Update 1/19/23 fixed a duplicated portion of the story.

I’m not a tank expert. But I am capable of both levels of pedanticism, and passive indifference few mortals can ever reach. Context determines when each personality trait comes out.

An apartment isn’t a house, but if someone invites you over “to the house” for dinner, quibbling about names of building structures is needlessly pedantic. In most day-to-day contexts being a little imprecise with language is unproblematic. An SUV can be a “car”, a thumbtack can be a “small nail,” and so on. In most conversations, those labels don’t matter. 

If someone is giving you directions, trying to buy a vehicle, or sending you to a store with a shopping list, calling things what they are matters.

If a kid gets under the kitchen sink and drinks from a bottle of something poisonous, what they drank matters to the medical providers a great deal. But telling the story to grandma after the fact, the difference between Windex and Stoner Invisible Glass cleaning solution is negligible. A reporter focused on accuracy would probably lean generically, saying simply “household cleaner” in their story.

To reporters covering hawt military on military action, correctly describing equipment matters. And when a reporter doesn’t know the name of the equipment, it’s safest to lean generically, as I will do with the following story.

A friend of mine is a hardcore military geek. My understanding of his resume is he started as a grunt in a light-heavy artillery unit that saw a fair amount of combat and later ended up as an officer in a larger logistics context. 

Early in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he saw a cable news program use TikTok video of a Russian plane while talking about Chernihiv. His face changed. What he had seen was a Russian tanker aircraft flying near Kyiv. 

Tankers fly low and slow, making them relatively easy targets. Tankers are also expensive and harder to replace than nearly any other aircraft. To him, the video showed that Russian intel believed the air defenses for Ukraine were gone.

The video apparently showing a Lyushin-78 variation was almost certainly not taken near Chernihiv. I didn’t immediately find any reporting on this moment in cable news with a quick search, but b-roll issues happen. An Australian TV broadcast used a video of ivermectin boxes when talking about Queen Elizabeth’s COVID-19 infection and created an international incident.

Back to tanks and being pedantic or not based on context. Forces News and Forbes have articles about the difference between tanks and other armored vehicles. I’ll synthesize those articles as follows:

  1. All tanks are armored vehicles, but not all armored vehicles are tanks.
  2. Tanks are built and used to support infantry and break enemy lines on a battlefield.
  3. Armored vehicles, such as personnel carriers or armored bulldozers, may sometimes be used tactically similarly to a tank.
  4. Self-propelled artillery weapons cannot be used tactically like a tank in a non-suicidal context. 

If you’re describing any armored military vehicle doing something like running over unarmed civilians, it is generally pedantic to argue if it’s a tank. Unarmed humans are soft and weak. I don’t think I’d get along with the person who argues protesters weren’t run over with a “tank” because it was just an armored vehicle. 

In other contexts, it’s not pedantic; the correct name matters.

Showing a photo of a line of howitzers ready to meet the onslaught of infantry closing in would be reassuring to those who think, “Howitzer look like tank. Howitzer is tank.”. Those who know what a howitzer is for would be more likely to bet on the onslaught.

Label things correctly if you’re reporting on battles fought by even semi-organized militaries. Because in that context it matters.

Article by Mason Pelt of Push ROI. First published in MasonPelt.com on January 19, 2023. Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash.