Innumerable as the Starrs of Night,
Or Starrs of Morning,
Dew-drops, which the Sun
on every leaf and every flouer
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all
ye need to know.
E = M
Energy is eternal delight.
Impearls: 2005-08-07 Archive
War against what?
Michael Totten had a piece in his blog last week titled “War, Struggle, or Counter-insurgency?”, on the subject of what is it we're fighting in Iraq and elsewhere, i.e., the so-called “war on terror,” and just what it should properly be called.
Antiwar folk have a field day, of course, chortling over how one cannot sensibly make war on a “phenomenon” or “metaphor” or “tactic” — ridiculing the very idea as akin to the truly metaphorical “war on drugs” and “war on poverty.” As Mark Steyn, back on March 14, 2005 in an article in The Irish Times, quoted eminent British historian Corelli Barnett as saying: “It is misleading to talk of a ‘war on terrorism’… You cannot in logic wage war against a phenomenon, only against a specific enemy.”
Now, personally, I don't inherently have much of a problem with “wars” of this kind, as contrary to Barnett's assertion, history actually shows such wars occurring many times, over and over again. Britain and the U.S., as an example, waged long and ultimately successful wars during the 18th and 19th centuries against the “phenomenon” or tactic of piracy; even ancient Rome did so in a remarkable episode which Impearls reported on here. The U.S. and Britain also waged bitter and successful war against the “phenomenon” of slavery during the 19th century. War itself may be regarded as a phenomenon that war can be waged against, odd though that may sound. As Frederic Manning put it in his 1930 novel Her Privates We, by Private 19022:
Nonetheless, calling the present conflict a “war on terror” does have its difficulties. One issue of course is the opening mentioned above which leftists love to exploit with ignorant ridicule about “phenomena” and “metaphors” that requires time and energy to repeatedly refute. Then, too, as Totten points out in his piece, we're obviously not at war against all terrorists: we're not warring with the IRA, for instance, or the Basque ETA, or (I'll add) the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.
The U.S. Defense Department seems to have arrived at something of these conclusions, when Donald Rumsfeld last month began talking about a “global struggle against violent extremism” instead of the “war on terror.” As Canadian essayist David Warren recently put it while criticizing the change (as well as the original term): “Three words with five, and four syllables with at least twelve.” Beyond the linguistic complexity of the substitute phrase, it's clearly not going to assist in explaining the war to the American people to all of a sudden refer to it as a “struggle” rather than war, at a time when tens of thousands of American soldiers and Marines are fighting and thousands more dying.
President Bush obviously wanted to quickly scotch the new term while removing any ambiguity in a speech presented last week. As Bill Kristol put it on last weekend's Fox News Sunday, when asked about reports of declining poll numbers with regard to the President's handling of Iraq:
Kristol makes an excellent point with regard to the necessities for maintaining public support. I agree that emphasis on war is vital for the American people to continue supporting the undertaking when American soldiers and Marines and fighting and dying in the endeavor — intelligent analysis such as Lee Harris' interesting article last month (arguing that traditional Middle Eastern concepts like “blood feud” may fit what's actually happening there from their point of view better than the Western idea of “war”) notwithstanding. To Westerners it is and has to be — to be understood and attract public support — a war.
The question remains, however: war against what? The difficulties with the term “war on terror” noted above remain, and the Pentagon's attempted substitution with its lengthy “global struggle” phraseology is certainly no improvement, as well as departing from the vital and clean concept of war. Getting back to David Warren's aforementioned essay (that I recommend reading in its entirety), his conclusion, which I think is a good one, is to call it the “War on Islamism” — that is, radical, jihadist Islam, not against all of Islam as such. As Warren says, “any Muslims who hate the Islamists — welcome aboard.”
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