The gloves are off?

中国日报网 2013-05-07 11:09



The gloves are off?Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “So the gloves are off now in the battle for power in Egypt.” Particularly “the gloves”, what gloves?”

My comments:

First of all, the gloves in “the gloves are off” refer to gloves that boxers wear in a match.

The sentence means that things are turning ugly in Egypt. People are taking their gloves off in the battle for political power. You know, if they were all boxers, they were taking off their gloves and fighting with their bare fists.

In other words, they’re not minding moral scruples any more. They will do any unthinkable thing to grab power to run that country.

That’s a terrible thing to say, I know. But since we’re talking about people battling for political power, I think it’s not terribly off the mark or inappropriate to say something like that.

Anyways, let’s turn to talk a bit more about the idiom “the gloves are off”. If you’ve watched any boxing match on TV, you must have seen the thick heavy gloves that boxers wear. The gloves are made of leather and padded with foam. They look bloated and kind of soft. That’s the idea. By design, the gloves are thus made in order to soften the blow when they land on a player’s head or body.

One’s boxing prowess, you see, is measured by the hits he (or she, as more and more women have joined the fray) lands on the opponent, not by how hard and hurtful each punch is, especially in amateur boxing.

This said, harder punches still count as the more hurtful punches are sometimes able to knock opponents down, and out or simply force an opponent to quit.

Remember, though, boxers are not allowed to take their gloves off and fight with bare fists in a real match. It’s illegal.

Anyways, “the gloves are off” is a good metaphor. Whenever people say “the gloves are off”, you understand they’ll do anything now, anything to win, by fair means or foul. The rulebook is thrown out the window. The law of the jungle takes over. In other words, anything goes.

Here are media examples of situations where the gloves are taken off:

1. THE Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, yesterday promised a “new course for the war on terror” to meet Palestinian tactics that have led to the deaths of 12 soldiers in a week.

Following the deaths of six soldiers at a checkpoint in the West Bank - one of the highest tolls in a single attack - the Israeli army launched retaliatory raids from land, sea and air yesterday.

Fifteen Palestinians were killed in reprisals in Gaza, Nablus and Ramallah, and two men suspected of planting a roadside bomb were killed after a chase in Gaza.

The Israeli security cabinet promised to step up military operations, and one of Mr Sharon’s spokesmen said: “The gloves are off now.”

However, the prime minister insisted that he was not going to lead Israel into a full-scale war.

“We are facing an immeasurably dangerous and complex problem that we must know how to deal with appropriately and not drive the nation to war. I am opposed to dragging the country into war,” Mr Sharon said.

The Israeli response continued through the night. Tanks and troops engered Gaza City early this morning for the first time in nearly 17 months of violence, witnesses said. A refugee camp was shelled and heavy machinegun fire was heard throughout the city.

In southern Gaza, tanks and bulldozers demolished houses in the Rafah refugee camp.

- ‘The gloves are off’ as Israel retaliates,, February 21, 2002.

2. Eton’s headmaster has denied Prince Harry’s school work was written by a teacher, saying it was full of errors.

Anthony Little said if a teacher had written the AS level art journal, they clearly were “not worth the job”.

The prince’s former art teacher, Sarah Forsyth, told her employment tribunal she wrote most of the journal - and even taped Harry admitting to this.

Her contract at the school was not renewed in summer 2003. She is claiming unfair dismissal.

Ms Forsyth says Harry was regarded as a “weak” student at Eton and was given “inappropriate help” with his work.

But the school’s head responded by telling the tribunal on Wednesday Harry’s journal was riddled with errors.

Among the mistakes is a reference to an artist's “forthwith manner” rather than “forthright”, and references to “interloking” lines and “mark mark making”.

Mr Little said staff were concerned by Ms Forsyth’s state of mind.

“Frankly, if the teacher had done that, with those spelling mistakes, she wasn’t worth the job,” Mr Little said.

The school accepts Ms Forsyth gave the prince help with technical vocabulary, but says that is part of “good teaching”.

Mr Little said: “It’s the function of a good teacher to help the student to develop language and terminology to give it a bit of shape, for a teacher to do that is a jolly good thing.”

But he said he was “very shocked” to learn of Ms Forsyth’s “extraordinary actions” in taping a conversation with the prince as he was on his way to an art A level exam.

Mr Little said the taping was in itself grounds for dismissal for gross misconduct.

Ms Forsyth claims her head of department, Ian Burke, had been bullying her in the run-up to her dismissal.

She says she told other staff, including the headmaster, but her claims were ignored.

Ms Forsyth says Mr Burke threatened her, telling her he would “get her”.

She secretly taped a second conversation in which Mr Burke was heard to say “the gloves are off now, I can’t protect you”.

The Royal Family has denied Harry cheated and an investigation by exam board Edexcel found no evidence of malpractice.

- Harry’s work ‘full of mistakes’,, May 11, 2005.

3. In the summer of 1960, Sidney Gottlieb, a C.I.A. chemist, flew to Congo with a carry-on bag containing vials of poison and a hypodermic syringe. It was an era of relative subtlety among C.I.A. assassins. The toxins were intended for the food, drink, or toothpaste of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s Prime Minister, who, in the judgment of the Eisenhower Administration, had gone soft on Communism. Upon his arrival, as Tim Weiner recounts in his history of the C.I.A., Gottlieb handed his kit to Larry Devlin, the senior C.I.A. officer in Léopoldville. Devlin asked who had ordered the hit. “The President,” Gottlieb assured him. In later testimony, Devlin said that he felt ashamed of the command. He buried the poisons in a riverbank, but helped find an indirect way to eliminate Lumumba, by bankrolling and arming political enemies. The following January, Lumumba was executed by the Belgian military.

For Eisenhower, who had witnessed the carnage of the Normandy landings and the Battle of the Bulge, and later claimed to “hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can,” political assassinations represented an alluring alternative to conventional military action. Through the execution or overthrow of undesirable foreign leaders, the thinking went, it might be possible to orchestrate the global struggle against Communism from a distance, and avoid the misery—and the risks of nuclear war—that out-and-out combat would bring. Assassination was seen not only as precise and efficient but also as ultimately humane. Putting such theory into practice was the role of the C.I.A., and the agency’s tally of toppled leftists, nationalists, or otherwise unreliable leaders is well known, from Mohammad Mosadegh, of Iran, in 1953, and Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, of Guatemala, in 1954, to Ngo Dinh Diem, of South Vietnam, in 1963, and Salvador Allende, of Chile, in 1973. Not all the schemes went according to plan; a few seemed inspired by Wile E. Coyote. The C.I.A. once planned to bump off Fidel Castro by passing him an exploding cigar.

Aside from the moral ugliness of violent covert action, its record as a national-security strategy isn’t encouraging. On occasion, interventions have delivered short-term advantages to Washington, but in the long run they have usually sown deeper troubles. Lumumba’s successor, the dictator Joseph Mobutu, may have been an ally of the United States until his death, in 1997, but his brutal rule prepared the way for Congo’s recent descent into chaos. Memory of the C.I.A.’s hand in Mosadegh’s overthrow stoked the anti-American fury of the Iranian Revolution, which confounds the United States to this day. Foreign policy is not a game of Risk. Great nations achieve lasting influence and security not by bloody gambits but through economic growth, scientific innovation, military deterrence, and the power of ideas.

During the nineteen-seventies, it seemed as though this era of covert action were coming to an end. After a congressional investigation exposed the extent of C.I.A. plots, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order banning political assassinations. Successive Presidents strengthened the ban with executive orders of their own, codifying a growing bipartisan consensus that assassinations undercut America’s avowed commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

But after September 11, 2001, as lower Manhattan and the Pentagon smoldered, C.I.A. leaders advocated for the right to kill members of Al Qaeda anywhere in the world. George W. Bush eagerly assented. On September 17th, the President signed a still classified directive delegating lethal authority to the agency. “The gloves come off,” J. Cofer Black, the director of the agency’s Counterterrorist Center, told Congress early in 2002.

Since then, America’s targeted-killing program has grown into a campaign without borders, in which the White House, the C.I.A., and the Pentagon all play a part. The role of armed drones in this war is well known, but for years neither President Obama nor his advisers officially acknowledged their existence. Some three thousand people, including an unknown number of civilians, are believed to have died in targeted strikes since 2001. If the death tolls from strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan were included, the figure would be much higher.

An assassination campaign against suspected terrorists is not the same as one that occasionally rubs out unfriendly political leaders of nation-states, but it raises similar questions. Is a program of targeted killing, conducted without judicial oversight or public scrutiny, consistent with American interests and values?

- Our Drone Delusion,, May 6, 2013.

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Go to Zhang Xin's column


About the author:

Zhang Xin(张欣) has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

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