Troop Surge: A ‘Rise’ By Any Other Name

“Troop surge” floods the airwaves.

When the Bush bunch folded the “road map to peace” chit, then abandoned the “stay the course” ship, we thought the whole movement-in-space metaphor system might finally find itself buried head-first in the sands of time. Really, the only thing that connects the Iraq war to any form of movement is its downward movement of human beings into cemeteries. This is no joke, but an observation: there has been an increase in the deadly violence in Iraq. This is an escalation; that is, a cumulative upward movement, clearly perpendicular to the prior concept of navigated forward movement presented by “road map” or “course”.

The news has been awash with the concept of surging violence in recent months, we observed, creating the need for a rhetorical countersurge to calm the desert waters of dissent. The Bush league could not fathom a deep six of the war effort, yet sending more troops would’ve surely sent the Republican leadership to the electoral boneyard. Meanwhile, the public had grown weary of sacrificing their children to a bottomless pit: the rhetoric was increasingly negative; the conceptual frameworks dreary, describing Iraq as a black hole, quicksand or quagmire. “Troop surge” was quickly drummed into service as the new war chant, offering a decisive counterwave to beat down the rising insurgency.

Surge‘s etymological lineage is drenched in metaphor. Sharing bunks in the maternity ward with Charles III, baby “Surge, the Fountain” (c. 1490) quickly grew up to become “Surge, the Rolling Swell of Water(c. 1530). While this slightly departed metaphor was awaiting burial, the fledgling “Insurge, the To Rise In Opposition” (c. 1535) popped up in its wake, taking in another syllable. Insurge led a long monogamous, monotonous and monotocous life before finally succumbing to mono, and handing the inflected reign to its sole, unbridled offspring: “Insurgent the Revolting” (c. 1765).

The word “surge” tacitly implies some pre-existing adequacy and flatness of a medium, which is then surpassed by a sudden, temporary surplus of the same material at a specific point. An electrical surge, for example, assumes the power supply is not at zero, but at some level, somehow flat, then interrupted at some point with a brief abundance. We do not “surge ahead” without first “keeping pace“. Compare this to “pop”, which implies a sudden transition from nothingness into constant being, such as a sprout that “pops up“, or from constant being into temporary nothingness such as “popped out for lunch“. While “pop” either suddenly occupies or evacuates space, “surge” temporarily stretches itself further into space.

An insurgent is part of the conceptually flattened populace that stands out, thus must be “beaten down”. Whether living alfresco in “troop surge” or cheaply camoflaged in the form “insurgency”, “surge” is conceptually a dense moment in spacetime, surrounded by less dense moments of the same material continuum. The material can be matter (storm surge), energy (electrical surge) or people (troop surge) – and for some reason, the brain doesn’t seem to mind which.

A surge is then a moving bump of ordinary material. Measured by the cup a “storm surge” is the same stuff as the surrounding sea water. Only its new height makes it differentiable. This is what makes an insurgent stand out over a protester. Dissent is dissent; a vector in the dimension of dissatisfaction that can be measured by level alone. However, a radical level of dissent can affect radical changes.

Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean Tsunami were both surges. As a result of their brief visits, substantial changes were made in the lives of the citizens – permanent, decisive changes. Cognitively, these two unstoppable movements of water changed our view of hurricanes and tsunamis from breaking news into making history. In our contemporary experience, we naturally learned to identify the disastrous upward movement of water with lasting change.

As the “troop surge” concept saturated the media in the weeks leading up to Bush’s presidential address in January, a rebel army of reporters rhetorted with a rise in use of “surge’s” conceptual cousin “escalation“. For some time before, leaders had tested the waters of “sending more troops”, over and over, only to return each time with cold feet. However, this time “troop surge” was quietly conceptually framed around the stuff of recent major historic significance and change.

In his “New Way Forward” speech, Bush reveals the contemporary cognitive underbelly of surge to his American audience: “Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States”. Seeded with five references to insurgents, and two mentions of urgent, the speech does not directly say the phrase we all waited to hear – “troop surge“. Why bother, though? It was planted and had taken root in the freshly-fertilized gardens of our minds.

According to the artful scriptwriters of the war in Iraq, we’re still rhetorically moving in space, only we no longer navigate nor drift, relying on a form of motion conceptually related to acts of God. No more flat roads nor tamed water; no map nor course. We will deliver a surge of water-soldiers to flood and change forever the human topography of these arid but sebaceous lands.

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