Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The mere fact

On NPR’s All Things Considered this morning:

John Bellinger, a former legal advisor to the State Department, says the bombing of the hospital was a terrible tragedy, but he believes it would be a rush to judgment to call it a war crime.

“The mere fact that civilians are killed, that a hospital is damaged, doesn’t automatically mean that there has been a war crime. It only becomes a war crime if it is shown that the target was intentionally attacked.”
The mere fact? From Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate :
1 : having no admixture : PURE

2 obsolete : being nothing less than : ABSOLUTE

3 : being nothing more than <a mere mortal> <a mere hint of spice>
Bellinger could be using mere in its first sense — this fact, and this fact alone. But the word is typically used to minimize importance. As the New Oxford American Dictionary points out, mere may be “used to emphasize how small or insignificant someone or something is.” The deaths of civilians in war ought never to be considered a mere fact.

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