Promoted by the Bush administration and continued by the Obama administration, the war on terror combines two of the most emotion-laden words in the English language. The phrase is meant to frighten and to award the president permission to exercise broad wartime powers.
It’s misleading because it inaccurately defines the enemy as an emotion. Conflict with emotions can be resolved only with psychological or spiritual weapons, not with armaments.
Even correcting the phrase to “war on terrorism” would be misleading because terrorism is a tactic. Waging war on terrorism would be as much nonsense as sending the Marines to destroy kidnapping and blackmail.
Although closer to the truth, even further correcting it to “war on terrorists” would be misleading because terrorists are not soldiers (although some inaccurately fancy themselves soldiers) and terrorism is crime. Therefore, terrorism should be addressed with law enforcement, not war. The war properly should be thought of as metaphorical (e.g. the War on Poverty) rather than actual. But the inclusion of the word “war” confuses people into thinking it should be an actual war.
These corrections also would continue to evoke fear when the nation needs courage and wisdom. We must replace the phrase.
The best alternative I know I learned of from the Friends Committee on National Legislation: the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict. Much more than an alternative slogan, it’s a completely different way of seeing and responding to political violence. It is the duty of every nation, and we should remind the government of this responsibility whenever possible.
Also, opponents of the war on terror should call for law enforcement to bring terrorists to justice under the slogan “Handcuffs, not bombs.” This will make it possible to return the armed forces to their proper role. Doing so also can put the peace movement and the military on the same side.
What do you think?