July 31, 2005 | National Review Online

What’s In a Name?

The "struggle" to brand the "Not War on Not Terror."

There was a good editorial in Friday’s Dallas Morning News on the administration’s latest foray into politically correct self-parody: namely, what to call the, y’know, er, the thing over there, um, like in Iraq and Afghanistan (i.e., the enterprise formerly known as “The War on Terror.”)

The W-word is apparently out. Wouldn't want to refer to a war as a “war.” After all, according to the head of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Richard Myers, “if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution.” He is referring, of course, to people in military uniforms. Soldiers killing jihadists before they can blow up another U.S. embassy, or navy destroyer, or skyscraper. Surely you can see why that would not be a solution.

Funny: We have 30-year-old “war on drugs” and a half-century-old “war on poverty,” and no one ever before seemed worried about evoking images of “people in uniform” hunting down narcotics peddlers or feeding the hungry.

Evidently, it is only an actual war that we must refrain from calling a “war” lest anyone start thinking we might need to fight it with troops — like the ones who destroyed the Taliban in about a nano-second, duplicated the feat in toppling Saddam's regime, sent al Qaeda's command-and-control scurrying from cave-to-cave, and are principally responsible for our homeland not being attacked for nearly four years. Wouldn't want to encourage that kind of backward thinking.

So, what to call it? Here's the current top candidate (you'll need to book some time to get through the whole thing): “The Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism.”

Struggle? Fabulous! It'll be a real hit with the “Arab Street” we are so obsessed to impress with our pluperfect sensitivity. Memo to marketing: A common Arabic translation of the word “struggle” is JIHAD! You can just hear Al-Jazeera now (assuming you could hear in Arabic): “President Bush today proclaimed once again that he is determined to lead a 'global jihad' …” Should play very well.

Meanwhile, let's head over to the back end of the new slogan. It's probably progress that someone in the poll-testing biz thinks we should drop “terror.” It never made any sense to say we were fighting against a method, rather than an enemy. We are not, for example, fighting the IRA, the Basques, or the Tamil Tigers, so it makes little sense to pretend that all terrorism is our focus. But neither is all “violent extremism” — which I guess is something different from the violent mainstream.

With all the things we could usefully expend brainpower on, it's hard to figure why anyone would choose the guaranteed futility of trying to change a brand name that, for better or worse, is now ingrained. Just ask Prince how well that whole “The Artist” thing worked out. It's akin to saying the Yankees will now be known as “the Bronx Batters,” because, well, you know, saying “Bronx Bombers” could trigger thoughts about people in uniform. (Did I say “trigger?” Oops. Sorry. I meant “prompt.”)

But if you're hell-bent on this sort of foolishness, don't you think you might just want to mention who the enemy is?

Nope — don't want to go there. The enemy, after all, is not just any extremism. It is Islamic extremism. We are in this tongue-tied mess in the first place because the I-word is even more verboten than the W-word, which we've now so shrewdly changed to the S-word that Arabs will interpret as the J-word — the J-word being the very inconvenience that leads us right back to that little I-word.

So, the folks who brought you “compassionate conservatism” now offer “The Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism.” Perfect: A war that's not called a war for fear of making people think about war, which is waged against an enemy who is not identified for fear of offending mass-murderers and the people who coddle them, and which occurs everywhere on the planet so no one is left out, but nowhere specific so no one is put in.

I have another suggestion. Let's call it “The Thing Involving the Teeny-Tiny Number of People Who Made Certain Things Go Boom After Reading that Book that We Didn't Flush and Who Absolutely, Positively Do Not Represent the Vast, Enormous Majority of Very, Very Nice People Who Read the Same Book Without Making Anything Go Boom.”

Or maybe we could just call it “Mabel” — without, of course, meaning any offense to Mabel. Or Mabels. Or anyone. Really.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.