Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Daily Hump: Quagmire

We hear it daily: "Kharrazi warns UK over Iraq quagmire", "Bush Vietnam trip revives Iraq quagmire", "The quagmire deepens in Afghanistan". In fact, just this morning Google News displays about 300 articles published in the past 24 hours that use the word quagmire. Outside the realm of warfare quagmire is of course a fairly well-known word referring to a swamp or bog. The word is a compound of 2 elements; quag + mire.

Let's start with the second element first, -mire. To be mired down in something is to be in a situation where it is difficult to extricate oneself. Similarly, we use the phrase bogged down, or to be swamped. Mire comes from the Old Norse mýrr which predictably means bog. The OED goes on to explain the mire is a variant of the Germanic base of mese, which is an obsolete regional word from England's southwest meaning moss. Mese is "an ablaut variant of the Germanic base" of moss, thus mire and moss are related.

Now let's go back to t he first element, quag-. Like mire, quag can also stand on its own, meaning, according to the AHD, quagmire. The OED's definition is a bit more telling:
A marshy or boggy spot, esp. one covered with a layer of turf which shakes or yields when walked on.
That "turf which shakes" is quaking (as in an earthquake). In fact, quag and quake come from the same Old English root cwacian (incidentally, there is a synonymous and obsolete variant of quagmire, quakemire). The related Old English word *cwabba meaning "to shake or tremble" is onomatopoeic and comes from the sound of something soft and flabby being jiggled. Thus, the quag'iness of a quagmire is distantly related to the sound it makes as one walks through its muck.

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:: posted by David, 8:05 AM

2 Comments:

This is a very interesting post!
Blogger Loocite, at 9:46 AM  
I enjoyed your commentary. You make many excellent points. Your blog is also extremely clever and pleasing to the eye. Keep it up.

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being usedby our forces as we speak.

If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, "Odyssey of Armements"

The Pentagon is a giant, incredibly complex establishment,budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Adminisitrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the Sec. Def. to be - Mr. Gates- understand such complexity, particulary if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

Answer- he can't. Therefor he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

This situation is unfortunate but it is ablsolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won't happen unitil it hits a brick wall at high speed.

We will then have to run a Volkswagon instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.
Blogger RoseCovered Glasses, at 8:33 PM  

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