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A Eulogy For “War on Terror”

April 5, 2007

The Military Times is reporting that the House Armed Services Committee has decided to remove the phrase “War on Terror” from their 2008 budget:  No more GWOT, House committee decrees

I thought I’d say a few words.  You know, out of respect for the deceased.

**In Its Name**

I knew War on Terror growing up.  Back then we used to call it by its real name: counter-terrorism.  Every once and a while, when some group of radicals out there decided to take some hostages or bomb some building, we’d be reminded that this is an ongoing effort, and that men really can be monsters.  It is a daunting challenge.  After all, how do you stop terrorists, when one isn’t a terrorist until committing an act of terror?  How do you prevent people from doing radical, unconventional acts of murder and mayhem?  For many years, I think most Americans assumed that counter-terrorism was a lot like what appeared in a Tom Clancy novel.  In other words, secret spy stuff, black ops, intelligence gathering and analysis. 

We knew from the 1993 WTC and 1995 Oklahoma City bombings that the threat can be both foreign and domestic.  As a tactic, terrorism is broad in scope and is often times hard to define.  Indeed, the word ‘terrorist’ is more often used as a political epithet than anything else.

Then one day in September 2001, 19 men armed with knives and flying lessons managed to elude the web of protection that the decades of counter-terrorism efforts had established, and did more damage with fewer resources than quite possibly anyone in the history of mankind.  It was something that counter-terrorism experts had feared might happen if the perpetrators were able to remain shadowy and committed.  Combined with the choice of targets, the destruction was on a scale large enough that many influential people called the attack an “act or war”.  So, from the ashes of the WTC and Pentagon, the War on Terror was born.

Like World War II and the Vietnam War, the War on Terror was now donning the capital letters of a real war. A status that envokes more visions of tanks and troops then it does of banks and spooks. A war that, taken literally, is simultaneously against everyone, and, no one in particular.  A war that wouldn’t see ‘victory’ until the day the people of the earth stop killing each other.  A phrase that has been used to support policies that otherwise wouldn’t have support, and that demonizes the dissenters who don’t support them.  Thinking that an invasion of Iraq was a tactical mistake, for example, was synonymous with not “wanting to win” the War.  If one thought that unconstitutional wiretaps were an act of vigilantism (at best) or authoritarianism (at worst), well, one might just be a “terrorist sympathizer”.  The power of the phase lies in its noble yet ambiguous connotation.  How could anyone be against the War on Terror, after all?  Ironically, the implied threat and fear associated with the phrase created the very paradigm in America that the perpetrators of 9/11 had hoped to achieve.

I’m sure that “War on Terror” will live on in the headlines of Fox News’ coverage of Iraq and on the front pages of “patriotic” blogs for some time.  It isn’t going to die overnight.  In fact, maybe my use of the word eulogy was premature or misplaced.  Maybe not.  Seeing the phrase removed from the paperwork of those who make foreign policy decisions is an encouraging sign of sanity and reason. Perhaps the end of “War on Terror” as a blanket excuse to support reckless policies will mean that the real work of counter-terrorism experts will be made easier, and as a result, make America more safe. So, good riddance, I say. For an effort some like to call the “War on Terror”, we’ve seen an awful lot of terror as a result of actions performed in its name.

Previous Chamber posts of interest:

The “War On Terror” Is Just A Phrase
U.S. War on/of Terror will end in Oct. 2008
“War on Terror” Comes To Your Living Room

Update: Here’s another blogger thinking along the same lines, so I thought I’d give him a link: Jersey McJones >> Global? War? on Terrorism?

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One comment

  1. […] is something that I’ve argued here in the Chamber many, many, many, many times*.  Would Obama have the political courage to change the paradigm in this country?  […]



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