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The use of war as metaphor is a longstanding literary and rhetorical trope. In political usage, war metaphors are used to manage a perceived societal problem, with the concept taking the place of an individual or state enemy in true war. James Childress describes the use of war as a metaphor as a dilemma: "In debating social policy through the language of war, we often forget the moral reality of war."

United States (US)[]

Early examples of war as metaphor in US political discourse include J. Edgar Hoover's "war on crime" in the 1930s. Various conflicts and demographic trends in US history have been described as a culture war. In Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson describe Jimmy Carter's application of "war" as metaphor for the energy crisis of 1974. Other high-profile examples include the War on Poverty, War on Cancer, War on Drugs, War on Gangs, War on Women, and the War on Christmas.

President George W. Bush coined the phrase "War on Terrorism" (or "War on Terror") after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Other usage[]

  • Toronto mayor Rob Ford has described municipal initiatives such as a "war on graffiti" and "war on cars."
  • War on Want is a London-based anti-poverty charity.

Further reading[]

  • Childress, James F. "The war metaphor in public policy"
  • Steinert, Heinz. 2003. "The Indispensable Metaphor of War: On Populist Politics and the Contradictions of the State's Monopoly of Force," Theoretical Criminology 7.3 (2003) p. 265-291.
  • Thomas, Ruth P. 1984. "War as metaphor in La Princesse de Montpensier", Forum for Modern Language Studies 20.4 p. 323-332.

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