"War on [Abstract Noun]" Always Doomed to Failure

It seems to me that the phrase “War on _____,” where the blank is not a country, nor an army, is doomed to failure. It also seems to me that these “wars,” due, perhaps, to cognitive dissonance, are wildly popular.

War on Terror, War on Drugs, War on Poverty.

It further seems to me that the right has seen this, and has co-opted the phrase for cynical use - to excite the natives without promise of any particular delivery.

War on Christmas, War on Religion, War on Marriage.

“War on,” therefore, should set off alarms in anyone’s head that they’re being used, and should reject the cause immediately.

Anyone see any problems with that argument?

War on polio?

Polio is an abstract noun?

The problem with declaring war against a concept is that you can never really achieve victory, hence you will be “fighting” the war forever. So no, I don’t disagree with your premise. I think you’re spot-on.

Lessee: we got the following 'wars":
-war on drugs (from Richard Nixon days)-still ongoing
-war on cancer (R. Nixon)-still ongoing
-war against terroroism-since 2003

As much as “Christmas” is. But where the War on Polio succeeded, the “(War on the) War on Christmas” is, by design, not going to succeed.

Maybe John’s got a point. What’s the difference between that “war” and all the BS going on now?

Polio is as abstract as “drugs”.

Actually, I do tend to agree with your OP, bup. But you know how it goes… someone has to find the odd exception whenever a generalization is made. :slight_smile:

Well the “War on Cancer” probably has lessened cancer rates and certainly created funding that has led to treatments and cures. I imagine programs started by various politicians (most recently Jeb Bush) as parts of a “War on Illiteracy” have in fact, done at least something to lower illiteracy. The “War on Poverty” was followed by a sizable drop in US poverty (though many argue cause and effect there).

Of course we still have poverty, illiteracy and cancer, but I wouldn’t call any of the above failures in the same way as say, the “War on Drugs”, which has debatably caused more social ills then it has cured.

Sorry, but I don’t get the analogy.

Polio is a disease. We can fund research for a cure for a disease. We can (and did) claim victory when polio was no longer a viable threat to anyone.

Chrismas is a holiday. The “War” on Christmas is being “fought” within the government and in the media. There can never be a clear victory on this. Ever. Someone will always feel that their religion is being attacked when someone else doesn’t want to see a manger on the Town Hall lawn. Hence, it will go on forever and is doomed to failure.

I’d look at it this way. Certain activities (violence, seeking mind altering experience) are deeply rooted in human nature. Delcaring war on human nature is a fruitless exercise (unless your weapon is genetic engineering). For example, there is nothing in our nature that means we must be vulnarable to any particular disease. Hence, a war on polio can be successful, or at least largely successful. Trying to eradicate something that is in our very natures is doomed to failure.

Okay, I can dig it.

So in effect, bup, you’re declaring a War on Wars on Stuff. I shall march behind your standard until we have eradicated Wars on Stuff from this earth.
In truth, though on occasion War on ____ is laughable, (“War on Weather” etc.) it’s not always a bad usage. There’s a UK charity called War on Want that has laudable aims, and in context its name indicates a long-haul strategy. Of course they will lose the war, and they know it, but the name shows they want to fight it.

The biggest problem is when the war on an abstract is treated as if it were a war on a nation. The war on terror is the big culprit here. Don’t like additional restrictions on civil liberties? Tough. We’re at war. That kind of thinking may work during a war between nations, where there is a way to clearly define an end to the war and therefore set an end limit on the restrictions. But in the case of war on an abstract, particularly if (as John Mace points out) that abstract is part of human nature, an end to the war is not going to happen. In those circumstances, the “we’re at war” argument never expires.

Well, thanks for making me look like a plagiarist. That’s exactly what was going to happen tomorrow (or soon) on my webpage.

That’s pretty much what I was going to say. More to the point, the “War on Abstract” is a problem when the military is or seems to be part of the solution. Making it sound like an actual war confuses the issue and makes it seem like military thinking and tactics are all that’s called for. We can’t capture or kill every drug dealer and user. We can’t destroy every terrorist cell. They’ll just be more. Non-military approaches would yield better results and cause less suffering in the interim.

A “War on Abstract” that has nothing to do with armed forces isn’t as much of a problem. The “War on Poverty” didn’t involve carpet bombing the ghetto. It simply meant “we’re persuing a solution agressively”.

The problem is when a metaphorical “war” is confused with an actual one.

Dangnabbit…I had plumb fergot about the “war on Poverty” (launched ca. 1964?). Seems after spending > $3000 BILLION!-we ought to have something to show for it!

If Lincoln had proclaimed the “War on Slavery” after Ft. Sumter, or even when issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, he’d have been handed his head.

On the other hand, the British Empire did fight an effective war on slavery. They used their navy to stop the trans-Atlantic slave trade (and managed to do so without starting wars with Spain or Portugal, whose colonies fed on these slaves). They also paid off British slave-owners in the West Indies when they abolished slavery (and must have thanked God that the US had won the Revolutionary War - imagine how much that would have added to the bill!), and sent General Gordon to the Sudan to supress slavery there (with less success, but Gordon had centuries of tradition to fight in that case). But the abolitionist movement developed its own force of tradition, which came in handy when the British put pressure on the King of the Belgians to stop enslaving the Congolese.

True, there’s still slavery and I’ll add the desire to enslave people in with the human nature that ** John Mace ** cites, but I think it was better for there to have been the British imperial policy of war on slavery instead of a series of wars on Spain, Portugal, Belgium, etc. (“and by the way, when we win we free your slaves”), similar to the American Civil War.

Like…much fewer people living in poverty?

Compare % of people living in poverty in 1964 to all future years.

Are you declaring a War on Abstraction? Count me in!