A Call to Change Metaphors

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>Bill Moyers has caught my attention and the attention of others. Back in November, he delivered the Sol Feinstone Lecture on “The Meaning of Freedom” at the United States Military Academy at West Point. An excerpt of it was printed in the January edition of The Christian Century, and I found a fairly complete online excerpt here.

There are many reasons I find this lecture compelling, not least of which is his persuasive way of narrating military history and honor. Moyers is not a dove who accidentally wandered into the wrong covey, and what he has to say is relevant to doves, hawks, and everything in between. I resonated with a lot of the speech, but particularly with his call to “change our metaphor” with regard to the war. Being a person who spends a lot of time with words, I recognize their power to create worlds and to destroy them. The controlling metaphor of our time, the “war on terror,” has become the Trojan horse in the American political imagination. It was a metaphor we proudly wheeled into the middle of our discourse, and now that it has busted open and released mayhem in our midst, it is not as easy to make it make it disappear. Being a journalist himself, Moyers has a recommendation for how to move forward – CHANGE METAPHORS:

“Especially in tracking down and eliminating terrorists, we need to change our metaphor from a “war on terror” – what, pray tell, is that? – to the mind-set of Interpol tracking down master criminals through intense global cooperation among nations, or the FBI stalking the Mafia, or the local police determined to quell street gangs without leveling the entire neighborhood in the process.

If we don’t change this metaphor, politicians will wage this “war on terror” without end, with no measurable way to judge its effectiveness, against stateless enemies who hope we will destroy the neighborhood and thus create recruits for their side. Help us [he implores the West Point students] to think beyond a “war on terror” to counterterrorism modeled on extraordinary police work.”

There are a lot of other little gems in this speech, and I recommend you click the link above to read the longer excerpt, but Moyers made me think a silly thought that, as it passed through my brain the second time, sounded less silly. What would happen if hundreds, or even thousands of people began to challenge this simple metaphor in their conversations, on their blogs, in their churches, and around their offices? It may or may not be the best or only strategy for removing the Trojan horse, now that it has busted open and done its damage among us, but it might at least give us longer pause the next time a catchy metaphor tries to blindfold us and lead us away from our core convictions and highest ideals.

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