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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

War on . . .

Lyndon Johnson had the War on Poverty. Ronald Reagan had the War on Drugs. George Bush had the War on Terror. Bill O'Reilly has the War on Christmas. I've been know to refer to the War on Science or the War on Education.

When we declare "War on" something, it is supposed to suggest a coherent all-in approach to tackle some ill. When we declare someone else had declared "War on" something we suggest a conspiracy or coordinated attack on some good.

Is there any harm to using this metaphor? Is it helpful?

3 comments:

Josh Gentry said...

I think the wide spread use of the metaphor is callous in regards to people who have been through, or are in, a real war. I have tried to stop myself from using the cancer metaphor, for the same reason.

JimII said...

That is an angle I had not considered, but I see your point.

Matt Dick said...

I think it's a useful metaphor, but it has in it the implicit message that all of your resources are going to be applied to victory. A war against the Nazis meant the culture was leaning into the effort. Children changed their diets, schools devoted some of the day to fundraisers, women entered the workforce for the first time. This was an all-out effort.

For LBJ to announce a war on poverty was meant exactly in this manner. He meant we would alter the very way in which we as Americans related to our lives, our jobs, our schools and each other. Whether or not he got us to do it, he intended it to be thus.

The War on Drugs was also meant in that way, although with less impact. The subsequent ones you mention are beginning to lose the impact of the term.