Communication suffers from linguistic inflation. I can remember when an engineer was a person who spent a long time studying a complex subject. Then there was a time when we had sanitary engineers, otherwise known as janitors. Once a word gains a certain emotional impact, it seems there is an almost irresistible urge to misuse that impact. This has been happening to the word war.
There was a time when a war was a violent contest between two states. Politicians tried to minimize the political impact of the Korean War by calling it a “Police Action”. I suppose this was linguistic deflation. Then we had Lyndon Johnson's “War on Poverty”. Now we have the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror(ism}”.
These terms were an attempt to suggest that society should mobilize against these “enemies” of the current rulers. But a rose by any other name would smell the same. Calling horse droppings roses won't make them smell any better, but constantly changing the meaning of words does create confusion and makes team effort difficult. I'm sure there are other reasons why we still have poverty, drugs, and terrorism, but dishonest semantics must be a contributing factor. I will admit that all these “wars” were violent, but they were not contests between states.
Misuse of the term “war” also helped to conceal the real agenda and plans of the perpetrators of these misnamed efforts. Johnson's “War on Poverty” was actually a war on prosperity and the prosperous. He took money from some people and gave it to other people he deemed to need it more. The violence and deceit caused by the “War on Poverty” made everyone in the society both less prosperous and less safe.
The “War on Drugs” is a similar exercise in deception. Alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and chocolate are all drugs, but they are not targets of this so-called war. Many people routinely give chocolate to infants. The war on drugs is actually a prohibition of the drugs preferred by certain groups, and is really a war on minorities.
But the “War on Terror” has got to be the champion of murky semantics. War is the process of using violence to impose a political agenda. Terrorism is also the process of using violence to impose a political agenda. The only difference, if there is one, is the social positions of those who are creating the violence.
Those groups who are “privileged” to control a state can have the luxury of waging war. The groups, who are occupied by a state, only have the privilege of waging terrorism. “Terrorism on War” makes as much sense as “War on Terrorism”, which is not very much.
When Bush said, “You are either with us, or you are against us.” he left us no choice but to choose sides. All those who oppose the government of their territory and are willing to support or execute violence to express that opposition are targets of Bush's “War on Terror”. That could turn out to be a lot of folks.
Now that our glorious leader has so neatly split the world in two opposing camps, it might be productive to try to assess the relative strengths of the two sides. That assessment is much to complicated to complete here, but perhaps I could start. The most obvious point is that the “War on Terror” is a continuation of the age-old struggle of the rich against the poor.
But it would be a mistake to think of it only as a struggle between rich nations and poor nations. The struggle goes on within states as well as between states. This could become particularly true in the USA, which is has the world's most affluent elite, and one of the world's most oppressed minority populations, relatively speaking. The poor in the USA may have more money than the poor in a lot of other countries, but the differential between the poor and the rich in the USA is extreme. It's not just that the salaries of CEO's are ten or a hundred times those of the poor, it's that the opportunities for both legal “investments” and graft and corruption for rich people far exceed anything that most poor people here could imagine. It's not just that the rich in the USA have more money, it's that they can get away with a lot more, and they do.
The rich have long had the means to cooperate with the rich in other countries to maintain their wealth and power, but as technology improves and becomes more thoroughly distributed world wide, the poor are also gaining the capability to cooperate across borders to achieve their goals. One recent example of this is the worldwide protests against the invasion of Iraq. I suspect we will see more events of that nature in the future.
The rich have all kinds of machinery to wage war and “govern”. They also have the ability to hire the poor to become cannon fodder in their wars. From H-bombs to tanks to cops on the beat, the rich have a well-developed system for maintaining control.
But there are more poor people than rich, and the poor have a higher birth rate than the rich. Because the poor are the ones on the front lines of the wars and also on the front lines of “law enforcement”, it is the poor who have the skills of actually operating the machinery of the state terror operation. The poor have less to lose than the rich, and are more willing to take risks. There don't seem to be a lot of rich suicide bombers.
History is replete with examples of states and empires that seemed invincible, but eventually fell, usually at the hands of poor folks. Unfortunately successful revolutionaries often commit greater crimes than the corrupt regimes they replace. That is because most states and empires are overthrown by violence. It's no surprise that those who use violence to gain political power will use violence to keep it.
What the world needs now is a method of getting rid of states and empires without replacing them with slightly different versions of the same thing. Perhaps the world will never be totally at peace, but surely it could be a lot more peaceful than it is now. In order to achieve a peaceful world, we will have to find a peaceful means of eliminating or minimizing statism.