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War on Words

by on Mar.14, 2009, under Musings

We’ve ruined a perfectly good word: WAR. And in the process we stand to lose much more. In times past, war was used to describe major conflicts with life and death hanging in the balance. Not just for the soldiers who fought in them but for the nations and governments that dispatched them. When wars were lost societies changed. National boundaries were re-drawn. Civilizations fell.

Then things got fuzzy. We had something called a War on Poverty that wasn’t really a war. It was a policy initiative – the means by which a political party identified things it wanted to accomplish. While the goals of the War on Poverty might have been worthy, it was not the same as war. There was never a time of joy in victory or being vanquished in defeat. If Poverty would have won the war it would have imposed its conditions on all of us. Society would have changed for the worse, but we continued essentially unchanged.

The same thing for the War on Drugs. Was it really a war? Or a political slogan created to garner public support for another policy initiative? Winning these so-called wars wasn’t a matter of life and death as much as it was gaining or maintaining political power. Neither initiative was successful; we still are faced with the challenges of poverty and drug abuse. Yet we have not suffered the consequences experienced by those who lose real wars.

The whole concept of  what War is and the consequences of winning or losing a War have become confused. It seems we now see war not as a threat to our national existence that needs to be met with unity and bi-partisan resolve. It’s just another plank in the Party Platform. We form teams of cheerleaders on either side of the aisle and spend more time trying to conquer the Red or Blue States than we do the real enemy.

Then an actual war came along and we couldn’t recognize it. Worse, we recycled the old “War on …” label and the threat became political rather than existential. Faced with a real war with a real enemy and very real consequences for losing, we didn’t take it seriously. The need for bipartisanship was met with hyper-partisanship. Seemingly the only point of unity was the unwillingness of anyone in a position of authority to clearly articulate who the enemy was.

Many a preacher has shared this homespun truth: aim at nothing and you’ll surely hit it. Our unwillingness to identify the enemy is resulting in our inability to marshal the resources needed to defeat it. This must change if America is to continue. The threat is not political it is existential. This War cannot be solved at the ballot box with a shift in national priorities. This War is real. This threat is real.

Tomorrow March Madness begins and the NCAA basketball tournament brackets will be announced. In all seriousness, we need to identify with the tournament rules if we ever hope to prevail in the “War on Terror”. There’s only one thing that counts now: win and you get to keep going, lose and you go home. Except that if America loses this very real war, home won’t look the same as it used to.

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