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They inflicted gunboat diplomacy on these poor island people.

Inflict means "to cause something harmful against", so this doesn't seem the right word.

They forced gunboat diplomacy on these poor island people.

This doesn't seem to be correct. A more neutral way to say this would be:

They practiced gunboat diplomacy on these poor island people.

What's the correct verb to use here? I am not sure forced x on them is the most appropriate.

3 Answers 3

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Gunboat diplomacy is a euphemistic expression. It means using the threat of violence to achieve your political goals. A powerful country sends its navy close to another country to threaten them with attack if the weaker country doesn't give the more powerful one what it wants.

Oxford languages defines:

Impose something unwelcome on.
"she is wrong to inflict her beliefs on everyone else"

This fits closely with the example you quote. "Inflict gunboat democracy" is correct and idiomatic English. It is different from "Inflict a sword" because "gunboat diplomacy" is a action, not a physical object.

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The whole sentence is problematic. If you're striving for a neutral tone, you'd need to change a few things.

Neutral: They utilized gunboat diplomacy.

Pro-islander: That aggressive country's policy toward the poor islanders can be summed up by the phrase gunboat diplomacy.

Pro-they: They kept the backward islanders from causing problems with a few military maneuvers.

Diplomacy is not inflicted.

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Though the denotation is similar, I agree that of the three choices, "forced" is least felicitous. "Practiced gunboat diplomacy" has a somewhat sarcastic or ironic connotation, and "inflicted" is fairly straightforward.

In the following case, the words would be closer in connotation, with "forced" being a bit stronger or nastier, more intentional:

He inflicted his attentions on her.
He forced his attentions on her.

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  • Are you use you can use inflict with gunboat diplomacy? It's not something like pain, pain is a result, and gunboat diplomacy would be the cause of the pain, so that's why I don't think inflict can be used with gunboat diplomacy.
    – Sayaman
    May 31, 2021 at 2:17
  • "Inflict" implies either physical or emotional pain. Not sure about you, but I'd be rather upset if weapons were used to enforce things, even if the weapon was not fired. May 31, 2021 at 2:23
  • I mean isn't it like saying He inflicted a sword on her?
    – Sayaman
    May 31, 2021 at 3:03
  • One inflicts damage, or a weapon inflicts a wound. An object is expected for the verb. May 31, 2021 at 17:39

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