In the Third World, when they say ‘war’, they still mean, well, war. Things go bang, men and women do hideous things to each other out of fear or anger or revenge, true psychopathy, or even just boredom. Children starve and women are raped, cities burn and the sound of engines never stops. There’s a little noise mortars make; I’ve never seen a movie that got it right, though Iron Man came close. A soft, slightly hollow ‘phoomp’ sound, followed by a long, slow, descending whistle that fifteen years later causes me to quick-check my environment for places to hide when I’m watching the news from Gaza.
Mind you, when I’m watching the news from Gaza I’m pretty much looking for a place to hide anyway, lately.
The Middle East is another place that understands wars. They pretty much invented modern urban combat after WWII, in the warrens of Jerusalem in 1948. After four goes at Israel they realised it was a losing proposition and turned on each other, pitting Sunni against Shi’ite, progressive against medieval, and taking a swipe at the Kurds whenever possible, because, well, they’re there and who’s gonna stop you?
Britain is another place that understands wars. Had quite a few. Lost quite a few, won a whole bunch more, particularly recently. We understand what nice, clean, properly-declared wars look like (eg. the one with Argentina); we understand what the desperate sort, where your back is against the wall and the bombers are coming again, look like as well. We’ve had our fair share of guerrilla activism, what with the IRA and others. And because of this, a lot of people tried to stop us getting into our generation’s Vietnam, because we know what wars look like.
The United States does not know what 20th Century war looks like, in spite of having fought in nearly all of them. For an entire century, ‘war’, to Americans, happened to other people. Our boys went off to war; no-one brought the war to us. This allowed something very insidious to happen, and its knock-on effects are now coming back to haunt the politicians who engineered it.
Because, contrary to appearances, this is not a post about wars. This is a post about propaganda.
War on Drugs. War on Poverty. War on Terror. How did a nation which produced Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King ever get so far from its intellectual roots that it could declare war on an emotion?
The USA almost didn’t get in on the first big fight of the 20th Century at all, until a clever man hobbled by his own brain tricked them into it . When the second one started, they only got into it when someone brought the war to them. Er, well, blew up a bunch of their ships on a tiny island 2506 miles away from the continental USA . The next war they were in was in Korea, the one after that was Vietnam, and we all know how well the folks back home understood and accepted the experiences of the veterans.
This dreadful gap between reality and perception allowed the US administrations between 1971 and 2001 to re-design ‘war’ as a marketing device. The War on Communism, a common phrase throughout the previous two decades, had created the idea that wars are things kinda like hostile takeovers on Wall Street. They happen someplace else to someone else, they seem to cost a lot but ultimately, they make damn all difference to Joe Sixpack. There was an immense amount of paranoia about the international Communist conspiracy, and about the Bomb, but Nixon was able to start talking about the War on Drugs while there was a real war going on in Vietnam, and no-one called him on it.
This indicates as clearly as any of the subsequent evidence the dreadful cognitive disfunction affecting America: they think war is a controllable thing. They think it’s something you do in order to achieve something. That it’s something you do on purpose, rather than out of desperation. This is a large part of why they can’t understand the people they’re killing on the streets in Iraq: to them, war is not an option. It’s not a strategy, not a way to open up new markets. They fight because it’s all they have left.
American experiments with prohibition have been failing since the first one. Nearly all of the more recent ones have direct ties to Harry Anslinger’s racism and abuse of his budget appropriations. How does an intelligent nation let Nixon call this particular assault on the shrubbery a ‘war’? Because they’ve forgotten what a war looks like.
War on Poverty? Wars cost money. You can’t make people less poor by starting any war, let alone an empty one.
War on Drugs? Well, since you can’t have a war with a plant, that one’s clearly idiocy. War on Drug Users: well, yeah, that I’ll buy. Accurate, and it keeps people looking at the actual casualties: prisoners sentenced for drug offenses constitute the largest group of Federal inmates (55% in 2006). The majority of these are there on possession charges, not supply.
War on Crime? War is crime would make as much sense as a slogan. You don’t make war on crime, you have police actions, ideally carried out by actual police rather than paramilitary organisations which use automatic weapons as a matter of course (such as the FBI).
War on Terror? Enough said.
Why do they keep starting wars they can’t win, against abstract concepts they can’t understand? There’s clearly no practical use to it. Therefore, it must have utility to the social engineering project known as the military-industrial complex. And there’s a clue to why they like it right there in the name.
For a government to get away with the kind of atrocities the United States has perpetrated in the last 10 years, the population must be kept scared. Terrorised, in fact. These ‘wars’ are red flags, Reichstag fires, terror tools used to keep a population voting without thinking. They are set dressing, sleight-of-hand, misdirection: Rove and Cheney are better at that than Harry Houdini was . War is Peace. Ignorance is Strength. Freedom is Slavery. Bush is President. 
The populace cannot be allowed time to draw breath and to think, rather than simply reacting. A perceived threat makes humans, who do still seem to have a herd mentality when threatened, easier to control. Governments are in the business of control, therefore wars are in the interests of government.
What is really happening in our culture is a war on peace of mind.
 And, depending on who you believe, another very clever man in London helped by having the Lusitania sunk.
 Well, that’s how far it is from San Diego, anyway.
 He was very bad at it. He managed to make an elephant disappear on stage once, and presented it so flatly he couldn’t even get a round of applause.
 Though not, thank $deity,
for much longer any more. Regarding the modified 1984 quote, I first saw it on a news group around the start of the war, but I’m not sure where. My team of trained research-otters are hunting it down as I write.