A war against words

We are losing the War on Terror. It is time to admit it. Like our other failed wars against abstract nouns, this is not a war that we can win. We need to concede defeat to every noun we are currently doing battle against.

Losing a Noun War isn’t all that bad. If the United States threw in the towel and admitted defeat in the War against Drugs, what is the worst that could happen? Drugs would be legalized. There would be no more drug lords. Amsterdam has legalized drugs and hasn’t fallen off the face of the earth, and it also has yet to be smitten by any particular deity. One could say that drugs have claimed victory in Amsterdam, and that the war against them has been lost in that city.

And what is so bad about conceding defeat to drugs? They do not rule the city of Amsterdam. They are still legislated, like alcohol. You can make any rules you want about drugs, by simply allowing them to exist legally. Our government could tax drugs up the wazoo, like alcohol, and all that revenue that Bush lost by cutting taxes for the wealthy would be replaced. We could legislate where, when and how people could use drugs. We would treat addiction as a medical problem instead of a criminal one.

We should just up and lose the Drug War, once and for all. And while we are at it, we can lose the War on Prostitution as well. Declaring defeat in the War on Prostitution would mean, what – we all give it up for a few bucks? How bad is that?

Authorities both civil and religious have been trying to curb prostitution for millennia. Eradicating the world’s oldest profession has been a goal of many for a long time, but it’s preposterous. Even if we killed or got rid of all of the whores in the world, someone somewhere would later find his or herself short of money and turn a trick to make rent. As soon as that happens the War on Prostitution begins all over again.

How can any war against a Noun be won, if any individual can re-declare it through a lapse in morality? If Utopia suddenly descended upon us, and we all abstained from crime for sixty generations, all it would take is for one citizen to abstain from the abstinence and commit a crime. Then the War on Crime could begin all over again. All because one little prick wanted a free stick of bubble gum!

A hypothetical victory in the War on Crime would mean that no one is a criminal, everyone is virtuous, and then we would have no one left to hate. That would be no fun. Without villains to heighten our fury, many people in the U.S. would feel impotent. For these people, it is in their best interest that the War on Crime not be won.

Sadly, that’s impossible. We will never craft a society where no one gets inebriated or does wrong; it is contrary to human nature, for to err is human.

If we lost the War on Crime, however, the worst-case scenario would mean that criminals are everywhere, and everyone is a criminal. But if we all are criminals, then there is no one left to punish. And if it is lost, it means that everybody goes to prison, or no one does, because we are all criminals.

We can’t win this kind of war, or lose it. By declaring war on an abstract noun, we have declared battle ad infinitum. We need such an open-ended conflict to keep our focus away from real problems (obscenely priced health care, devastated environment, and so on) and to keep us entertained. That is why the War on Terror will never end.

That is the trick to Noun Wars; victory is impossible. A noun will never throw in the towel and admit defeat.

But what if the War on Terror did end someday, win or lose? To lose it, simply, would mean that we are all afraid. For this reason, I note that the war was lost the moment it was declared. But we keep fighting, regardless.

Could we ever win the War on Terror? The War against Fear Itself? We could, individually. But all it takes is one politician to jump up and scream, “Boo! They’re coming to get you! Watch for them out that window while I loot the national treasury!” and the war would begin anew.

The War on Terror is terribly expedient. It allows our politicians an unprecedented array of breadth in their misuse of power. Why would they ever choose to end it?

Chaelan MacTavish can be reached at [email protected]