What’s in a Name? For Those at the Front, Nothing

By Jason Menard

World War III? An isolate skirmish? A regional conflict? Sparked in part by a Maclean’s cover story, much debate is going on about what to call the situation in Lebanon. While all descriptors may apply the most accurate description would be tragedy.

It just goes to show how far removed we are from actual conflict and its effects when we waste time and energy debating what the situation should be called. For average Lebanese and Israeli citizens, living their lives under the spectre of death from above, they remain unconcerned about nomenclature, preferring to focus on survival.

Just how far removed we are from violence was underlined with the recent arrest of Canadians plotting a terrorist action on our soil. Many in our country reacted as if the action was completed and lives had been lost. So too did the World Trade Centre attacks show just how sheltered an experience North Americans lived. Not to undermine the horrendous loss of life experienced on Sept. 11, 2001, but the sound of the Twin Towers collapsing echoed louder and longer in an environment previously devoid of that type of sound.

For people in the Middle East, gunfire, bombs, and destructions are just part of the everyday soundtrack of their lives.

We use words to categorize and control issues that we can’t fully wrap our heads around. We are incapable of accepting the immensity of a problem, therefore we’re compelled to create artificial boundaries with which we can contain an issue. If we can define it, we can conceptualize it. Unfortunately, with that description comes the minimization of the issue at hand.

Once we’ve defined the conflict, we can relate it to our experiences. If we determine this as a World War, then we can relate it to past conflicts on a global scale. However, if we maintain that this is nothing more than a more aggressive skirmish, then we are able to distance ourselves from the conflict.

Media doesn’t desensitize us – we have our own, internal defense mechanisms that do that. When the world reacts irrationally around us, we need to retreat to the security of our lives and rationalize the conflict for ourselves. And that’s one of the great powers that words hold – the ability to define.

But how we define this conflict also impacts how we will react. If conceptualized as a World War, then Canadian involvement would probably become more palatable to the majority of Canadians. Instead of being a region conflict, this becomes a cause for the world to rally around. If an Axis of Evil is defined, akin to the Germany/Italy/Japan collective of WWII, then the people world can unite against a common enemy. If clear and definite lines can be drawn to Syria and Iran, then the average citizen may accept involvement in a conflict against a greater enemy.

However, if we define it as a regional conflict, then the public may be more reluctant to risk Canadian lives in someone else’s local politics. If the battle remains between Israel and terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, then it’s harder to reconcile the idea of a massive global offensive against a small group of fundamentalists.

Yet, while we in the West grapple with the concepts of conflict, the fact remains that there are people suffering at the hands of unseen aggressors. Innocent Lebanese and Israelis, through no fault other than geographic location, are dying in a fight that is not their own. They are the pawns on the front lines in this geopolitical chess game that are sacrificed while the kings direct the battle from the safety of the back row.

That is why the word that best describes the current situation in Lebanon is tragedy. Despite what Prime Minister Steven Harper may say, there is no matter of nuance in this situation. The truth is written out in black and white, and as we dither about with words, the actions of others are having cataclysmic effects on the innocent bystanders who find themselves in the path of on-coming missiles.

The word is tragedy – and it’s only taking on greater significance the longer we wait.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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