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Will Self’s broadcast: sanitising evisceration

Arms exporters and their political sales force (should) admit freely that weaponry is nothing more or less than the extension of diplomacy by potentially violent means . . .

Let’s call a spade a spade, a gun a gun, missile a missile, a cluster bomb a child-killer and a Tactica armoured car a means of brutal civilian repression when it’s deployed by the Saudis to support the undemocratic government in Bahrain. 


Euphemism – along with its kissing cousin, jargon – is integral to modern warfare – indeed, it’s difficult to imagine a conflict in recent years that hasn’t spawned its own little lexicon of obfuscation designed to sanitise the miserable and sickening business of uniformed young men eviscerating one another with high explosive, while drawing a veil over the so-called “collateral damage” wreaked upon civilians. 

Recent wars have been prosecuted by means of “surges”, “operations”, and “tactical strikes” – terms that imply the life-saving activities of doctors rather than the life-discarding ones of warriors.


It’s probably no coincidence that our own War Office was renamed the Ministry of Defence in 1964, the year when the Tonkin “incident” led to the “escalation” of the “conflict” in Vietnam. True, the British government took no direct part in the “winning of hearts and minds” or the “deployment of Agent Orange”, but we did our bit by carpet-bombing our own sensibilities with such highly-toxic euphemisms. 

Almost a half-century later we’re still at it, and while the vanguard is formed by that bewildering phenomenon, “humanitarian intervention”, it is in the vital area of “logistical support” that we Britons have proved ourselves most linguistically adept. 

Consider this, a few weeks ago DSEi was held at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in London’s Docklands . . . this enormous bazaar of bombs, guns and assorted other lethality is organised in association with your own government, a government that, the preceding week, sent speakers to an event entitled – with commendable directness – “The Middle East: a vast market for UK Defence and Security Companies.” 

(As a Pluto Press blogger puts it:

“Throughout the week, some of the world’s most corrupt, repressive and human rights-abusing regimes will be invited at the behest of either Clarion or the British government, to peruse the wares of BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Heckler & Koch and other weapons manufacturers of dubious repute.”)

Gaddafi’s forces were being destroyed in bizarre battles that pitted British weapons against other British weapons 

(At the same time) plans were afoot to sell still more of the same to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East – such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – with documented histories of human rights abuses. Throughout the first two quarters of this year, even as tensions in the region reached boiling point, arms sales were approved by the British government to Algeria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen . . . 

(T)he reported remark by Gerald Howarth, the junior defence minister, on the “debt” that Iraq and Libya owe to Britain comes into the tight focus of literalism: “We liberated the Iraqis from a tyrant, we liberated Libya from a tyrant, frankly I want to see UK business benefit from the liberation we’ve given to their people.” In other words, having sold plenty of knives to this bloodthirsty family, we expect gratitude to take the form of the Libyans buying more. The elision of business-speak with the foggy verbiage of warfare is perhaps the most deranging aspect of the contemporary arms trade. 

(T)he government’s own statistics suggest that arms in fact only comprise 1%-to-2% of our total exports. 

The existence of a government unit devoted to promoting arms exports is not that surprising given successive prime ministers have also acted as de facto salesmen for British weapons manufacturers . . . Time and again we are told that the arms industry – and by extension, arms exports – is an essential component of our economy and vital for that most vital of things – jobs. 

(E)ven if large numbers of British jobs were utterly dependent on selling arms to the Sri Lankans so they could pulverise Tamils, or to that delightful euphemism the Israeli Defence Force, so that they could – employing an apt Biblical figure of speech – smite the Gaza Strip, can that really dignify such labour? 

Will ends: “Personally, I’d rather flip burgers or sign on for Jobseeker’s allowance than forge death-metal in Vulcan’s furnace”. 

Read the whole article here. 

Lead given by CAAT news: Jan-March 2012