Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's Okay, It's Not A War Anymore

Trust the CBC's Neil MacDonald to point out this sort of thing. He notes that the War on Terror has moved on to become something more suitable to the guys who can't find a way to win it: the people who run focus groups here are no doubt telling their masters, the average citizen expects some sort of resolution to a war. You win a war, or you lose a war. At some point, though, and that point has clearly come in the U.S., people start asking when they can reasonably expect a VE Day. Or in this case, VT Day.

The answer to that, of course, is maybe never. Certainly not in this lifetime. Because the phenomenon the West commonly calls terrorism is not militarily defeatable. It stems from ethnic nationalism, tribalism and religion, forces as powerful and primordial as sex.
And when governments all over the world are calling their political opponents terrorists, the word loses its impact and, eventually, even its meaning.

The Pentagon knows that very well and has been trying to modify its message for some time.
The U.S. military dropped the phrase "the long war" last spring, and, as Ackerman noted this week, it generally avoids "War on Terror," too.

In 2005, at the behest of the military, then defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld tried to phase out War on Terror and test drove the phrase "global struggle against extremism" instead. It didn't take. His boss smacked it down in that Texas speech a few days later.

Now, though, even President Bush has come around. He's still clearly fond of Global War on Terror, and uses it from time to time, but "global struggle against extremists," or a variation on that theme, is now making it into his speeches, too.

This rhetorical shift at the top can seem a bit rich to journalists, many of whom had reservations about using the term War on Terror, or even the word terrorist, in the first place.
Many reporters preferred to use words like, yes, "extremists," and took tremendous blasts of heat from conservative and special interest groups for doing so in the early years following 9/11.

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