The War of the Verbs

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.

James Fallows' article on the need to declare victory in the war on terror (see also this and this) makes the point brilliantly -- this habit of blowing things out of proportion for domestic consumption has a way of ennobling and glamorizing the terrorists' actions. It's important to keep some focus on the fact that what these people are doing is trying to kill unarmed people as they go about their lives and that whatever complaints one may have about U.S. foreign policy, what Osama bin Laden is simply encouraging random murder of the innocent, not masterminded a war.