It was not all that long after WWII. Another military action, this one between North Korea and United Nations forces. I was still in high school. My dad backed the family Ford into the garage. Crude twine held the trunk lid down atop a pile of new tires. Another stack filled the space between the back seat and the roof. I gaped at my dad, who began tossing the tires up into the rafters.The "Korean Conflict" never came to be called a war. Not officially. All the conditions in the definition of the word set forth above were satisfied -- "open, armed, often prolonged, conflict." Americans died and everything, but the U.S. Congress did not see its way clear to declare war, so it wasn't one. Same for Vietnam, by the way.
Some people overcame their linguistic reticence, declared or not. Not me: "Vietnam [nothing]" -- later, "Vietnam Tragedy."
In 1945, the world had witnessed its
first nuclear war. In 1950, escalation to the
use of atomic weapons was still a ghastly thought --
but not quite unthinkable. Political leaders
imposed an official restraint on military action,
accompanied by tacit verbal limits, which I continue
to feel every time my lips form the w-word.
Compared to Lysistrata, it is a weak form of denial, a
bite-your-tongue, hobgoblin kind of thing.
Effective enough, though. No escalation so far.
Epilog Whatever happened to the linguistic reticence of "The Cold War"? Another English word is being robbed of its measured meaning through heedless appropriation. Through mass-media sloganeering, Americans have become habitutated by wars -- against poverty, drug abuse, and static cling (not, one hopes, against poor people, drug addicts, and synthetic fabrics).
"The moral equivalent of war" (against petroleum dependency, remember?) did not really catch on. "The war on terrorism," though, is an exceptional policy-in-the-abstract -- the moral approximation of war, and it has the emotive power of a whirlwind, spinning up the nation's foreign policy into dizzying rationalizations for armed conflicts.