Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Global War on Strained Metaphors

Warfare as a metaphor is egregiously strained. Its uses range from the silly (“The War on Christmas”) to the inapt (“The War on Poverty”) to the inapt and dangerous (“The War on Drugs” and “The War on Terror”). These last uses are dangerous because they are deployed to lend legitimacy to the uses of militaristic violence in circumstances in which such violence may actually be utterly inappropriate.

“The War on Drugs” gives rise to militarized police agencies and militaristic assaults on the citizenry in the name of drug enforcement. “The War on Terror” gives rise to the use of the forms of warfare and all that entails in pursuit of threats which are more properly considered matters of law enforcement or limited military operations far short of “war”.

I hear it said often that America is “at war”, that we are living in “wartime”, and this is supposed to limit dissent and excuse the loss of transparency in government. But America is not “at war”, and this is not “wartime”. A state of war may exist as between nation states, and I do not reckon that the United States is in a state of war with any other state. It is engaged in an unlawful occupation of Iraq and seemingly unproductive military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States is not “at war” with any of these states.

In Iraq, the US military is engaged in a civil war and a fight with an insurgency the existence of which arises solely from the occupation itself. That some of the insurgents call themselves “al Qaeda” does not change the nature of the conflict to anything other than resistance to an unlawful occupation. Given that the regime in Iraq is friendly to the United States, it is surely the case that the regime would assist the US in limited operations and law enforcement efforts to face any potential threat by would be terrorists. The branding of some of the insurgents as “al Qaeda” is no justification at all for the US to remain as an occupying power.

In Afghanistan, the US military doesn’t seem to be doing much at all to accomplish its ostensible mission. Frankly, the pursuit of would be terrorists in Afghanistan or Pakistan might not be a suitable mission for military forces, at least not conventional war fighting forces. The mission is more in the way of intelligence gathering and law enforcement, and a large military presence in the area is probably counterproductive. If anything, it creates more enemies.

So let us be clear when we speak about the use of violence and avoid straining the warfare metaphor. One does not make war on methods, inanimate substances, or ideas. Let us identify the actual threats that concern us and consider what means are appropriate to address them. Framing the issue as a “War on Something or Other” manifests hysteria or an intent to propagandize.

1 comment:

Grégoire said...

I've long suspected that the "war on" fad is a conscious attempt to make the word meaningless.

I'm sure someone would have liked to simply remove the word from the dictionary (maybe replacing it with the word "peace" in a 1984 sorta way). What they've done for the last 20 years is the next best thing.

At this point "war" could mean fried bananas.