In a Word

That’s what the NY Times account quotes Secretary of State John Kerry as assuring the Egyptian leaders about the Obama administration’s decision to suspend the delivery of major weapons systems to this troubled country.   No, not a punishment for deposing, and arresting the Islamist president.  Not a punishment for putting him on trial for murder and suppressing dissent.  Of course, the administration has also declared that the coup was not a coup – or else they’d have to suspend aid completely.

What’s in a word?  Apparently a lot.  But specifically, what’s in this dirty word “punishment”  — that everybody seems to avoid these days.  My soon to be released book, THE DEATH OF PUNISHMENT, suggests by its title our aversion to punishment these days.

In Egypt’s case it’s clear why we avoid that word.  We punish criminals – or used to.  We don’t want to stigmatize the regime whose secular support we need to help combat terrorism, to help keep the peace in the Middle East, criminals.   We also punish children, or used to.  We hardly want to disrespect with a paternalistic air a proud military leader.  So the U.S. Secretary of State, joins in the Newspeak.  In this grown-up world where we rarely mean what we say or say what we mean, withholding helicopters, missiles, parts for tanks — “it’s not punishment,” the U.S. Secretary assured an Egyptian reporter.  “It’s a reflection of policy in the United States under the law.”

So think about that the next time you would punish without admitting it:  You broke the law, violated the rules.  We have no choice.  Blame it on the rules.  Leave the responsibility where it belongs – everywhere-elsewhere, i.e. nowhere.