Here is a good idea: Brits drop "war on terror"

It has been obvious for quite a while that calling the effort to contain violent extremists a "global war on terror" does nothing to help the cause, and hurts in many ways. It unifies opponents who might otherwise have little in common. It gives them what they want, in elevating them to parity with the world's great powers. To the extent the U.S. or U.K. public pays attention to it, it further helps the terrorist cause, by making people, well, terrorized. To the extent the public comes to ignore it, it cheapens the whole concept of war.

This is essentially what I argued last fall in the article "Declaring Victory," in the Atlantic. It is similar to the policy British authorities applied last summer, when they foiled an apparent plot to blow up several airliners crossing the Atlantic. While President Bush took the occasion to remind the public that America was "at war with Islamic fascists," Tony Blair's government -- which, after all, had broken the plot -- downplayed the episode and congratulated the public on resuming normal life as quickly as possible. (Ie, on not being terrorized by attempted terrorism.)

Now the British cabinet's secretary for International Development, Hilary Benn (fully name Hilary James Wedgwood Benn, son of long-time politico Tony Benn, nee Anthony Wedgwood Benn), has released a speech text saying that the British government won't use the "war on terror" phrase any more. According to wire reports of the speech:

"We do not use the phrase 'war on terror' because we can't win by military means alone, and because this isn't us against one organized enemy with a clear identity and a coherent set of objectives," Benn said.

"It is the vast majority of the people in the world -- of all nationalities and faiths -- against a small number of loose, shifting and disparate groups who have relatively little in common apart from their identification with others who share their distorted view of the world and their idea of being part of something bigger."

Well done -- and this from a Blair administration that had been fully as enthusiastic about the Iraq war as the Bush team was, and 100 times as eloquent in explaining it. Imagine living under a government capable of adjusting to changed realities.

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.


Is Minneapolis the Best City in America?

No other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well.

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In