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Wars on everything

- January 8, 2009

bq. Politicians are fond of comparing things that aren’t war to war. It’s both an abuse of language and a rhetorical trick. We hear about war, and we think whatever bold actions this politician is asking us to take must be worth it because, well, it’s war.

That’s from a brief piece by John Dickerson over at Slate, here.

That got me thinking: What are these “wars” all about? So I did a Google search on the phrase “war on.” It turns out that lots of different rhetorical wars are indeed going on, just as Dickerson says. Some of the objects of these wars had escaped my notice until now, e.g., “the war on condoms” (2,680 hits), the “war on greed” (15,900), the “war on voting” (33,400), and even “the war on sex” (50,400). I guess I haven’t been paying close enough attention to some of these issues. Of the four just listed, the only one I pay much attention to is voting, which figures because I’m a political scientist.

Anyway, my Google search on “war on” produced 25,800,000 hits. No, I didn’t examine each of these to see what they were all about, who the combatants are, how extensive the body counts are, and whether the lights at the ends of these assorted tunnels are yet in sight.

I did, however, do some follow-up searches in which I specified the object of the “war on.” When I did that, I found that the “war on terror” easily topped the list, with 8,700,000 hits. No surprise there. The only other war within striking distance was the “war on drugs,” with 2,290,000 hits. From there, it was all the way down to 786,000 for the “war on poverty” (which was the first of these wars that I can recall but now seems to have fallen out of favor with those of a warlike disposition). Wars are also being fought on numerous other fronts. Of these, the one in which I feel the least personal stake, also unsurprisingly, is the “war on Christmas” (614,000). Apparently the war on Christmas is of much greater import than the wars on either crime or cancer (188,000 and 172,000, respectively). Go figure.

Maybe it’s time to declare a war on politicians who use inflated war imagery?

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