Why are we calling it a "war"?

I realize Bush is not as clever a wordsmith as Clinton was, but many of Bush’s advisers are. Going in to disarm Iraq is not a “war” - it is an “enforcement action” of a UN resolution. Throwing around the word “war” is just stupid in this day and age. I am of the opinion that this has been our biggest mistake vis a vis Iraq. Is Congess planning on actually declaring war? Of course not (not to imply such an official declaration is the sole determinant of what a war is). It’s a war if you call it a war. It wasn’t a war when Clinton lauched cruise missiles at Iraq, nor was it a war when we ousted Milosevic. Rwanda wasn’t a war. I’ve never heard the Bay of Pigs referred to as a “war” before.

I’m all for getting rid of Saddam, and doing so as soon as practicable, but I think we’re being quite imprudent calling doing so “going to war.” Call it a police action, enforcement action, implementation of resolution compliance, or some other euphemism. A war is not fought every time some missiles are dropped. I realize there is some unfortunate precedent with the “Gulf War” but what we do now is just enforcing the contractual terms that ended that “war” … not starting a whole new war.

Categorizing an action as a “war” brings about much more complaining and instantly makes the stakes higher. We’d have many more allies and much more support if we put the right spin on what we plan to do (whatever it may be). It’s a psychological thing. The opposite of war is peace (and we all love that), but what’s the opposite of an enforcement action?

Am I wrong here?

We’re talking about several hundred thousand troops carrying out the full-scale invasion and potentially prolonged military occupation of an entire other country. I guess we could call that a duck hunt, but I think most people would say that if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably not a B-2 bomber. Whether it’s a just war or an unjust war, or a prudent war or a foolish war, doesn’t alter the fact that it’s a war.

So it’s the number of troops involved that determines war status?

In addition to the ones mentioned, we did not have an official war in Korea or Vietnam either. They were “conflicts.”

Why do you find it odd to consider the scale of the conflict when figuring out if something is a “war” or not? If a few overzealous border patrols get into a firefight with each other, most people wouldn’t call that a “war”. If one of the countries involved overruns the other country with an entire army of troops, in conjunction with large scale bombing and other air operations, and then places the other country’s entire national territory under military occupation, it’s a war.

We are at peace with Eastasia. We have always been at peace with Eastasia. That is why our soldiers try to kill their soldiers and we bomb their cities on a regular basis.

MEB: I don’t consider it odd but I do consider calling something a “war” before it even happens to be very unwise. If we/they want to call it Gulf War Two after the fact, that’s fine. But to label something “war” before we even fire a shot is asking for dissenters to speak up louder than they otherwise would. After the action is over, then the scale should be taken into account when deciding to label it a “war” for the history books.

Good point Zoe. We called them conflicts at the outset, and they were called wars afterwards. That’s the way it should be done, in my opinion. Especially in this day of politically-correct spinmongering.

Eh? A full-scale military invasion of Iraq will be a “war”. If tomorrow Saddam resigns from office and the new regime throws itself on the mercy of the U.S., and U.S. troops enter the country without firing a shot in order to verify Iraqi disarmament and help form a new peace-loving government, then that would not be a “war”. What everyone is saying is that if the United States wages war against Iraq, we will be waging war. If we don’t wage war–if our troops stand down, or the Iraqis surrender before the war even starts, or the Organians make everyone’s tanks and bombers get too hot for anyone to touch–then there will have been no “war”.

“Hey, next duck hunting season, let’s go out to someplace with ducks, and bring along some shotguns and decoy ducks and dead-duck-retrieving dogs–after filling out whatever paperwork is required to hunt ducks, and paying the applicable fees–and blast some ducks out of the air.” The proposed course of action is obviously a “duck hunt”. If we change our minds and take up vegetarianism before duck hunting season begins, the “duck hunt” will not have come to pass, but that does not mean that blasting ducks out of the air with shotguns is not hunting ducks.

Ummmmm, speaking as a dissenter, I don’t think it’s going to make any difference in my reaction whether you call it a war or a duck hunt. If it involves guns, tanks, bombs, and the potential destruction of large numbers of human beings, I’m going to feel the same way about it, no matter what you call it.

What do Iraq’s weapons have to do with this ? The administration has stated repeatedly that its intent is regime change. So far, the UN hasn’t called for the ouster of Saddam, so which resolution are you referring to in order to justify this non-war ?


Uh huh, and when we were in Korea it wasn’t a war it was a police action. We can call it whatever we want but when you’ve got several thousand armed men, artillery, tanks, bombers, and carriers killing other human beings I feel pretty safe calling it a war.
Call it a police action, enforcement action, implementation of resolution compliance, or some other euphemism. A war is not fought every time some missiles are dropped.


A rose by any other name…


On the premiere of Real Time with Bill Maher, Bill’s guest via satellite was Congressman Dana Rohrbacher. Bill made some comment about the impending “war with Iraq”, and Rohrbacher responded that it wasn’t a war, but a “liberation” action.

I’m sorry, but it just sounded silly and insincere.

The precedent with Gulf War I notwithstanding, I cannot help but feel the US administration would be on firmer ground by applying such euphemisms if they had UN authorization. Otherwise, “war” seems pretty descriptive.

Well, isn’t there a legal definition of war? I’m pretty sure that, if Congress passes a declaration of war, the government gains the power to do things like sieze assets, detain foreign nationals, etc.

Where did the term “War on Iraq” originate? Iraq is a part of the “War on Terrorism”.

My point is, despite the fact that it may very well be a “war” in the most objective of senses doesn’t mean we should “market” it as such before we begin it. It’s poor diplomacy and bad politics.

Also, “full-scale” is a most subjective (if not meaningless) term. What does it encompass? Using everything we’ve got?

I’d call it a rout.

“War is the continuation of policy by other means.” – Clausewitz

The “other means” in this case being bombs, tanks, killing, and so forth.

You may put a hog in a calico dress and call it Florence, but in the last analysis it is still a pig.

By any definition the “police action” in Korea and the “military assistance” operation in Vietnam were wars–as is what the Bush administration proposes to do in the Middle East, whether its objective is to disarm Iraq, cause a change in government or bring the blessings of democracy and liberty to the region. Combat operations by a substantial national armed force is a war.

On the other hand the “war on drugs” is a public relations slogan.

Just to add on, the last official declaration of war was for WWII.

Kalt it is a good question, and I don’t really have an answer. I suppose it’s a mix of marketing and legal issues - although it bugs me that we’re acting like it’s begun.

We should be talking about “the possiblity of conflict” or “future action.”

all of the “if it looks like an X and smells like an X then it is an X” people are missing my point entirely. It may very well be a war in the truest sense of the word, but to call it such before it even begins is, in my opinion, very dumb on our part. Let me put it this way… the Clinton administration, ceteris paribus, wouldn’t be marketing it as a “war.”