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In Harm’s Way

It sounds cozy – almost storybook. “In harm’s way.” This phrase presents what is happening to and with American troops as a static reality. Harm was there waiting for the troops to arrive and they got in the way of this thing that was coiled ready to meet the unsuspecting soldiers.

The implication is that “harm’s way” is disconnected from any provocative action. It’s presented as a prickly natural phenomenon – a bee sting, an ice patch, poison ivy – harm’s way.

The reality is that more than being “in harm’s way” – they are in the wrong place. It was wrong in 2003 and it’s wrong now. They are in the middle of a cyclone ignited by an immoral decision – by a collection of immoral decisions and abdications.

The soldiers obeyed and they are prime agents of and targets for the reprisals. Harm’s Way wasn’t waiting there – it’s been released.

People using this phrase were the same people who voted to give George W. Bush the authority to use in a way he alone saw fit, these troops they are now so concerned with.

The way in which funds will continue to flow into profit-making pockets is to use this phrase “in harm’s way.” The stock portfolio of every person using this phrase should be examined. It’s a convenient catch-22. “We won’t cut off the funding as long as they are in harm’s way” - and as long as they are being funded they will stay in harm’s way – “and as long as they are in harm’s way we must continue funding and….” One way or another somebody is making a killing.


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The same verbal contortions were exercised over the word, “surge.” Someone caught on and now the dueling nouns are surge vs. escalation. Surge has an interesting relationship to the word insurgent. The word surge is dead in the middle of the word insurgent.

An insurgent is another word for what? Terrorist? Patriot? Criminal? The bad guys? Yes – the bad guys are major characters in the storybook world of harm’s way.

The White House spokesman uses the term “the bad guys” often. All we need to know is that the bad guys are causing the harm that our guys are in the way of. So more money and more of our guys are needed to – pacify? Quell? Kill? Obliterate?

The American soldiers love each other. They are brothers. They don’t want to leave each other and they want revenge if a bad guy hurts one of them. Wives, mothers and fathers are proud of them. Lawmakers claim to worry about them every second of every day. The president will produce a photo op tear over the bravery of a soldier who threw himself on a hand grenade to save his friends. It’s all undeniably moving – and infuriating

When a member of congress uses the phrase “as long as our men and women are in harm’s way” it seems to ennoble him. Concern for the soldiers creates a collateral glow on the statesman.

But it’s false. Unearned. Bogus. Because congress decided to let them be exclusively at the beck and call of the president the soldiers were in harm’s way well before they landed in Iraq.

Bill C. Davis

Bill C. Davis

Bill C. Davis is a playwright.  Archive of his Common Dreams' articles here. His personal website here.

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