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The War On Mock “Wars”

2011 May 30
by dan bertolet

There are people among us who are waging a war, make no mistake, baldfaced or otherwise. Self-righteous ideologues, they seek to impose their unorthodox values on innocent, upstanding Americans. And the malignant belief that drives their insatiable thirst for war is this: that the hyperbolic rhetoric of “war” has no place in intelligent debates over public policy.

In their most recent assault, this below-the-radar but sinisterly powerful group tapped their deep connections to the media elite, publishing a hit piece on the “War on Cars” in Seattle’s most influential weekly newspaper. There is no war on cars, they smugly claim. Just don’t ask them to explain why they backed a Mayor who rides a bicycle. Q.E.D!


All apologies for the above meta-outburst, a bit of pent up feedback to the infantilism that so often rears its ugly head in debates over creating viable alternatives to auto-dependence in Seattle. Especially when it has anything to do those scary scary things with pedals and two wheels. And considering the meaning of today’s holiday—Memorial Day—the use of  “war” to describe something as benign as painting bike lanes on a street is all the more profane.

This is not a new tactic for manufacturing outrage—as with the war on drugs—or for hyping total non-issues—as with the war on traditional marriage or the war on Christmas. The “war” meme has also been overly applied to projects that are actually challenging and important, such as the war on poverty.

But there are, of course, some situations in which “war” is both an appropriate word and a justified approach. And with all due respect to Memorial Day, here are two matters that I believe ought to be treated like wars in the most genuine sense of the word:

  1. A war to prevent the  continued conversion of our planet into a place unsuitable for healthy human habitation, and to restore it to the beautiful, life-sustaining condition that was originally bestowed upon us. While climate change is not the only environmental problem that matters, it is—no hyperbole necessary—the biggest threat humanity has ever faced. If we don’t start treating it like a war, we will lose, and badly.
  2. A war to stop the ongoing transfer of wealth and power to a tiny elite minority. History is practically grabbing us by the throat and screaming in our faces that this is the way societies always progress unless the majority stays conscious and takes action to counter it. And we all know that if current trends continue it will ultimately lead to untold misery for the vast majority of human beings on the planet. This war is well under way, but the giant—that is, the bottom 99.99 percent—is still sleeping.

In reality, both of the above wars are manifestations of a single, underlying war, and that’s the war within ourselves, a war humans have had to fight since we became human. It’s a war between our higher capacities for compassion, self-sacrifice, courage, and creativity, and our opposing capacities for selfishness, greed, fear, and laziness. Truly the war that could end all wars.