Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"We're just beginning to start to undo the damage"* caused by Michele Bachmann's goofy vocabulary

Everyone's favorite hot Congresswoman from a cold state gave the "Tea Party response" to the State of the Union last night, whatever that means. The speech was a doozy, and made one point more clearly than all others: if this woman wants to run for president, she really needs to hire a professional speechwriter. I'll leave it to others to criticize the substantive content of the speech, but let me just highlight one notable error related to our area of focus here at Ink Spots:
Just the creation of this nation itself was a miracle. Who can say that we won't see a miracle again? The perilous battle that was fought during World War II in the Pacific at Iwo Jima was a battle against all odds, and yet this picture immortalizes the victory of young GIs over the incursion against the Japanese. These six young men raising the flag came to symbolize all of America coming together to beat back a totalitarian aggressor.
Yeah. I know. Don't even get me started on the language. ("Perilous battle"? "Victory... over the incursion against the Japanese"? Seriously?) But how about this whole "GIs" thing?

First, a question: how many people hear "GIs" and think "American military personnel" in a general sense? For me, "GI" is an Army-specific identifier. (Here's some interesting background on the origins of the term, which apparently started off as an initialization of "galvanized iron," the material Army trash cans were made out of.) We use "soldier," "sailor," "airman," and "Marine" to refer to members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps respectively, and "serviceman" to refer to them all. But obviously some folks think of "GI" as a catch-all. Do you?

The reason this is relevant to Bachmann's remarks: as all of you will surely already know, the Battle of Iwo Jima was contested by Marines and sailors, not by the Army. That's why the Marine Corps War Memorial is a giant forged bronze statue based on Joe Rosenthal's photograph "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima," which features five Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman (for those who don't know: the USMC doesn't have medical personnel, so sailors serve with Marine units as corpsmen -- what the Army calls medics).

So yeah, whatever the "victory... over the incursion against the Japanese" was, it was achieved by Marines. It's possible Bachmann knew this and used "G.I." as a general term for all servicemen, but can we just get the lingo straight already?

Oh yeah, and while we're at it, here's another gem: "And I believe that America is the indispensable nation of the world."

1. Something necessary is indispensable to something else... not the indispensable element of a collective.

2. Do you think Bachmann realizes that her allusive catch-phrase was made famous -- indeed, branded on the public consciousness -- by a Democratic Secretary of State? Somehow I doubt it.

*The title of the post is an homage to Rep. Bachmann's very special style of speaking: earlier in her remarks, she said that Congress is "just beginning to start to undo the damage" caused by the administration's policies. Just beginning to start. We're fixin' to get going. Any minute now.


  1. Totally with you here. My understanding is that GI always meant soldiers and only soldiers. Although, the origin for the term as describing soldiers is from the "general issue" form, a joke that soldiers were just another piece of government-issued equipment.

    Even if Ms. Bachmann that it meant servicemembers, it's still the wrong usage. "Sailors and Marines" would have been appropriate.

  2. Right, and it should read "government issue" form.

  3. Jason -- Yeah, the "government issue" or "general issue" explanation is the one I've always heard. This whole "galvanized iron" thing is a new one for me.

  4. Sorry, you meant "Everyone's favorite hot mess of a Congresswoman," yes?

  5. Capitalize "Soldier".

    If the damn marines get it, Soldiers do too.

  6. Capitalize "Soldier".

    If the damn marines get it, Soldiers do too.

    Here's the thing about that: it's stupid.

    The Army has only just recently decided that it wanted to capitalize "Soldier." But the word is a generic one: there are British soldiers and soldiers of fortune and Russian soldiers and soldiers of God and American soldiers. The Army has decided that it wants to capitalize "Soldier," presumably as a sort of proper-name shorthand for "U.S. Soldier," in the same way that Army is capitalized when talking about the institution (instead of just the American army, it's the U.S. Army).

    That's why Marine is capitalized: it's a proper name for members of an organization. When I describe someone in the Army as a soldier, I'm using an identifier based on his profession, not his membership in a specific organization.

    Hell, now that I've talked my way through it, I guess you can make sense of it either way.

    In any event, it's standard practice to capitalize Marine as an organizational identifier, and not to capitalize the others as they represent professions or vocations. Wasn't my idea. Excessive capitalization rubs me wrong in the same way that all the services' many, many other efforts at messaging through un-grammatical construction do, though, so I'll stick to convention.

  7. She's totally a cougar. In the yay-for-progress, cry-for-younger-men, women-can-be-abusive sense.

  8. Gulliver, your point would be valid if there weren't Marines in like 30 other countries. The Koreans have Marines. The Brits do too. Pretty sure the Norwegians do as well (I'll have to talk to my Norwegian buddy again about that).

    I just despise all the PR hype Marines bestow upon themselves. It makes me sick. I refuse to let the Marines, yet again, position themselves above Soldiers for doing the exact same job. To be honest, I don't think "soldier" should be capitalized, but if a "Marine" get's it, U.S. Army Soldiers should too.

    /end pedantic rant

    PS your cuss-word filter sucks @$$

  9. A. We don't have a cuss-word filter, or any other filter.

    B. I know there are other marines in the world. There are British marines and Norwegian marines and Korean marines. In the UK, they're called Royal Marines. Note the capitalization.

    Again, it's an organizational identifier, not a mark of distinction. Don't get a complex about it.

  10. I get a red mark prohibiting me from posting if I have even a mildly bad word.

    -Deus Ex

  11. I get a red mark prohibiting me from posting if I have even a mildly bad word.

    This is mystifying to me. Might be your browser.

    I even just did a test comment (which I then deleted) that was full of profanity -- no problems.

  12. "The perilous battle that was fought during World War II in the Pacific at Iwo Jima was a battle against all odds"
    Stupid question: 100.000 + American soldiers against 20.000 Japanese is a battle against all odds? For whom ???
    Sure, the Japanese had their bunkers, otoh the US forces had battleships + bombers to pound them, and tanks with flamethrowers to burn them alive ...
    Considering that in the end there were around 7.000 dead Americans and 17.000+ dead Japanes I'd say if anything the odds were stacked against the Japanese.

    P.S. This is not supposed to take anything away from the fact that for individual US soldiers (esp the first wave) the odds for survival could be lousy and advancing took a lot of courage, but saying the US winning that campaign was a "miracle" is bull. The Japanes were fighting to make it as hard as possible for the US to takethe Island, but they knew they couldn't hold out forever ...

  13. Deus: We (Norwegians) dont have "marines", we have "Navy Hunters" (or Jaegers, to be specific..). Its a SF subset all branches have here.

    Positroll: Well, 5 to 1 are within the realms of perilous, as in "there is a peril that a lot of people might get hurt while winning this damn thing". But Im guessing she did not mean that.