Thursday, June 17, 2010

War Rhetoric

FLG has grown increasingly uncomfortable with the incessant use of military words in political rhetoric. The other night President Obama used a lot of it in his speech about the oil spill:
the battle we’re waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens
We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes.
our battle plan is
there will be more oil and more damage before this siege is done.

But it's certainly not just Obama or Democrats. Both parties have engaged in various "wars on" drugs, poverty, cancer, AIDS, etc. Also, many people in international relations are trying to get various issues tangentially related to security, such as migration, climate change, population growth, diseases, etc, into the security discussion. Don't get me wrong, for each of these there is a rationale for how it will impact security. But then again you can make the case that almost any issue that states must contend with might turn into a security issue.

The real issue is that in our political rhetoric we only have one way of expressing seriousness and that is military, security, and war rhetoric. FLG wonders is this is a product of our culture or history. If he had to guess FLG thinks is probably because the primary and ultimate goal or, to use the annoying buzzwords, core competency of states is maintaining security. Everything else is a nice to have. Therefore, using military rhetoric expresses that this is indeed within the realm of government action, is being taken seriously, and will be successful.

FLG's issue with the rhetoric in general is that it is two-fold. First, it is a sledgehammer. It commits us to domestic policies in ways that aren't helpful. The war on drugs is a good case. The military rhetoric turns into actual paramilitary action. Secondly, with overuse the language loses its power. Making the word war so commonplace opens up the accusation that the War on Terror is an exaggeration. If the war on drugs or poverty aren't really wars, then why should we believe the war on terror is? In fairness, there are concrete reasons to believe that the war on terror isn't a real war. I don't agree with them, but I can see how somebody would believe it is a criminal not military matter. But the overuse of the word war does frame the perception in important ways.

2 comments:

George Pal said...

”We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes.”

That’s it?!?

Someone tell Sparky of the Teleprompter to jazz it up a bit:

we shall fight this spill on the beaches, we shall fight it on the landing grounds, we shall fight it in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender - we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

The Ancient said...

I'll bet Obama never got around to reading Orwell's Politics and the English Language.

 
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