War as metaphor

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"In debating social policy through the language of war, we often forget the moral reality of war." − James Childress. A 1944 illustration by Thomas C. Lea III of World War II: "The 2000 Yard Stare".
"Never, ever, should a government use war as a metaphor in a time of peace."

Simon Jenkins FRSL, The Guardian[1]

The use of war as metaphor is a longstanding literary and rhetorical trope. In political usage, war metaphors are used to manage a perceived societal problem, with the concept taking the place of an individual or state enemy in true war.

Philosopher 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."[2] One fundamental problem is that it is often unclear when the "war" is over.[3]

The Cultural Revolution in China 1966−1976, which initially was launched as a "War against Revisionism", is a discouraging example of a metaphorical war against "-isms".[3]


Examples of war used as a metaphor, often on the form "War on..." or "War against...":

Some "wars" are not proclaimed but rather a label used by adversaries:

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Childress, James F. "The war metaphor in public policy"[2]
  • Steinert, Heinz. 2003. "The Indispensable Metaphor of War: On Populist Politics and the Contradictions of the State's Monopoly of Force," Theoretical Criminology 7.3 (2003) p. 265-291.
  • Thomas, Ruth P. 1984. "War as metaphor in La Princesse de Montpensier", Forum for Modern Language Studies 20.4 p. 323-332.


  1. ^ Simon Jenkins. "Why I'm taking the coronavirus hype with a pinch of salt (archived)", theguardian.com, 6 March 2020.
  2. ^ a b Childress, James F. (2001). "The War Metaphor in Public Policy: Some Moral Relections" (PDF). In Ficarrotta, J. Carl (ed.). The Leader's Imperative: Ethics, Integrity, and Responsibility. Purdue University Press. pp. 181–197. ISBN 9781612491394. Retrieved July 25, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c "Vad har Kina lärt av kulturrevolutionen?", professor Michael Schoenhals in Godmorgon världen!, Sveriges radio, 18 May 2016. Retrieved 23 maj 2016. (In Swedish)
  4. ^ Xing Lu (January 2004), Rhetoric of the Chinese Cultural Revolution: The Impact on Chinese Thought, Culture, and Communication, Univ of South Carolina Press, p. 91, ISBN 978-1-57003-543-2
  5. ^ Radley Balko. "Once again: There is no 'war on cops.' And those who claim otherwise are playing a dangerous game.", The Washington Post, 10 September 2015. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  6. ^ Sidky, H. (2018). "The War on Science, Anti-Intellectualism, and 'Alternative Ways of Knowing' in 21st-Century America". Skeptical Inquirer. 42 (2): 38–43. Retrieved 13 May 2018.
  7. ^ Mooney, Chris (2005). The Republican War on Science. Basic Books. ISBN 9780465046751.
  8. ^ Rym Momtaz. Emmanuel Macron on coronavirus: 'We're at war' at the Wayback Machine (archived March 17, 2020), politico.eu, 16 March 2020.
  9. ^ "Pressure grows on Macron over French vaccination 'fiasco'", france24.com, 04 January 2021.
  10. ^ "PM says Greece at war with 'invisible enemy' coronavirus". Reuters, 17 March 2020.
  11. ^ Eszter Zalan. EU struggles to contain corona economic fallout at the Wayback Machine (archived March 18, 2020) euobserver.com, 17 March 2020.
  12. ^ Emma Newburger. "Trump activates National Guard in California, New York and Washington state: 'This is a war' (archived)", cnbc.com, 22 March 2020.
  13. ^ Quentin Letts. "Quentin Letts: Sunak holds court with pain relief (archived)", thetimes.co.uk, 18 March 2020.