"Sacrifice" means to give up something of value to obtain some higher value, and it's interesting to think about when we use that word — in religion, in baseball — but Khan used it in a way that's conventional in wartime: to elevate death.
There are reasons — good and bad — for using a word that makes it seem as though the dead person chose to die in exchange for a higher good rather than to say that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country. A good reason is that it eases the pain of those who loved the person who died. A bad reason is that it cuts off the line of responsibility that runs to those in power who made the decision that put the person in the place where he died.
But Khan went further than to say that his son sacrificed. He went on the attack — attacking a presidential candidate (and not the one who had anything to do with putting the son in the place where he died) — and antagonized Trump, telling him, in a statement that purports to have knowledge that Khan could not possibly possess: "You have sacrificed nothing and no one."
It was memorable rhetoric, and it was not surprising that George Stephanopoulos used it to question Trump:
STEPHANOPOULOS: He said you have sacrificed nothing and no one.Trump did not say, yes, I have. He examined the question:
TRUMP: Well, that sounds -- who wrote that? Did Hillary's script writer write it? Because everybody that went out there....And then he didn't complete his thought, but I think he meant everybody who went out there on the convention stage. I guess he was considering saying that Khan's speech didn't sound like a private individual's personal thoughts, but like part of the convention rhetoric, that is, the Party's propaganda.
Trump switched to talking about General Allen, who "went out... ranting and raving." It's much better to attack the general than the private citizen. The DNC wanted you to empathize with the father, not to question the warmakers, so Trump re-aimed the question well. When Stephanopoulos brought up Hillary's line "you don't know more than the generals," Trump lit into the generals:
TRUMP: Well, I tell you, the generals aren't doing so well right now. Now, I have a feeling it may be Obama's fault. But if you look at ISIS, General MacArthur, and General Patton, they're spinning in their graves. The generals certainly aren't doing very well right now.See my Patton quote above, in italics. Stephanopoulos refocused on sacrificing: "How would you answer that father? What sacrifice have you made for your country?" And this time, Trump offered an answer:
TRUMP: I think I have made a lot of sacrifices. I've work[ed] very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I've done -- I've had tremendous success.Stephanopoulos needled him: "Those are sacrifices?" Is hard work a sacrifice? Trump seems to have swapped in the idea of doing good in this world. He makes no mention of giving anything up to pursue his line of work, though he could have. When people work long hours, they sacrifice leisure time. That's what the word means — giving up something of value for a higher value — but it's not politically wise to say that in response to a man who seems to be saying my son sacrificed his life for the greater good.
But there's something else Trump might have said, and it's something he says frequently, something that was expressed at the GOP convention — by Ivanka Trump:
In his own way, and through his own sheer force of will, he sacrificed greatly to enter the political arena as an outsider.And Here's Trump himself (last May): "I’ve given up a tremendous amount to run for president. I gave up two more seasons of Celebrity Apprentice." And how many times has he said — at rallies — I didn't have to do this. I had a great life?
I'm not surprised Trump didn't deploy this theory when Stephanopoulos asked him the "sacrifice" question, but I'm rather sure he thought of it and chose not to say it. A lot of people seem to think he just blurts out everything that pops into his head, but it's hard to notice unsaid things like this one, and I want to give him some credit for restraint.