Posting news of the eight US troops reported killed in Afghanistan today in the deadliest month of fighting since this war began, I had what one might call a slip of the eye.

Reading the Associated Press report, I read the following

Eight American troops were killed in multiple bomb attacks Tuesday in southern Afghanistan, making October the deadliest month for U.S. forces in the Afghan War.

I was struck by seeing the capitalized ‘W’. As a guy who deals in words and phrases, this jumped out at me. Upon further inspection, the ‘w’ in question had not been capitalized. But in my mind, the trail had been blazed.

After eight years, it’s hard to continue to think of this as “the war in Afghanistan.”

People may think of such phrasing as an afterthought, merely an arbitrary use of long-form language. But it’s not. It’s a spelled-out phrasing that softens the reality of the blood being spilled on both sides. “The war in Afghanistan” sounds heroic; adventurous in the way Lawrence of Arabia does. “The war in Afghanistan” sounds noble.

A control of Language is power and in this instance, it’s being made just long enough, just soft enough, to keep us from doing the wartime mathematics that shortening and capitalization tends to bring about.

The Afghan War.

The Afghan War? It still sounds kind of interesting because ‘Afghan’ is kind of fun to say–like Aflac, but not–but the ending–war–is so abrupt that it adds a splash of cold reality and to the whole thing. Just say ‘the Afghan War’ aloud. Sounds a lot more serious all of a sudden, right?

In reading, it’s somehow more ominous. The Afghan War. Capital ‘w’ wars are so much more historic, so much more factual and lack that triumphal feel.

(Of course the exception here is World War II, but that’s due to: using ‘world’ before war–which only helps add to the theatrical element, being a sequel, America not having to sacrifice any of its land, two atom bombs, America emerging as a superpower and the suppression of what really, really went down until long after the whole thing was well over. But I digress.)

Capital ‘w’ wars have winners ans losers and consequences. Capital ‘w’ wars can define legacies. And they totally lack the righteously expeditious qualities of a war in Afghanistan.

But this isn’t a righteous expedition. It’s a War.

This is the Afghan War. It’ll be in textbooks and everything.

--JONATHAN PITTS-WILEY