Monday, January 1, 2007

Enough Naming Everything as War

I elect to open the year writing about my dismay over our national addiction to calling nearly everything a ‘war' on this or that. Depressingly, over the past decades we have had wars on


  • Drugs

  • Poverty

  • Terrorism

  • Want (international)

  • Journalism

  • Spam


I elect to open the year writing about my dismay over our national addiction to calling nearly everything a ‘war' on this or that. Depressingly, over the past decades we have had wars on
  • Drugs
  • Poverty
  • Terrorism
  • Want (international)
  • Journalism
  • Spam
And even a War on Christmas, courtesy of conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly. Numberless wars, not a single victory. It would do us some good to be done with hyperbole, without, breathlessly, having to declare a war on it.
War is (or at least used to be) serious business and serious business is seldom helped by being made light of. Declaring what is as improbable to declare as a war on drugs and even less probable to win, makes drug intervention frivolous. A yellow-brick road that leads not to victory, but OZ. Winning a war against drugs, in the normal sense of the word, is not even definable.
War is a contest of arms against a declared enemy; hence the term declaration of war or a state of war. Another definition is ‘an active struggle between competing entities,’ such as a ‘price war.’ Yet a fourth definition includes ‘a concerted campaign to end something that is injurious’ and the stated examples are much the same as my bulleted entries. I suggest to you that the lesser entries are all late-comers and that war, since the dawn of language, has meant killing people rather than increasing market-share.
Confusing in the common lexicon two such widely disparate definitions of a single word (as loaded as ‘war’), is to denigrate the wasting of young men’s and women’s lives by comparison to a sales contest between Target and Wal-Mart. That’s why words matter and why the sloppy political use of words makes us careless. We care less about Iraq because it is an unclearly defined war. It somehow got all mixed up with terrorism, which cannot be entirely defeated and is, therefore, never won.
We have come to care.
As the three thousandth soldier comes home in a flag-draped casket, we have come to care very much. Enough to reverse the popularity of a once popular president, to change the political makeup of Congress and probably enough to historically relegate this presidency to the bottom rung of its peers. Enough, certainly, to alienate most of America’s natural allegiances throughout the world. Enough, certainly, to upset a very large international apple cart, the contents of which will be rolling around underfoot for decades to come.
It’s perhaps an outsized complaint to blame all of this on semantic inaccuracies and yet, our definition of the world and our place in it is constantly a matter of degree, a consequence of image as well as words. The informality of jeans, as well as the hurling of epithet that may be appropriate to a ball-park, leaks into the office and the home and the political arena. This unpatched roof of our civility toward one another polarizes the nation, turns us unwillingly red and unnaturally blue.
So I would hope, on this first day of what surely will be a problematic year, to call for accuracy in what we think and how we speak, as well as the civility to listen to another point of view with patience. Maybe even a small willingness to hear the areas in which we concur instead of wedging ever wider the disagreements.
Enough of wars that are not wars. Tune down (if not turn off) talk radio. Agree among ourselves not to denigrate Hillary or Barack, John or Rudy and listen instead to what they say, in place of what is said about them. Patch the roof of our civil regard for each other and replicate rather than ruminate over the days when America was a simpler, more honest nation.
We are simple still and the simplicity of what binds us will stand. We are honest, more than we allow ourselves to admit and must require honesty in those who represent us. We are civil with our friends and have only to remember how to be civil with those who are not yet our friends.
It is possible. It is not the end of the American era. Not even the beginning of the end, as some would have us believe. But with just minor adjustments back in the direction of civility and purpose, it may well be restatement of the greatness that the world hopes of us.
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