We are not at War
We are not at war. We are not at war against drugs. We are not at war against terror. We are not at war against Christmas (and nor is anybody else). If anything, we are at war against Pakistan and the Taliban, but in reality there should be another name for actions like these— maybe “Low intensity conflict” or “An International Robotic Campaign of Terror,” or “Nation Building,” but these are unlike war.
We are not at war because wars are big. War changes what it means to be a citizen. Wars are terrible. Wars mean we’re all in it together. Let’s talk about war. Let’s talk about World War II.
Let’s talk about food shortages in Britain, and government propaganda encouraging you to eat more potatoes, or officially sanctioned recipes for carrot sandwiches. Let’s talk about rationing weekly consumption to a paltry table of meats and dairy, because otherwise there will simply not be enough to last the winter.
Let’s talk about the Blitz— the whole city of London pounded with incendiaries and high explosives. Subway tunnels packed with people lying head to foot, all of them freezing, hungry, sheltering from the bombs, a nation made pauper.
Let’s talk about occupation. Let’s talk about martial law, and curfew, and severe repercussions for those who would resist. Let’s talk about persecution by a power that is not only not the government you would have voted for, but is also responsible for destroying your existing government, upending the status quo by force, and whose express purpose is to transfer wealth from your community to their own. Let’s talk about might makes right rather than some combination of debate and money, in which the consequences of your indiscretion are public execution rather than public shame.
Let’s talk about what persecution means. It’s not having to pay for a health service you would rather not pay for in the case one of your employees would ask for it. It is not a tax rate applied fairly across your income bracket. It is not nationally mandated health care.
So the next time you feel inclined to describe political attitudes, police action, socioeconomic inequality, a global policy priority, or for god’s sake a lack of government recognition for your favorite holiday as a war, consider what real wars look like.
Then quiet yourself and reach for a better metaphor.