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War on Wogs

August 13, 2002

Back in the days of the British Empire, the Brits had a rude word for the natives of the countries they ruled: wogs. It was said to be a derisive abbreviation of the phrase worthy Oriental gentlemen. Later an anonymous wag observed, “Wogs start at Calais” — that is, right across the English Channel. Even the French were wogs!

We Americans don’t call people wogs — we prefer to speak of “denizens of the Third World” — but is our attitude so different? When 3,000 innocent Americans are murdered, it’s an inexpressible horror, to be commemorated and avenged. And if a few innocent wogs get killed in the process, who cares?

How many innocent Afghan wogs have been killed by U.S. firepower? Nobody seems to be counting. How many Iraqi wogs were killed in the 1991 Gulf War? How many died of disease and malnutrition because of the destruction of the infrastructure, the pollution of waterways, and the subsequent “sanctions”? By some estimates, hundreds of thousands, most of them children. That’s a lot of wogs. But then, wogs are the sort of people we don’t keep statistics on. A wog is nothing if not expendable.

How many wogs will be killed in the coming war? Many times 3,000, it’s safe to say. Our government will “seek to avoid civilian casualties,” but there will inevitably be “collateral damage,” even in a “just cause.” Do wogs feel anything like the horror we felt last September 11 when our planes and missiles rain death on their cities? We seldom ask.

Wog covers most non-Westerners, but it’s not exactly a racial term because it embraces many races. It really means people we don’t quite consider human. And there are areas of ambiguity. Black Africans are human when they suffer at the hands of white rulers. But after the whites are overthrown or driven out, and the blacks slaughter each other in huge numbers, as in Rwanda, they become wogs again.

[Breaker quote: Our dual code]As for the remaining whites in South Africa and Zimbabwe, who are now being robbed and murdered with the approval and even incitement of the new black tyrants, well, don’t ask.

Israeli Jews aren’t wogs, but Palestinian Arabs are. Our media mourn dead “Israelis” (meaning Jews — no Arab is ever called an Israeli). Dead Arabs are ignored. You could get the impression that only Jews die violently in Israel and the occupied lands; the truth is that far more Arabs do.

“Life is cheap to those people,” we say; what we really mean is that the lives of “those people” are cheap to us. Of course we are also “those people” to those people. If the situation were reversed, they might treat us with contempt too. We would become the wogs.

Anthropologists long ago noticed that all races have difficulty seeing other races as fully human. The ancient Greeks notoriously considered all non-Greeks barbarians, babbling animal noises. The fancy name for this attitude is ethnocentrism.

Ethnocentrism is only natural. We sympathize most easily with people like ourselves. We regard our own customs as superior to customs we don’t understand.

But we cross a moral line when we treat people as “wogs,” without rights and feelings like our own. In fact we treat the designated wogs worse than animals. If President Bush announced that he intended to kill every dog and cat in Baghdad, animal lovers would be outraged. It would cause more indignation than making war on the wogs. Just as a rule of thumb, don’t do to a wog what you wouldn’t do to a pet.

The people we think of as wogs, even if we don’t put it that way, are quite intelligent. They know perfectly well we would never bomb London or Paris or, no matter how outrageously the Israelis behaved, Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

We are uneasy at the prospect of wog countries getting “weapons of mass destruction.” But we should also be uneasy about our own. Mass destruction is a euphemism for mass murder. Our reasoning seems to be that only we are “civilized” enough to be entrusted with such supremely uncivilized weapons.

True, the United States is also the only country that has ever used those weapons. But after all, we had to use them. We were dealing with wogs.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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