Here’s something I’ve been wondering about for some time. It crossed my mind again this week while writing about the incident in Iraq where a 42 ID staff sergeant allegedly killed a lieutenant and a captain.

I’m wondering about the term “frag”.

We all know what it means. It has its origins in “fragmentation”, as in “fragmentation grenade”, and during the Vietnam War came to be popularized as a means for disgruntled enlisted soldiers to kill their superior officers.

What’s troubling to me about that previous sentence is the fact that I used “popularized” and that it applies.

One thing that I noticed and nearly commented on was that the article I linked to went into great depth explaining fragging.

‘Fragging’ defined
The term usually refers to the assassination of an unpopular member of one’s own fighting unit by lobbing a fragmentation grenade into his or her tent at night. The idea was that the attack would be blamed on the enemy. The term came to include intentionally killing a comrade during combat.

Between 1969 and 1971, the Army reported 600 fragging incidents that killed 82 Americans and injured 651. In 1971 alone, there were 1.8 fraggings for every 1,000 American soldiers serving in Vietnam, not including gun and knife assaults.

As President Nixon drew down U.S. forces in that war, troops felt they were fighting a lost cause they were unwilling to die for.

Such killings are infrequent, said Gen. Wayne Downing, an analyst for MSNBC TV. But he said they are fairly straightforward to deduce.

A matter of forensics
“They can go in and do the forensics on this case,” Downing said. “That’s very, very easy to do — to determine whether it’s a mortar round, an improvised explosive device or certainly if it is an American hand grenade,” he said.

“Once you’ve determined that … then you can go back and examine the events within that unit. It was probably fairly easy to draw up a list of suspects who might want to do something like this,” he said.

Martinez, who joined the New York Army National Guard in December 1990, deployed to Iraq in May 2004. He has been assigned a military attorney and has the option of hiring a civilian lawyer.

At that point I latched on to the deployment date and noted that I thought it was wrong. But in the meantime, I lost my train of thought about the “popularization” of fragging and how I wondered if the term itself was a message of sorts.

A term is a term. But over time certain terms come to have certain connotations, and I wonder if fragging is one of those terms with one of those connotations.

A post on Citizen Smash strengthens my suspicion. Yeah, it’s only Indymedia, but I’ll bet there are posters on DU backing them up. The passage Smash quotes is:

Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez is charged with fragging two goons. Sgt. Hasan Akbar was recently convicted in of fragging some parachute goons in 2002. These two brave men are the only US heroes in Iraq.

Yeah, whoever wrote that has serious issues.

But I wonder if using the term “fragging” adds to the romantic views that many have for such incidents. Does recounting the origins and history of fragging add to this mystique?

Fragging is also a term used by video gamers, usually when they “kill” other players (as opposed to computer-controlled characters) in combat games. In this setting, fragging is a good thing. An action that is to be admired.

There’s no doubt that some who oppose the invasion of Iraq, the policies of President Bush, or the military in general greatly admire this sort of thing, as well. You know it’s true.

But does using the term “fragging” somehow legitimicize the despicable actions of those killing their officers? Does going into the history of fragging and noting that it was troops who didn’t support the policies of President Nixon that fragged their officers indicate an intent to directly link this war with that war and this incident with those incidents? And do I, by using the term “frag” instead of “murder”, strengthen that link and that legend?

Let me know what you think.


  1. Yes, I agree. As an amateur linguist I believe that language is power, especially the use of certain terms. While I am not sure the use of the word *fragging* instead of *murder* is quite on the same level – the news report going into detail about the history of the term and bringing up *Nixon*, mentioning *lost cause* is clearly another attempt to compare Iraq to Vietnam; because the origins of the term could have been explained very clearly without those two references.

  2. alternative theory: the Media may be trying to use more youthful language to attract and keep younger readers. I for instance have only heard the term in reference to FPS games. >shrug<

  3. The headline for when bin Laden is captured: L337 5P3C14L F0RC35 UN17 PWN5 M4573R N00B b1n 74d3n W17H P4N75 D0WN 0M6 L0L0L0L0L!!!!1!!!111!!!!1!!

  4. Sam: Yes, that’s entirely possible. Of course, they could attract both youthful and anti-war readers at the same time with the term, perhaps.

  5. I’m a [youngish] wargamer and see the term used a lot in jokes. Usually it’s referring to killing an idiot young officer (usually lieutenant) with only book knowledge of tactics which vets see is going to get them killed. (Vietnam stereotype) And yes, I do see the irony of young tabletop wargamers using it (though we do have a couple vets in the group).

  6. Well, first I’m not so sure that the term was designed or used strategically to drum the anti-war cause. These days, the negative connotations would have been all but forgotten were it not for the media. During both my deployments to Iraq I have heard the term used frequently, but not once when referring to killing a friendly. We always used it when talking about the enemy.