Friday, September 2, 2016

The romanticization of war - I

Aristotle wrote, 'Metaphor consists in giving the thing a name that belongs to something else.' People in power get to impose their metaphors on us - political, business and religious leaders, media, advertisers, etc. War metaphors are in common use with everything conceived as a battle, as a zero-sum game with winners and losers. We talk of various things in terms of a war because we conceive of them that way, and we act according to how we conceive of things. And as George Lakoff wrote in his paper 'Metaphor and War , '...metaphors backed up by bombs can kill.'

You can see war metaphors used often in cricket. After the chest beating talk at beginning of a cricket series, it will be said that 'the battle lines have been drawn', the star player in the side will be called the 'lone warrior' or 'the hit-man'; there will be 'attack' index, twitter 'battle', 'clash' of titans, 'final frontier', 'revenge' series, 'seek vengeance'. A West Indies-SA cricket series was advertised as - 'a war cry resounds as the Caribbean crew lands on the hostile African shores'; a cricket match between India and Australia is called 'a battle without guns' (aggression on the cricket field is not about cricketing skills but about how boorish you can be); there will be 'General Kohli leads his soldiers through fielding drills'; Sehwag 'blitzkrieg' flattens England, 'Do or die' game for India, Sachin's 'blasters' vs Warne's 'warriors'.

In politics, there will be battleground states, war room,  prestige battle, a ministerial communication is called 'twitter battle', 'battle bugle' for Bihar has been sounded, an election speech is described as 'a war cry', 'battle lines' are drawn, there is 'a war of words' between the candidates, the PM 'led the charge' during the campaign, Sushma makes 'frontal attack' on Congress, Rahul leads Congress 'counter attack', we won the 'land-bill battle', battle for Bihar, prestige battle, bitter battle.  The preparations are on a 'war-footing'; it is a straight 'fight' between Modi and Nitish Kumar in Bihar; sentences like 'X attacks Y' or 'X hits back at Y' are common, Congress 'guns' for Sushma, Kejriwal alleges 'pre-emptive strike' by BJP to save Jaitly.

In Metaphors we live by, George Lakoff gives some examples of the 'love is war' metaphor: He 'fled from' her 'advances'. She 'persued' him 'relentlessly'. He 'won' her hand in marriage. She is 'beseiged' by suitors. He 'made an ally' of her mother.He also gives examples of the 'arguement is war' metaphor used in everyday language: Your claims are 'indefensible'.I 'demolised' his argument. He 'shot down' all of my arguments. His criticisms were 'right on target'. He writes:
It is important to see that we don't just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments.We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and defend our own. We gain or lose ground. We plan and use strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack. Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war.Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an argument  - attack, defence, counterattack, etc. - reflects this.
The war metaphor is used in many other contexts: the court room became a 'battleground'; he was 'under fire' from the experts; the president was 'bombarded' with questions from the press; the organization works at the 'front lines' of the war on poverty; she didn't want to get caught in the 'crossfire' of her parent's divorce; there was an economic 'blockade' of Manipur; the model is a 'Blonde Bombshell'; the new policy is considered a political 'time bomb' for the government; ethical hackers are described as 'cyber warriors', He is an 'eco-warrior'.

Other high-profile examples include the War on Poverty, War on Cancer, War on Drugs, . The body is often viewed as a 'fortress' which protects us from 'invasion' by disease causing organisms. The immune system 'mobilises' antigens...Civilian causalities during military campaigns is called by the anaesthetic phrase 'collateral damage'. It conceals from people what is actually going on. It is an abstract euphemism which ensures that people don't get a sense of repulsion from what is essentially murder. The use of metaphor can be pernicious when it hides painful realities. These metaphors hide aspects of violence that would normally be seen as major crimes.  George Orwell shows this in an essay written in the 1940s, Politics and the English Language:
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
"While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement."
James Childress describes the use of war as a metaphor as a dilemma: "In debating social policy through the language of war, we often forget the moral reality of war." Their widespread use dulls the realisation that the brutality of war dehumanises us all. Childress observes, ' We are tempted by seedy realism, with its doctrine that might makes right, or we are tempted by an equally dangerous mentality of crusade or holy war, with its doctrine that right makes might of any kind acceptable.' 

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