News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Accept reality of a civil war among Iraqis

When Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” he was just sniffing the surface.

Names do make a difference because they are shorthand for feelings and ideas. Which would you rather eat — canola oil or rapeseed oil, a fish called slimehead or one called orange roughy? The Associated Press says these are different names for the same things.

AP says a U.S. government report found no hunger in America, only “food insecurity.” On the tongues of some politicians, the estate tax is a death tax, retreating from Iraq is redeploying troops, and liberals are either progressives (if you’re one of them) or still liberals (if you’re against them).

“States’ rights” was once code for segregation, and George Wallace mocked the “recapitulation” of presidential primary returns, implying that it really meant stealing votes.

“By corrupting the language, the people who wield power are able to fool the others about their activities and evade responsibility and accountability,” said Timothy Lynch of the libertarian Cato Institute.

Right now the most important naming question is what to call the war in Iraq. Is it a civil war or not?

One dictionary defines civil war as war between geographic sections or political factions of the same nation. Iraq’s conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims is political as well as religious, and hundreds are being killed, so it seems apparent that a civil war is occurring. This reality doesn’t rule out the possibility that the violence has other causes as well, such as provocations by al-Qaida.

Let’s admit that we do have a civil war in Iraq. The Bush administration does not want to do so because it will make more Americans realize that our troops are caught in the middle, potential targets of both sides, and that it is hard to know who deserves our support as legitimate representatives of the Iraqi people.

Labeling Iraq a civil war increases Americans’ sense of futility, but the alternative is to deceive ourselves about what is happening.

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