Every once in a while, a widely read, ostensibly "respectable" newspaper publishes a satirical op-ed (or sometimes even a piece written by a regular columnist) that triggers an earth-shattering backlash. Soon, public editors are issuing apologies and writing columns about the editorial staff's "thought process", the hyper-sensitive twitter mob demands that writers be fired/editors be fired or that everybody cancel their subscriptions immediately risk supporting the cause of racism/bigotry/white supremacy etc. (something like this happened last week at the NYT, though the spat was over a print-edition-only headline).
Well, the latest example, surprisingly enough, comes from the UK, where local writers' mastery of the art of satire has been widely regarded for centuries.
At a time when tensions are already running high (thanks to that whole Brexit debacle), journalist Rod Liddle published a column in the Sunday Times where he argued that it might be time for the UK to start another war. But this time, not with one of its European neighbors (that would presumably be far too easy).
Instead, Liddle writes, the UK should consider a more challenging adversary like China as its target for aggression. Two nuclear powers going head to head? How bad could it possibly get?
And in case you were wondering, Liddle isn't attempting to satirically arguing for the type of modern, high-tech war like the strategies the US employed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Liddle is advocating for a more old-school, total war.
His reasoning? As a society, Britons have become too soft thanks to so many decades free of major wars.
"We have become softened and prone to be frit at everything, perpetually discombobulated in our pacific affluence and our ease, to the extent that we would throw it all away....to prove "the beneficial social effects of war."
War "reduces personal dissatisfaction" and "increases social cohesion and integration," Liddle claims.
What the actual fuck? pic.twitter.com/ji6ZHz2ANt— Dr. Moudhy Al-Rashid (@Moudhy) August 12, 2019
Thousands were outraged not because they didn't grasp the fact that Liddle's column was satire, but because they worried readers in other languages - for example, the Chinese - might miss something in translation, and interpret the column as an actually call to war.
Even if it were satire, it's still profoundly disrespectful.
Feel the need to add that even as satire, this is offensive and extremely not funny to those who have experienced war.— Dr. Moudhy Al-Rashid (@Moudhy) August 12, 2019
Sorry that my sense of humour cannot be stretched to encompass the death toll in Iraq.
Of course, there were still those who responded with the 'it's just satire' argument, which, while technically true, kind of misses the point.
It's satire. Not funny in my opinion, but satire nonetheless. In other words he's free to write it, and we're free to criticize it.— K (@krustworth) August 12, 2019
Others suggested that it was time to investigate the editorial policy at the Times.
People really need to interrogate the editorial policy of the Sunday Times.— Musa Okwonga (@Okwonga) August 12, 2019
But we're certain the armies of millennials at whom the piece was directed will delight in groaning about it for at least another week.
Then again, satire or not, it's certainly one way to gauge the public's appetite for war, which begs the question: is this just another psyop?