war
101 Words I Don't Use
by Paul Niquette


Copyright 1996 Resource Books All rights reserved.
 war n. 
  1. A state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states, or parties. 
  2. Any condition of active antagonism or contention. 
  3. The techniques or procedures of war; military science; strategy.
Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.

-- Spinoza

Lysistrata, a Greek comedy produced in 411 BC by Aristophanes, featured an Athenian woman by that name who ended the Second Peloponnesian War by having all the Greek wives deny their husbands sexual relations while the fighting lasts.  The Spartan men, unable to endure prolonged celibacy, are the first to petition for peace, on any terms.  Then Lysistrata, in order to hasten the war's end, had a nude girl exposed to the two armies.  Thereupon both the Athenians and Spartans, goaded by frustration, made peace quickly and departed for home with their wives.  Extreme, but probably effective.
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.

"Give me a hand, son," he grunted.  "Gotta get ahead of the damned hoarders!"

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.
 

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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.