18 March, 2004: Oh what a lovely `war'!

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A thought (which occurred to me only recently, but presumably isn't original -- not that that matters): why are political commentators, especially on the right, so keen to describe efforts to prevent terrorist attacks as a `war on terror'?

Ignore for the moment the fact that you can't make war on an abstract noun (or an emotion); obviously the term is intended to be parsed as `war against terrorists'. But `war' is a funny term to use here, because a war has two sides. If we're in a war with the terrorists, then actions we take against them are `acts of war' -- but so are the actions that they take against us. That's the difference between fighting a war and prosecuting crime. Describing anti-terrorism measures as `war' legitimises the terrorist acts we are trying to prevent.

So why are right-wingers -- always keen to tell us that they are more opposed to terrorism than others -- so keen to regard our current circumstances as a `war'? And as a what-if question, suppose that during the late Iraq unpleasantness, Iraqi forces had tried to kill George W. Bush. Do we think that the United States would have described this as a legitimate act of war, like their attempts to kill Saddam Hussein?

Copyright (c) 2004 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.