In the recent Australian election Julia Gilliard said she was humbled when it became clear that she would be the new deputy prime minister of Australia. It has become a cliché for politicians to say they are humbled when getting news of victory.
My dictionary has two meanings for humble:
- To bring down in pride or arrogance.
- To decisively defeat.
Nothing had happened to Ms Gilliard to bring her down in pride or arrogance, and she certainly was not decisively defeated.
In contrast John Howard took the news of his crushing defeat in which he even lost his seat with graciousness. He credited those who had helped him in his political career. He acknowledged his staff, his political allies and his family. The manner of his departure from the political scene was a model for candidates in a democratic society. In fact he was humbled. It would have been appropriate for him to say so. Somehow that locution is reserved for those from whom it is inappropriate.
False humility of politicians is not too serious a matter, but the almost obligatory mention of being humbled when winning sets a tone of dishonesty. More important is the concealing of reality by the choice of words used by government to conceal the realities of warfare.
For example, rendition is sending prisoners to other countries for torture. Collateral damage is unintended slaughter of civilians. Senator Eugene McCarthy of the United States remarked that as the Catholic Church dropped Latin the military picked it up.
Australia has a military as countries must have. It is called the Australian defence force. Of course an army must do more than defend. It must at times threaten, attack or occupy. It even sometimes acts as a relief agency in case of floods and other disasters. In fact it would be unreasonable if the military could not perform all these functions. A world where all nations had defence forces and the name meant what it said would be completely safe, as armies could not attack.
The Australian Parliamentary information service could locate no legislation or administrative document authorising the use of the name, Australian defence forces, for the Australian armed forces. The designation of the Australian military as the Australian Defence Force has no legislative or administrative sanction.
The facts of life are simple. We are born, and normally grow old and die. However, the simple Anglo-Saxon word, old, is treated with disdain.
My wife and I recently bought a mattress. The manager of the store took us to one of the sales people and said, "This young couple want to buy a mattress".
I said, "We are not a young couple. We are an old couple who want to buy a mattress."
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