The word war is one of the most intentionally overused words in politics today. I don’t mean in terms of the military, either; whether or not we’re overextended abroad and fighting too many actual wars is topic for another post. Today I’m referring to policies that government officials refer to as a war, but which really are just laws. Politicians love the word war, because it squashes dissent. For example, if the President goes up to the podium and announces a policy, you can be either for or against that policy, depending on your beliefs. But if he announces that the country is now at war with something, the country is expected to rise up behind him and support the Holy struggle, to join the patriotic crusade! Anybody who says they’re against him is portrayed as “against America.” No red-blooded American roots for America to lose a war! That may sound a bit cynical, but consider how many non-military “wars” we’re fighting right now. We’re fighting a “War on Drugs” (Nixon first coined that term in the 1970’s. Nixon also declared a “War on Cancer” in 1971, although that one hasn’t really stuck). We’re fighting a “War on Poverty” (LBJ coined that one as part of the Great Society). Many local politicians claim to be waging a “War on Crime” (that term was first coined by J. Edgar Hoover in the 1930’s). In the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, our jostling for power with Russia was called the Cold War, although it really wasn’t a military struggle. Why this pervasive terminology? Because nationalism programs people to support their government in times of war, regardless of the issue. It’s much easier to garner support for a policy by saying “We need to win the War on Drugs” than by saying “We need to ensure that nobody smokes marijuana.” Nobody’s for poverty, crime, cancer, or terror, and very few people are for drugs. But you needn’t be for something to feel laws against it aren’t necessary, good, or even constitutional. Declaring war blurs that line.
This principle can also be used in reverse, by claiming that your opponents are waging a “War on…” followed by a good thing. Both parties do this, also. Democrats claim Republicans are waging a “War on Science” by opposing evolution or climate change. Republicans claim Democrats are waging a “War on Christmas” for advocating political correctness. Well, I say, let’s wage a war to end all wars (and no, not WWI, it’s just a pun). Seriously, quit it. It’s getting old. There’s enough war weariness as it is. It also contributes to Boy Who Cried Wolf syndrome; if the public becomes desensitized to the word, it may not appreciate the gravity of a real war that actually threatens their well being.