The Spectacle Blog

The War Over The Word “War”

By on 8.14.07 | 3:28PM

Matthew Yglesias writes:

Late last week, Josh Marshall was noting some rhetorical switcheroos taking place on the right. Mitt Romney, for example, correctly notes that "There's not a global war on terror" before adding "There's a global war being waged by the terrorists and if I am president, there will be a global war waged on the terrorists and we will win." Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, has taken to referring to "the terrorists war on us."

This is totally backwards. War is a kind of organized, socially sanctioned violence. The people who destroyed the World Trade Center weren't soldiers fighting a war against the United States, they were mass murderers. In response, yes, we went to war against their patrons in Afghanistan which the Bush administration proceeded to transmogrify into a horribly misguided "war on terror" but either way we were the side with the soldiers fighting a war. Guys blowing up train stations aren't warriors. Shadowy networks that don't control territory don't prosecute wars.

Yglesias may not think that the terrorists are at war with us, but Osama bin Laden sure does:

--In April 1995, bin Laden said, "I discovered that it was not enough to fight in Afghanistan, but that we had to fight on all fronts against communist or Western oppression. The urgent thing was communism, but the next target was America... This is an open war up to the end, until victory."

--On August 23, 1996, bin Laden issued a "Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the Land of the Two Holy Mosques." He wrote that "Due to the imbalance of power between our armed forces and the enemy forces, a suitable means of fighting must be adopted, i.e. using fast-moving, light forces that work under complete secrecy. In other words, to initiate a guerrilla war, where the sons of the nation, and not the military forces, take part in it."

--A December 23, 1998 interview with Time, bin Laden said, "The International Islamic Front for Jihad against the U.S. and Israel has, by the grace of God, issued a crystal-clear fatwah calling on the Islamic nation to carry on jihad [holy war] aimed at liberating holy sites."

This is not just a matter of semantics. By downgrading the struggle against terrorism to a crime-fighting effort against "mass murders," writers such as Yglesias hope to create excuses for inaction. Terrorists may use different tactics, they may not wear uniforms, and they may not distinguish between civilians and combatants, but that doesn't mean that they aren't at war with us.

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