Why do we call it the War on Terror? This “conflict” is very different from the other “wars” in America’s history. So, I decided to make a list of the qualities that I think make it different from the others:
- No conscription. (Conscription ended in the 1970’s with the end of the Vietnam War.)
- Civilians have not been asked to sacrifice for the war financially. (Admittedly a conditional continuum gradually diminishing since World War II.)
- Military casualties are historically small, 5,491 (as of 2010) compared to Vietnam’s 58,151, a ten-fold difference.
- The War on Terror started with an attack on civilians, unlike any of our other principal wars.
- The number of American civilian casualties, 2,977, are 35% of the total if combined with military losses. This is unique, and the number is significant. It is only one out of every 100,000 Americans, but the deaths occurred on a single day. (It is about the same number killed at Pearl Harbor, but those were mostly military, a big difference.)
- The enemy aggressor is not a nation, nor any other internationally-sanctioned entity, but a loosely organized renegade movement of religious fanatics enabled and emboldened by Arab oil fortunes. The foe in all the other wars was a nation. Thus, a politically-negotiated end to this “war”, unlike all the others, is impossible, and thus to speak of “winning” it is entirely subjective.
- This is the first all-unconventional war and its different nature has required our armed forces to alter their mission and become more political and sociological. Along with this, the use of specialized civilian “contractors”, often mercenaries, has become ubiquitous.
- Electronic media play a larger part in this war than in any before, again a continuum of trend extending back to the use of photography in the Civil War. Because of media technical efficiency, public reaction is at an historically high for maximum impact and likelihood of over-reaction to any event, whether it be an attack or a demonstration somewhere.
- Because of the unconventional and guerilla nature of this war, intelligence and secrecy have assumed greater importance than ever before, with the concomitant risk that privacy and the free flow of information may be at more risk than ever before.
How is the War on Terror like the other principal wars?
- At the heart of it is the issue of vital material resources, principally oil, and it is this wealth that powers al Qaeda and its allies. Oil is the foundation of wealth for Middle Eastern nations, without which they would otherwise be poor third-world countries like most of Africa. This is inherited wealth, not earned wealth. Little labor is involved on their part. Resources have been an issue in most other wars and where hegemony was prime, beyond that were resources.
- Armed forces have been employed to combat the foe.
- Public fear has empowered politicians to exceed budgets, and in this case almost without restraint.
- Public fear justifies secrecy of operations and provides cover for inefficiency, redundancy and errors by leaders.
In light of this analysis I suggest that the term “war” has been misused. While I don’t discount the need for the involvement of the armed forces, what we should be discussing is an international police problem. In fact, I submit that the changing nature of “war” as discussed here is the principal reason that Congress hasn’t declared “war” since 1941.
The term “war” has been misused before:
- The War on Drugs.
- The War on Poverty
- The War on Hunger
- The War on (name your disease)
Thus, when you hear “The War On . . .”, you had best hold on to your wallet and review your Bill of Rights – both will be in danger. And if anyone should think America hasn’t over-reacted to the War on Terror, I suggest they read the book, Top Secret America, by Priest and Arkin.