Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Washington Post Editorial writer Charles Lane wrote in the March 12th issue: I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of war.

Lane’s article chronicled many of the many ways in which our Nation uses the words – “War on…”.
  *  We have a War on Cancer [begun in 1971 under President Nixon [he also gave us the War on Drugs];
  * We have the War on Heart Disease, the War on Breast Cancer, the War on Alzheimer’s, and the War on Childhood Obesity. President Johnson gave us the War on Poverty and we have added the War on Hunger.

The real biggie is the War on Terror begun about a month after 9/11. Increasingly the “War on...” metaphor is used to describe almost every political disagreement. Democrats accuse Republicans of waging War on Women and on Science and on Working Families or Seniors. Republicans accuse Democrats/Obama of waging War on Energy, Freedom of Religion – Article I of the Bill of Rights, Capitalism and/or Free Market system – and the real biggie, War on our Culture!

The war metaphor is also no stranger to religion. Historically, as we know, the various religions didn’t just wage war as a metaphor – but as real wars. In recent decades there are the “worship wars” and the “battle for the Bible”. There are accusations of a War on Christmas or other religious festivals.

James F. Childress [Prof. of Religious Studies at Univ. of Virginia & was appointed to National Bioethics Advisory Commission] made this observation: “In debating social policy through the language of war. We often forget the moral reality of war. Among other lapses, we forget important moral limits in real war—both limited objectives and limit means. In short, we forget the just-war tradition, with its moral conditions for resorting to and waging war. We are tempted by seedy realism, with its doctrine that might makes right, or we are tempted by an equally dangerous mentality of crusade or holy war, with its doctrine that right makes might of any kind acceptable. In either case, we neglect such constraints as right intention, discrimination, and proportionality, which protect the humanity of all parties in war. [The Leader’s Imperative: Ethics, Integrity and Responsibility; ed. Carl Ficarrotta; Purdue Univ. Press; 2002]

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson wrote a book, Metaphors We Live By, [1980]. They carefully explain that “metaphors” are not just derivative “of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish” and that they are “pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action.” They go on to explain that “the concepts that govern our though are not just matters of the intellect. They also govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our conceptual system thus plays a central role in defining our everyday realities…then the way we think is what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor.

Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind – Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion - 2012, powerfully supports Lakoff and Johnson as to how we make moral judgments! I have always been a strong supporter of Rousseau – Cogito, Ergo Sum [I think, therefore I am] – and that rational people would realize the “war on…” was just a metaphor!

Haidt, in his book, details how I should believe in Sensei, Ergo Sum [I feel, therefor I am]. In those various “War on…” both sides enter conversation/dialogue/argument buttressed with solid/good data – and painfully fail to change each other!

And, if these were just casual issues there might be no consequence other than disagreement about which team is better or what color is sand!

But, in the quote above these metaphors play a central role in defining our everyday realities…
·         How else can we explain how a man, active in his religious life, could feel justified in killing a doctor who performed abortions?
·         How else explain how an entire State legislature could even consider, let alone pass, a law making it legal if you kill anyone performing an abortion?
·         How could some, including an elected Federal official, reject Global Climate Change because In the Old Testament God said he would never destroy the earth again as with the flood!

Doug Pinkham, President of the Public Affairs Council put it very nicely:
It’s time for rhetorical disarmament. No more metaphoric wars, battles, fights or clashes. We can still have lively debates, heated discussions and arguments, but let’s stop demonizing one another. When it comes to language, this country needs an anti-war movement — and I already have a bumper sticker in mind, courtesy of John Lennon:
All we are saying is give peace a chance.