Language Lesson from the Defense Department

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the


— George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946


Weapons of mass destruction:

Microscopic warriors

packed with a punch,

small as an atom:

a large legacy.



Enhanced interrogation techniques:

The Latin tortura means twisted

(because twisted minds twist bodies,

burn them at the stake, slice, pull nails).

In modern times we enhance tortura

by waterboarding and Abu Ghraibing.



Proxy and war together:

Two marionettes dancing

to the beat of a war drum.



Collateral damage:

Note that noncombatants

always die in war

no matter if they are wearing

a bride’s veil in Kandahar

or kicking a soccer ball

on the beach in Gaza.



Hellfire missiles:

If they sliver the sky

and silver and redden the earth

according to plan,

they would be doing

their apocalyptic job.



Carpet bombing:

Like the warp and weft of Persian rugs,

fires from bombs weave their way into

the smallest spaces, bond with flesh.

These carpets snuff out oxygen

of hospitals, homes, history.



Friendly fire:

Affable inferno,

bosom bullet,

perfect pyre.



Ethnic cleansing:

People awash with guns and dollars

cleanse away the Others—not by water

but by hellfire missiles

or carpet bombing

(see above).

One winning strategy:

force them to flee from fear.



Targeted killing:

As opposed to untargeted,

which is generally less acceptable

(though both have their time and place).



Humanitarian pause in the killing:

Noise of F-16s disappears.

Pallid faces, squinting eyes greet rubble.

Rice and yogurt arrive.

Corpses cleared, time to count family members.

Basement doors creak open again

then shutter as stores re-shutter.

A few hours of paper-thin peace

to give attackers a break.


Zeina Azzam is a Palestinian-American writer, poet, editor, and community activist. Her poems are published in Pleiades, Heartwood Literary Magazine, Sukoon Magazine, Mizna, Split This Rock, The Fourth River, Lunch Ticket, Infinite Rust, and the edited volumes Bettering American Poetry (forthcoming), Making Mirrors: Writing/Righting by and for Refugees, and Gaza Unsilenced, among others. Zeina holds an M.A. in Arabic literature from Georgetown University.

Barzakh Mag