Lesson 20: JSOC-talk; When Less Is More: “For God and country: Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.”

The military tends to talk in signs and numbers—and, perhaps most famously, in code. The use of abbreviations and alphabetical systems is efficient. In this week’s New Yorker, we learn a little bit more not only about what happened in the last hours of the bin Laden raid, but also about how the soldiers who carried it out talked amongst themselves, and communicated back to those at home. The language is riveting because the story is riveting. Yet we can learn from its lyrical economy.


Historically, military-speak has been mocked; Joseph Heller’s novel spawned a genre. But that was another time. Do we see something different when we look at how soldiers speak today? Can we learn how to describe events in our own lives without always calling on dramatic language, and emoticons?

Nicholas Schmidle writes:

A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden’s chest. The Al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. “There was never any question of detaining or capturing him—it wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees,” the special-operations officer told me. (The Administration maintains that had bin Laden immediately surrendered he could have been taken alive.) Nine years, seven months, and twenty days after September 11th, an American was a trigger pull from ending bin Laden’s life. The first round, a 5.56-mm. bullet, struck bin Laden in the chest. As he fell backward, the SEAL fired a second round into his head, just above his left eye. On his radio, he reported, “For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.” After a pause, he added, “Geronimo E.K.I.A.”—“enemy killed in action.”

The contrast between the drama of the action and the choice of words to describe it lends the former breadth. (Although “For God and country” at once respects cliché and explodes it) The literary equivalent of “less is more,” the communications—those of which we are aware—hew powerfully to form.

The SEALs that went into Abottabad that moonless May night have historical predecessors: the UDT teams that secured the beaches at Normandy. Those swimmers knew their goal, too. And talking up action ex post facto was culturally verboten then, too. Unlike a memoirist detailing trips abroad to find meaning, questions posed by soldiers who have eaten, prayed, and fought are usually posed to an audience of one. “[He] wore a noise-cancelling headset, which blocked out nearly everything besides his heartbeat,” Schmidle writes of a Team member on the helicopter lifting off from Jalalabad. This image is a finer symbol for service than one of a gun.

Unraveling the mystery behind dogs' floppy ears

Dogs' floppy ears may be part of why they and other domesticated animals love humans so much.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Nearly all domestic animals share several key traits in addition to friendliness to humans, traits such as floppy ears, a spotted coat, a shorter snout, and so on.
  • Researchers have been puzzled as to why these traits keep showing up in disparate species, even when they aren't being bred for those qualities. This is known as "domestication syndrome."
  • Now, researchers are pointing to a group of a cells called neural crest cells as the key to understanding domestication syndrome.
Keep reading Show less

Russian reporters discover 101 'tortured' whales jammed in offshore pens

Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.

(VL.ru)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Russian news network discovers 101 black-market whales.
  • Orcas and belugas are seen crammed into tiny pens.
  • Marine parks continue to create a high-price demand for illegal captures.
Keep reading Show less

A dark matter hurricane is crashing into Earth

Giving our solar system a "slap in the face."

Surprising Science
  • A stream of galactic debris is hurtling at us, pulling dark matter along with it
  • It's traveling so quickly it's been described as a hurricane of dark matter
  • Scientists are excited to set their particle detectors at the onslffaught
Keep reading Show less