Using the “war” label

October 16, 2008 | By | 1 Reply More

We can label our attempts to stop politically motivated violence in a variety of ways.  We could use the law enforcement metaphor or we could use the social epidemic metaphor.   The Bush administration, however, has consciously chosen to invoke the metaphor of “war.”   An article in the current edition of Scientific American Mind, “Talking about Terrorism,” discusses the many negative entailments of the frame of “war.”

The war metaphor helps to define the American perception of the threat of terrorism. If terrorism is war, then the national security, indeed the existence, of each side is threatened. The conflict is zero-sum; the outcome will be victory for one side or the other. Being in a state of war also requires national unity, and dissent is easily interpreted as unpatriotic. The solution has to be military. Thus, the Department of Defense must play a lead role in shaping policy, and the president’s duties as commander in chief must take precedence over his other tasks. An expansion of executive power accompanies the war metaphor: measures that would not be acceptable in peacetime, such as restrictions on civil liberties and brutal interrogation practices, are now considered essential.

If this isn’t bad enough, framing counter-terrorism as “war” comes with many additional costs:

It threatens to corrupt society’s values, disrupt its orderly functioning and reshuffle its priorities. War calls for the disproportionate investment of a nation’s resources, with correspondingly less left for other concerns, including the economy, health care and education. “Collateral damage,” ethnic profiling, harsh interrogation tactics and unlimited internment of suspects may all be condoned in the name of security and excused by the uniqueness of circumstances the war concept implies. These costs are especially steep in a war that has no definite end.

Related posts at this site include:

The “war on terror” is a bad metaphor and

Coordinated violence and the frame of “war”


Tags: , , , , , ,

Category: Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    In "The Art of War", Sun Tzu emphasizes a separation of the military and civil functions of government. The rationale behind this is simple. The civilian leadership must respond to the needs of the people, direct the population but not dictate the law, and tend to the needs of the public.

    The military is not civil by nature. Its purpose is to protect the country by any means. The military leader must dictate, and must demand total compliance from all under him, all the way down to the lowest ranking soldier.

    When the civilian leader is also the military leader, he will either see the public as the enemy, lack the decisiveness needed to effective win the war or both.

Leave a Reply