The hideous Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s evil genius spin man, once said the following:

“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”

It’s an extreme example, sure — convincing a literate, able human being that a rectangle, with obvious sides and right angles, can be categorized as a circle, which is round and … circular. But it exaggerates an important point, and that’s this: through words you can manipulate any scenario, and transform one’s (or many’s) strong, previously-held notions.

How else could you get citizens, otherwise docile and law-abiding, to carry out the slaughter of more than 11 million people? As Goebbels did in Nazi Germany?

You play with words (in addition to intimidation and torture and other destructive mind games).

Thankfully the Third Reich was defeated a long time ago. Goebbels tactics though, weren’t.

He may have utilized them to reap death and promote ethnic cleansing (among many other things) but every government/military has a guy like him. Or, many. Even the democratic, freedom-slanging defense departments. They all need a deft communicator to dip his or her pen in sugar and coat their ugly actions in digestible sweetness and confection.

Why, on this blog a few weeks ago we noted a sleight of words, when the Obama administration and the Pentagon together labeled sending troops to war zones in the Middle East and Africa not “boots on the ground” (as they had promised to eschew after the previous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that killed thousands of American military personnel) but rather “special operators”. There’s no doubt that these troops are elite, and hardly ordinary infantrymen, but let’s face it: their boots are firmly on the ground now in places where battles are being waged. The recent tragic loss of six airmen in Afghanistan is proof.

Here’s how we put it on December 1, after an Ash Carter announcement that more troops would be deployed:

While giving an update of President Obama’s masterplan to defeat the widespread militant group, Carter called this new deployment of — let’s be honest here — “boots on the ground” a “specialized expeditionary targeting force” that will assist Iraqi soldiers in combatting ISIS in their own country.

Sounds like the Pentagon’s/White House’s PR strategy: if we call it “special” enough, give it a big multiplex, Orwellian tag, it won’t seem as bad — and won’t attract as much of a public outcry as stating that there will be more U.S. troops on the ground in combat scenarios in the Middle East.

Interestingly enough, The New York Times echoed this viewpoint on Sunday:

With the Middle East in tumult, radical groups holding swaths of territory in Africa, and a presidential campaign fanning fears of a growing terrorism threat, the White House has steadily expanded the global missions of American Special Operations troops.

Even as Mr. Obama has repeatedly said that he opposes American “boots on the ground” in far-flung parts of the world, his administration continues to carve out exceptions for Special Operations forces — with American officials often resorting to linguistic contortions to mask the forces’ combat role.

The Obama administration long ago showed its inclination to rely on Special Operations troops and clandestine missions as an alternative to large wars of occupation. But the spread of the Islamic State over the past year — from its hubs in Syria and Iraq to affiliates in Africa and South Asia — has led the White House to turn to elite troops to try to snuff out crises in numerous locations.

These deployments, as well as other missions being considered, have upended the Obama administration’s goal of withdrawing from countries that for more than a decade have been crucibles of combat for the American military.

They went on later to highlight the hypocrisy, interjecting an earlier explanation Obama gave to a reporter in regards to the matter, detailing the sly distinction between special operators and “boots on the ground”:

“You know, when I said, ‘No boots on the ground,’ I think the American people understood generally that we’re not going to do an Iraq-style invasion of Iraq or Syria with battalions that are moving across the desert,” he said.

Senior American officials disagree on what exactly these troops will be doing, with top aides to Mr. Obama playing down any fighting role. “This is not a combat mission,” one senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal directives to the Pentagon. “This is to enable partners.”

But in a conference call with reporters on Dec. 2, Col. Steven H. Warren, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said, “I mean, a raid is a combat operation. There is no way around that. So, yeah, more Americans will be coming here to Iraq, and some of them will be conducting raids inside of both Iraq and Syria.”

The rhetoric/jargon out of the White House and the Pentagon lately is muddled and misleading.

For the sake of argument, let’s make believe we can all agree that they truly aren’t combat missions; even still, our brave military members are being killed and wounded, and that’s something that no words — loaded or otherwise — should mitigate.

The threat of ISIS is real, the recent attacks on Paris taught the West and the rest of the world this. But what’s also been edified — through the many attempts to defeat them — is that a smarter and more thought-out strategy is needed. Especially for the coalition. And this very specific plan needs to be imparted by leaders like Carter and Obama in a more transparent and direct way. With better words.

We’re not fighting “terror”. We’re not fighting “terrorism”. We’re fighting a real group of people, who have a real agenda and goals. Their belief system is indeed “twisted” and “warped”, but it’s hardly enough to leave it in the hands of those middle school adjectives. Let’s drill down. Let’s find out who they are so we may use this knowledge to end their campaign of global violence and fear.

Wasn’t it Sun Tzu who said “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”?