An absurd metaphor.
The Smoking Gun_Barnabas-An absurd metaphor.
The administration knows that it may not find a "smoking gun" in the next few weeks that demonstrates Iraq is thwarting the will of the Security Council, so it is arguing that the warheads are part of a disturbing pattern of deceit and unwillingness to disarm.
--Michael Gordon, The New York Times,
At least the New York Times puts “smoking gun” in quotes, as if in embarrassed recognition of what it is, an absurd metaphor without a referent. I don’t know the precise etymology of “smoking gun” and like my colleague Dear Jon I am not going to look it up; as the expression is being used, I deduce that a “smoking gun” in the hand of someone standing over a bullet-ridden corpse is conclusive evidence that the one holding the gun is the murderer.
In detective fiction, where this scene is a cliche, the reader will automatically look for another suspect. In this popular context, “smoking gun” means the opposite of its use in the current crisis; instead of conclusive evidence, it means confusing and misleading evidence.
Additionally, the smoking gun doesn’t apply because a smoking gun has been discharged. Violence has been done.
Not possession of the weapon, but use of it, is the metaphor’s referent. In that sense, the invasion of Kuwait was a smoking gun for the world to see.
Is that war continuing, or not? Several months ago I suggested that it was. If I was correct, we don’t need any more evidence. If that war is not continuing, then the ethical conclusion must be that unused weapons do not constitute an act of war, unless that standard applies to us too.
So when you see “smoking gun,” you may be sure of one thing: you have been told nothing at all. What is really scary is that the people who stand behind this metaphor —- and the journalists who ritualistically repeat it -- may be thinking
nothing at all.
We hope the fuzziness is intentional: “Guess what I’m thinking,” may be a useful strategy in diplomacy as in poker. Before employing it, however, you have to know what you
are thinking, even if you don’t know what your enemies are thinking. You can’t be guessing along with them.
I would hate to see World War III start as the result of committee speculation. “Is this what we meant by a smoking gun? Do you think? Oh well. Bombs away.”