Back in the old days, when there were rules for self-expression, Strunk and White taught us: never use the passive voice. I became passive-voice-phobic, which is one of many reasons I nearly burst a vessel when I read the latest on Iran from al-AP’s Jim Krane:
DOHA, Qatar (AP) – Tensions between the United States and Iran have risen to the point where a war could be kicked off by mistake, an outcome that neither Tehran nor Washington wants, U.S. military officials and private analysts say…
“A mistake could be made and you could end up in something that neither side ever really wanted, and suddenly it’s August 1914 all over again,” the U.S. officer said on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the issue. “I really believe neither side wants a fight.”
Passive voice is the perfect grammatical medium for the sort of phony moral equivalence, combined with historical mystification, at which al-AP specializes. Just look at those two little graphs and count the errors and mystifications! “A war could be kicked off by mistake” for example. Passive voice of course, but there is no mention of the fact that Iran has been waging war against us for 28 years, a fact that puts paid to the whole theory that any way between Iran and the United States might well take place by accident. After all “neither side wants a fight…” So how come they’re killing our boys, Jim?
Which brings us to the historical mystification: World War I was an accident (Sarajevo 1914). I know lots of historians have said that, but it’s nonsense. Germany prepared for war, had a clear strategy for it, had well defined objectives, and when they saw a good excuse, went to war. And good excuses aren’t all that hard to find if you really want one.
Rule of the day: whenever you see something in passive voice, be suspicious. Very suspicious.