I've noticed a trend for American leaders to use the word "cowardly" to describe acts of violence:
- Obama: Navy Yard Shootings “Cowardly Act” - in reference to the Sep 2013 DC Navy Yard shooting
- "Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts" - George W Bush, Sep 12, 2001; referring to the 9/11 terrorist attaches
- "It’s such a cowardly act — whoever did this." - Tagg Romney, Apr 16, 2013; referring to the Boston Marathon Bombings
I'm trying to figure out what, exactly, is meant in this context. Let me make it clear that there is no doubt in my mind that the events referenced above are all horrendous and abhorrent. I'm just trying to figure out if describing them as "cowardly" is appropriate.
Cowardly (According Merriam Webster):
afraid in a way that makes you unable to do what is right or expected : lacking courage
The part that jumps out at me is "lacking courage":
the ability to do something that frightens one.
Are we to agree that the perpetrators of the events lacked courage? It seems to me that they did not lack courage because each of the acts involved something that is likely to frighten the perpetrator (and therefore cannot be called cowardly).
Am I missing the real meaning of the phrase, or perhaps, just thinking about it too much? I'll admit that my initial interpretation is that it has something to do with being "unmanly" in that it could be perceived that the perpetrators didn't face their "enemies" straight on. But it still doesn't seem correct.