Monday, August 09, 2010

The war that isn’t

In the July 31st issue of the New York Times on the Op-Ed page, is a column headlined, “Obama’s Race War.”

Its lead sentence reads: “Americans are engaged in a war over a word: racism.” A prominent “pull quote” is “The fight is really about the president.”

The words have been chosen to put you in a bellicose frame of mind. The writer is (did you notice?) talking about WAR.

The column goes on to track the president’s support, or lack of it, among racial groups. Blacks give the Obama presidency a 91 percent favorability rating, Whites put it at 37 percent, and Hispanics come in at 49 percent.

As troubling as the figures are, they are NOT war statistics. They are not body counts. They do not detail the costs of war.

Why must the media rely on the image of war to describe simple differences?

To get our attention?

Will the truth not suffice?

Used repeatedly, such hyperbole doesn’t work but it does deaden. The war metaphor has become a cliché. It gets rolled out every campaign season. In Oregon, we use it to describe a sports rivalry, “The Civil War.”

Each time a writer trivializes war by using the word "war" metaphorically to describe relatively harmless activity, "war's" true meaning is cheapened. Such metaphors portray war as something far less horrific than it is. By degrees, war — real war — becomes correspondingly more palatable to readers.

We should rebel at the misuse and trivializing of the word. War is war. As those who have suffered from war say it is "hell.”

That's the veterans' and the victims' metaphor — "hell." It is a very long way from poll results, nasty political campaigns, football rivalries, product competition and mere games.

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