I was watching this History Channel program a while ago and realized that, at least publicly, military officers speak a language that’s exactly half technical jargon and half stale cliche. The reason for this, I believe, is that it thoroughly eliminates the possibility of any original thought falling into civilian ears. Everything that comes out of the officer’s mouth is pre-packaged and safe–either too arcane for the foolish civilian to understand, or too well-worn and ambiguous to be dangerous. The scariest thing about this kind of language is that it’s too safe.
Then, every once in a while, some officer somewhere will say something completely and utterly stupid, and then that saying will get into print with no accompanying context or air of irony. This happened in today’s Honolulu Advertiser, in this story about the U.S. Navy’s newest attack submarine, the USS Missouri. Here’s the quote, from one Rear Admiral J. Stanton Thompson:
“She could be in the Gulf of Mexico and put a cruise missile into a window in Kansas City.”
We can surmise what the good admiral was trying to say (namely, that the submarine is a very sophisticated weapon) but when we actually think about his location choices, and why he happened to decide that mentally incinerating an American city was a good way to introduce American taxpayers to a new weapon that they are paying for, and that for most Americans, this kind of saying is actually easily understandable and, indeed, kind of awesome, then we begin to realize that for most Americans, this country’s mighty imperial power is a great thing, regardless of who it happens to be pointed at.