Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Don't Call It a War. Save That Word for Other, Even Less Appropriate Circumstances

The "war on drugs" is certainly a problematic phrase. "War" serving as shorthand for the "security challenges" in Mexico isn't the biggest barrier to progress, but insofar as it encourages conventional conceptions of combat as the prism for improving public security (i.e. the persistent focus on attacking and especially the references to victory, which is close to inapplicable in this context), it suffers from a lack of logical coherence. So I was interested to see an article promising a criticism of the semantics of public security from UNAM rector José Narro Robles, but then I read this:
"The only wars that are worthwhile are against injustice, ignorance, and sickness."
Arm the doctors!


boz said...

It's important to look at who uses the term "war on drugs" to refer to what's going on in Mexico.

US officials almost never use it. Clinton didn't use it at all during her visit. Most officials in the Calderon government avoid the term "war" as well as far as I can tell.

The media use it loosely, often putting in in quotes without actually quoting anyone. Critics of the Calderon and US govts use the term, then criticize the use of it. It's practically the definition of a straw man at this point.

pc said...

I've not paid close attention to US officials using it or not, but I'm sure you're right. In any event, it's definitely used most provocatively by critics of Calderón. Proceso's the biggest example of this, because of course it aids their main line of attack on Calderón if they play up the "war" aspect of it. I don't see that as a straw man, exactly, because there are definitely military tactics that are worth debating whether or not you call it a war, but there's no question it's a bit manipulative. But the flip side of that is that it's a bit empty for Clinton, et al to avoid using the term "war" while still supporting a militaristic approach, talking about victory, et cetera. It's like curing the disease without removing the symptoms.