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War slogans can be such a struggle

August 09, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

Commentary

So we're back to calling it a "War on Terror."

This replaces the replacement slogan for hostilities in the Middle East, which had been announced by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as the "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism."

This had come after the "War on Terror" had been replaced by the "Global War on Terror," ostensibly to take the focus away from Iraq, where things aren't going exactly as we'd planned. But last week, according to The New York Times, "President Bush publicly overruled some of his top advisers in a debate about what to call the conflict with Islamic extremists, saying 'Make no mistake about it, we are at war.'"

Hey look, just pick the slogan that will help us win the fastest, OK? I'm sure a good, sound slogan will end the whole thing a good six months quicker. But yes, it's hard when all the good slogans have been taken - Thrilla in Manila, Rumble in the Jungle.

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"Jihad in Baghdad" would work for the other side, but not for us. The "Wreck in Iraq" might be accurate, but the administration will never go for it. Same goes for the "Lost Causerah in Basrah." Problem is, Iraqi names just aren't catchy. The "Brouhaha in Fallujah?" No. Of course the Axis of Evil didn't give us many options, when you think about it. It's no picnic rhyming with Pyongyang, either.

And I honestly didn't know that people in high places sat around and talked about such things as the proper name for a conflict, which to you and me might seem a little daft.

I suppose you could say that the Civil War had a slogan, that being "Brother Against Brother." But I'm not sure that Abe Lincoln and Ed Stanton stayed up late puffing their cigars, theorizing that "Brother Against the In-laws" might have less sting.

True, the South - no doubt relying on numerous focus groups - seemed torn between the "War Between the States" and the "War of Northern Aggression." But neither side was able to get around the word "war," which is what members of the current administration were trying to do, until the president set them straight.

Aides to the president said - I am not kidding - that the word "war" was too "gloomy" for their tastes, and they wanted to "offer a positive alternative."

So - what's the happy word for war? A "Strategic Maiming Surplus?" Mark Twain called war a "wanton waste of projectiles," so maybe that would work. Back in the '50s we tried the "Korean Conflict" and later we went with "Police Action."

In my opinion, matters of the military are a little heavy to turn over to the jingle writers. It always backfires. With recruiting efforts drying up, the "Army of One" slogan was lampooned by just about every political cartoonist in the country. And the Onion wrote that the Marines were shortening their slogan to "The Few."

And pretty soon you're putting way too much thought into it. For example - again I am not kidding - members of the government worried that "War on Terror" was not technically accurate because we are not at war with terrorism, but rather with the terrorists who happen to rely on terrorism to push their agendas.

I see.

An Air Force general said "war" was the wrong word, "because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution." Secretary Rumsfeld, meanwhile, was saying last Wednesday, "Let there be no mistake, it's a war. The only way to defend against terrorism is to go on the attack." And this after Rumsfeld was the one who backed away from the word "war" in the first place."

Whew. No wonder the neocons can't win it, they can't even agree on what to call it.

Seems to me, anytime you have yourself a bunch of guns, tanks, angry words, violence and exploding things it's either a war or the annual meeting of the AFL-CIO.

Now, anyone who at this point is tempted to question why the same amount of energy that's being used to name the war wasn't used to find out whether there was a reason for the war - well, I guess it never hurts to ask, although you probably won't win too many friends by doing so.

Like when I was in public school, I remember this is the kind of question I'd ask that caused to teacher to say, "I'm glad to see you're thinking" before she would send me on a lengthy errand.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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