Don't Panic March 26 2003

Your war questions answered

Can you explain some of the basic war jargon we keep seeing in the media?

When they're covering the military, reporters have the funny/annoying habit of adopting military jargon and quickly throwing it at the public, almost as though the jargon itself was the news. Example: Within an hour of the first attack on Baghdad, reporters and anchors began to liberally sprinkle their blabber with the phrase "target of opportunity" (actually, Fox News didn't "liberally" sprinkle; it Fairly and Accurately™ sprinkled). In plain English, "target of opportunity" means "we had an opportunity to take a clear shot at an otherwise difficult-to-hit target, so we did."

With that in mind, here's a list of war-on-Iraq-related terms, some common, some not, that might help you better understand the news coverage:

Decapitation attack — An attack aimed at killing or injuring an important military or political leader. Such an attack doesn't require the actual removal of the target's head from his body, but in Saddam's case, no one would complain if that happened.

Ba'ath Party — Not a hot tub social, but rather Saddam's political party. Founded in the '40s in Damascus, Syria, its goal is to unite Arabic-speaking people into one nation, a philosophy called Pan-Arabism. How successful is Pan-Arabism? The League of Arab States currently consists of 22 separate nations. Doh!

E-Bomb -- From the makers of the "A-Bomb" and "Da Bomb" comes the "E-Bomb." An explosive that destroys electrical equipment by creating an electromagnetic power spike. It's like what lightning does to your stereo, only it's hundreds of times more powerful than lightning.

Embedded — A doctor friend of mine knows a doctor who says "pruritus" to patients when he simply means itching. TV and newspapers keep referring to reporters who are with particular military units as "embedded." Embedded simply means "with."

GPS — Stands for Global Positioning System. It's the high-tech version of the "You Are Here" dot on shopping mall directories. Reading signals from satellites, GPS receivers can tell you where exactly on Earth you are. GPS is used by the military to guide "smart bombs" and cruise missiles to their targets.

Tomahawk Missiles, Blackhawk and Apache Helicopters — The military likes to give weapons Native American names. That's odd when you consider that the U.S. military's primary post-Civil War use during the 19th century was killing Native Americans. The Tomahawk is a cruise missile, meaning that it cruises low to the ground on its way to the target in order to avoid radar detection. The Apache is a helicopter gunship designed to destroy Soviet tanks. The Blackhawk is a utility helicopter that carries troops to and from battle.

Daisy Cutter — In Vietnam, the Daisy Cutter bomb cleared circular patterns in the jungle for helicopters to land (hence its nickname). During Gulf War I, it cleared mines and scared the crap out of Iraqi soldiers. In Afghanistan, we sealed caves shut with it. The Daisy Cutter is so versatile, you'd think it's a Ronco product.

MOAB — Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, its acronym is also short for "Mother of All Bombs," a jab at Saddam Hussein, who created the mother of all cliches when he promised the U.S. the "mother of all battles" during the first Gulf War.

Psy-Ops — Mythical one-eyed beast. No, that's Cyclops, silly. Psy-Ops means psychological operations. We keep dropping leaflets on and broadcasting to Iraqis trying to weaken their resolve. There's a great urban legend about how Iraq tried to Psy-Op us during Gulf War I by warning our soldiers that celebrities like Tom Selleck and Bart Simpson were seducing their women back home.

Scud Stud — During Gulf War I, hunky NBC News reporter Arthur Kent became known as the "Scud Stud" when one of his live broadcasts was interrupted by an Iraqi scud missile attack. It's inevitable that this war will make someone a sex symbol too. My money's on CNN's Rym Brahimi, who along with fellow CNNer Nic Robertson is staying in Baghdad during the bombing. Nic gets all the air time, but Rym's the only one I dream about.


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