Monday, September 16, 1996

Week of 09/16/1996

The War on Declaring War
With all these "wars" going on .. who’s really winning?
- by David Matthews 2

Reading the local paper this week, I learned that one of the school boards in the neighboring county has decided it has to be serious on illiteracy… they just declared WAR on teenage illiteracy!

Yes, that’s right WAR! A genuine WAR on illiteracy!

Now.. what’s wrong with this picture?

How about all these "wars" going on in America?

Think about it for a second. How many so-called "wars" are there going on in this country? We have the WAR on poverty, the WAR on crime, the WAR on AIDS, the WAR on drugs, the WAR on terrorism, the WAR on homelessness, the WAR on cholesterol, the WAR on cancer… Conservatives like Pat Buchannan claim we’re in a religious WAR, which was later amended to being a cultural WAR. And just recently the Clinton Administration has started to wage a WAR on tobacco! Even I get caught up in the trend by talking about a WAR on the Constitution. It seems like with every action or perceived crisis there’s someone wanting to wage "war" on it.

Now ask yourself how many of these so-called "wars" have been won? Or even have a chance of being won?

In a purely public relations standpoint, "wars" are a wonderful thing. After all, they conjure up images of armies and battles, soldiers on parade, and flags and patriotic music. Wars polarize society, sometimes making unusual alliances between various groups. And here in America, wars are a big part of our history and our culture. George Carlin once commented that we’re the only country that mentions rockets and bombs in it’s national anthem!

And in political terms, "wars" are also a wonderful thing. After all, it supposedly makes us think we’re going to take an issue more seriously than before. Funds are allocated, special programs get special attention, and it also serves as an excuse to enact certain measures on the public. For instance, part of the Clinton Administration’s WAR on tobacco include new limitations on how tobacco can be advertised. Limitations which, if enacted at any other time or for any other product, would be considered blatant infringements of the First Amendment. Same with the new security measures being enacted in airports to fight the supposed WAR on terrorism. The Clinton Administration has ordered a new security program that requires those passengers who fit a certain "profile" to have themselves and their luggage thoroughly searched. No warrant, no probable cause, just search them and to hell with the Fourth Amendment!

In many ways, our trend of enacting so-called "wars" has it’s origins with another "war"- namely the Cold War. The Cold War was seemingly the "perfect war" for the defense industry. After all we had a ready-to-please enemy in the Soviet Union, the need to build up troops and stockpile weapons, and the reason for us to have our presence in all corners of and above the Earth. It gave us the reason to stick our noses into the affairs of other countries, sometimes creating despots and tyrants and even supporting despots and tyrants as long as they were on OUR side. Countries like the Philippines, Panama, and Iran had at one time tyrants that the United States supported only because they were on OUR side of the Cold War.

Sure, there were some occasional conflicts like Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, and Grenada, but aside from the latter we really didn’t "win" anything. And how did the Cold War end? Well it DIDN’T end the way wars normally end, which was when one side surrendered after heavy fighting- it ended when one side couldn’t financially afford to continue to play this little game any more. So who really won? Well the Department of Defense won big time. And so did all the defense contractors. And now that the Cold War is over, those two groups are hurting.

Now consider how close today’s social wars are so much like the Cold War. Essentially, we have "wars" that have no ending to them! And the winners in these conflicts aren’t the American public, but rather the special interests who have something to gain from their pet projects and their social programs that may or may not work.

Think about the WAR on crime and ask yourself what is the purpose of this WAR? It’s to fight crime, right? Well how does that differ from the role of today’s numerous law enforcement agencies? It doesn’t. So why are we "declaring WAR" on crime? It’s because we have a law enforcement system that has been unable to do it’s job.

Same with the local WAR on illiteracy. Why is this WAR being waged? Because supposedly kids aren’t learning the very basics of education. Well that seems to be the role of teachers, isn’t it? To teach kids the basics so they can be prepared for adulthood? So why are we "declaring WAR" on illiteracy? It’s because we have school systems that have been unable to do their jobs.

And how about President Clinton’s WAR on tobacco? Why is this WAR being waged? Because supposedly kids are getting hooked on smoking. Well aren’t there LAWS on the books against selling cigarettes to underage children? So why is the Clinton Administration "declaring WAR" on tobacco? Because the laws aren’t being enforced.

There is a word for this kind of activity, and it’s not called "war"… it’s called INCOMPETENCE! Perhaps it’s something we need to think about before we start declaring so-called "wars" that we can never win. Let’s leave the talk of war to when we REALLY need it, like when we need to defend ourselves against a REAL danger.

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