political Bullshit, literally to add insult to injury, “most of the boots on the ground get the boot when they return from battle, if they do. Too many . . . without feet and/or legs or hands to tie their laces, only to discover that they are neglected, forgotten, or otherwise abused by those all too eager to have deployed them.
“Everyone knows that there are too many boobs on the ground sitting behind desks challenging claims for veteran’s benefits. . . . Boots merit less attention than people wherever they go, at home, as well as on the battlefield.”
Perhaps, if our leaders stop calling soldiers “boots on the ground,” they’ll start being more judicious about sending young Americans into often pointless combat.
Stephen L. Goldstein is the author of “The Dictionary of American Political Bullshit” and “Atlas Drugged: Ayn Rand Be Damned.” He lives in Fort Lauderdale. Column courtesy of Context Florida.