Assassination as Cure: Disease Metaphors and Foreign PolicyRoundup
tags: foreign policy, assassinations, Disease
Sarah Swedberg is a Professor of History at Colorado Mesa University and a lifelong activist.
On January 3, 2020, I was at my mother’s house where CNN is her constant companion. A drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump had killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani and nine others. I was horrified and wanted to hear the news, but I was only half-listening because I hate CNN’s so-called analysis and narrow focus on two or three news stories at the expense of others. Over the noise of the TV, my brother and I talked about the CIA-supported 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, the installation of the dictator Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (the Shah of Iran), and the long-term negative consequences of US policies of coups and assassinations. “People should learn from history,” I said, “but they never do.”
Congressman Adam Kinzinger appeared on the screen as I focused on my bowl of oatmeal, and some of his words made it into my brain. “Look,” he said, “[in] the short term, this is an inflammation because when you ignore an infection coming in and then you finally begin taking the medicine for it, it stings when you put it on, right? It’s going to hurt. But in the long term, it’s what makes you safer.” I leapt up, grabbed a pen and the first piece of paper I could find, and scribbled down, “Adam Kinzinger, 1/3/20, disease metaphor on CNN” to help me find the transcript later. “What are you doing?” Mom asked. “This is what my book is about but in an earlier era,” I answered. “I can’t believe he just used that disease metaphor.”
Kinzinger wasn’t done. He postured that this assassination might lead to “some inflammation in the short term,” but was a good solution. After all, he said, “If you continue to ignore it, it’s going to be, long term, far more dangerous than what we’re going to see maybe in the next few hours.” Kinzinger’s words fit within a long historical tradition of badly used disease metaphors that often accompany bad outcomes.
One example of this comes from my research in American Revolutionary–era North America when one of the most powerful empires in the world thought they were curing the disease of resistance to their policies. Instead, the British made decisions that led to a long and bloody war and the loss of a good deal of their empire’s territory.
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