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War Without End: The Misuse of Metaphor

Posted by Robert G. PIelke on November 14, 2012 at 1:00 PM

Once upon a time the United States of America used to go to war. We did this several times. They were wars, like all wars, that pitted our nation against other nations. It was always all of “us” against all of “them.” These “Thems” have included England (two tmees0, Mexico, the Confederacy (a nation-wanna-be), Indian nations (actually more of a genocide than a war), Spain, Germany (two times), Japan, North Korea and North Viet Nam. And once upon a time we won most of these wars. (There’s one war in the list we didn’t quite win and another we sort of lost….but who’s counting?) Nevertheless, we usually won. How did we know this? Well, those other nations gave up or surrendered…simple! To be honest, not all of these wars were popular wars or good wars or even nice wars, but they all had the virtue of eventually coming to an end.

Since the Sixties (the nineteen sixties), however, our United States of America has often decided to go to war against some enemies that weren’t nations at all, like “poverty” and “crime” and “drugs.” No question about it: these were, and are, nasty enemies, and they all deserve to be destroyed. These wars were good wars, no question. But no one was deceived. These weren’t “real” enemies…not flesh and blood villains coming at us with fixed bayonets. They were metaphorical enemies! And neither were we fooled by calling them “wars.” Congress wasn’t called into special session, troops weren’t mobilized, and diplomats weren’t recalled from a foreign land. They were metaphorical wars! They were like real wars but not real wars. We knew this, and we weren’t being told otherwise. Most of all, we knew that, unlike a real war, these metaphorical wars would never come to an end. They weren’t supposed to. These enemies are “things” endemic to modern society and have to be dealt in one way or another…forever!

Just think what would happen, however, if someone were to confuse using “war” as a metaphor with the reality of war!? And suppose for a moment that this “someone” were in a position to act on this confusion! What would be “up with that”?

Wait a minute! Aren’t we “now engaged in a great…war…testing whether this nation…can long endure.”? And our new enemy is “terrorism,” right? But we’re not fooled, “Terrorism” isn’t a literal enemy, and there’s no literal nation to sally forth against, our “terrible swift swords” at the ready. It’s like all those other “wars” that continuously engage our attention and recourses – metaphorical wars that never end.

So if this “great war” is a metaphorical war, why are we literally contending against another actual nation? What happened to the metaphor? Did someone misunderstand what we’re supposed to be doing? After all, we never actually declared war on Iraq. In fact, we invaded Iraq to save Iraq! So clearly there was no nation that we are literally at war with. But if this is so, how can we tell when we win? Who’s going to surrender to us? Someone “in charge” is always telling us that “it will end…but after a long struggle.” But only real wars “end”; metaphorical wars don’t! They’re not supposed to end because the “enemy” is always with us.

In those “once upon a time” wars, we could always look forward to “living happily ever after” when the enemy surrendered and peace [a state of “non war”?] would be restored. And that’s pretty much what we’re being promised now. But Iraq isn’t going to surrender? Iraq is our friend! We’re not at war with Iraq – we’re at war with “terrorism”! Is “terrorism” going to surrender? I don’t think so…I don’t even know what that means.

So why do these people ‘in charge” keep taking about “Iraq” and “terrorism” and “winning” and “losing”? Are they talking about a real war or a metaphorical war? Somebody is confused. I know I am!



Categories: Politics

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