Style wars

One of these days I’ll set out the advice I give to students about writing essays – and when I do I’ll also include what I wish published authors would avoid too (me included) – but in the meantime you might be interested in these trenchant words of advice:

Keep the language crisp and pungent; prefer the forthright to the pompous and ornate.
Do not stray from the subject; omit the extraneous, no matter how brilliant it may seem or even be.
Favor the active voice and shun streams of polysyllables and prepositional phrases.
Keep sentences and paragraphs short, and vary the structure of both.
Be frugal in the use of adjectives and adverbs; let nouns and verbs show their own power.

They are taken from the CIA’s detailed Style Manual & Writers Guide for Intelligence Publications issued in 2011; you can find Michael Silverberg‘s commentary at Quartz here.

CIA Style Guide

What particularly caught my eye was this admonition:

Do not uppercase the w in Korean war, which was “undeclared”; the same logic applies to Vietnam war and Falklands war, and a similar convention (if not logic) to the Iran-Iraq war.

Shadow-Warfare_FINALHidden in plain sight here is the remarkable fact that the United States has not formally declared war since 1941.  You may think that not much depends on a formal declaration, and you would be right, except that this reluctance says much about executive authority and, crucially, what Larry Hancock and Stuart Wexler call, in their excellent Shadow Warfare (Counterpoint, 2014), ‘the history of America’s undeclared wars’.

In a sense, their book provides the back-story to Jeremy Scahill‘s Dirty Wars:

Contrary to their contemporary image, deniable covert operations are not something new. Such activities have been ordered by every president and every administration since World War II. Clandestine operations have often relied on surrogates, with American personnel involved only at a distance, insulated by layers of deniability.

Shadow Warfare traces the evolution of these covert operations, detailing the tactics and tools used from the Truman era through those of the contemporary Obama administration. It also explores the personalities and careers of many of the most noted shadow warriors of the past sixty years, tracing the decades-long relationship between the CIA and the military.

Shadow Warfare offers a balanced, non-polemic exploration of American concealed warfare, detailing its patterns, consequences, and collateral damage, and presenting its successes as well as its failures. Hancock and Wexler explore why every president, from Franklin Roosevelt on, felt compelled to turn to secret, deniable military action. It also delves into the political dynamic of the president’s relationship with Congress, and the fact that despite decades of warfare, Congress has chosen not to exercise its responsibility to declare a single state of war—even for extended and highly visible combat.