Scientific American has a good piece on the use of metaphors in the “war on terror.” The power of a single metaphor, like “war,” can have massive implications for foreign and domestic policy. Consider the arguments in support of the Patriot Act, which many opponents saw as opening a door to the violation of civil liberties. Proponents repeatedly used the war metaphor to give the sense that we are in severely dire circumstances and radical measures are justified. If you’re in a war, after all, you’re more likely to make concessions about such matters that you may otherwise not. The Bush administration, guided by a neoconservative foreign policy of “preventative war,” has been fond of using this metaphor since it came to power, with quite obviously major consequences in the U.S. and abroad. From the article:
The war metaphor helps to define the American perception of the threat of terrorism. If terrorism is war, then the national security, indeed the existence, of each side is threatened. The conflict is zero-sum; the outcome will be victory for one side or the other. Being in a state of war also requires national unity, and dissent is easily interpreted as unpatriotic. The solution has to be military. Thus, the Department of Defense must play a lead role in shaping policy, and the president’s duties as commander in chief must take precedence over his other tasks. An expansion of executive power accompanies the war metaphor: measures that would not be acceptable in peacetime, such as restrictions on civil liberties and brutal interrogation practices, are now considered essential.