The dangers of misleading metaphors – War

Consider “war”, another popular trope. Wars on poverty, drugs and terrorism have all failed. Why? Politicians aim to summon one element of the “war” metaphor when they use it: an intense national struggle. But there is another crucial part of war, namely the adversary.

In a real war, they fight back and might win. When your side prevails, the foe might be persuaded to formally surrender on the deck of the battleship Missouri. Drugs or poverty or terrorism don’t do that, leaving the public that had been roused by the talk of “war” frustrated. The metaphor backfires. You don’t need to be Sun Tzu to know that you shouldn’t declare a war that cannot be won.

— The Economist, in ‘The dangers of misleading metaphors

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