I like figures of contrast. Like oxymoron. I like it very much. But what is an oxymoron? you may ask. One dictionary defines it as “a phrase that combines two words that seem to be opposite of each other.” It gives one example: a deafening silence. But I am going to give you a long list: Extinct life. Temporary tax increase. Plastic glasses. Terribly pleased. Political science. Tight slacks. Definite maybe. Pretty ugly. Working vacation. Exact estimate. Microsoft works.
If you want to fully understand contrasting elements, turn phrases into sentences: Microsoft is working. This is exact estimate of budget. I am on a working vacation. She is pretty ugly. And so on. Put differently, Microsoft means work and work means Microsoft. Exact means estimate and estimate means exact. Definite means maybe and maybe means definite. Pretty means ugly and ugly means pretty. And so on.
It is for this reason that I like English language. Because you can use one word to represent so many things. Such as “Make no mistake about it.” (Used to make sure that your listeners do not mistake what you are saying.) And “undisclosed, secret location.” (Used to let listeners know that what is secret is undisclosed and what is undisclosed is secret.) But those words are in a separate group called circumlocution, simply meaning going round and round—the way sailors and astronauts do. Like Francis Drake. Like Yuri Gagarin. In my innocent school days, we use to call it “beating about bush.” But these days, Bush is beating about desert.
Now, one more phrase has crept into oxymoron family: Intelligence failure. Consider this sentence: The terrorists destroyed twin towers because of intelligence failure. Therefore, intelligence means failure and failure means intelligence. It may also mean that no human being is to blame for collapse of twin towers. Because intelligence failure, which is neither man nor animal is to be held accountable.
There have been two classic examples of intel failure in history. Consider Pearl Harbor disaster of December 7, 1941. When Japanese Imperial Navy came and attacked on that day, Americans got it all wrong. First, “sneaky Japs” knowing that U.S. patrols were weakest north of Pearl Harbor took that route, risking turbulent winter sea and maintaining strict radio silence.
Next, two army privates on duty at Opana Mobile Radio Station on Island of Oahu, smelt trouble. They saw unusually large lips on oscilloscope, an indication that more than 50 ships were coming to attack. But when they informed Information Center about this, Information Officer told them to go to sleep. He had mistaken ships for a flight of American B-17 bombers coming in from mainland.
That was not all. The 14-part message that was sent by Japanese government to its envoy in Washington D.C., to be delivered by 1:00 p.m. December 7, 1941, had earlier been intercepted by U.S. before its arrival. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was president at time, had interpreted message to mean war. But where and when would it take place? No one knew. Some fingered Thailand.
Again, message was delivered late because Japanese embassy secretaries delayed in typing document in English. So by time that Cordell Hull, secretary of state, received message, war had already begun. At end, over 2,330 Americans died, while 1,140 were wounded. It was actually a “day which will live in infamy,” according to F.D. Roosevelt. No thanks to missed intelligence. The resulting anger led to war with Japan, which culminated in destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atom bomb in August 1945.