"What's in a Name? Welcome to World War IV."
By Christopher Bassford
Published as "We're At War And It's World War IV," Newsday, 14 January 2003.
Some pundits - such as former CIA head James Woolsey - are beginning to call the current crisis in world security "World War IV." This raises interesting questions. For instance, what's wrong with the name the Bush administration has bestowed on it? Evidently "Global War on Terrorism" (GWOT) - properly pronounced "Gee, What?" - doesn't quite meet the need for descriptive accuracy. And, some wonder, What happened to World War III?
To answer the latter question first, World War III was the Cold War between the liberal democracies and communism. Some would question whether it was a war at all, preferring to so label only the hot, naked, but subordinate military clashes in places such as Korea and Vietnam.
In this view, calling that world struggle a "war" is simply a bad example of word inflation - as in the "war on drugs" or the "war on poverty."
In truth, war is surprisingly tough to define. The greatest theorist of war, however, defined it this way: "War is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means [i.e., organized violence]." Carl von Clausewitz went on to say in his 1832 volume, "On War," that "We deliberately use the phrase 'with the addition of other means' because we also want to make it clear that war in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different." Thus war is a form of political conflict in which violence is used together with other tools.
So the worldwide struggle against communism was indeed war. While plenty of people died in that war, thousands of them soldiers, the West owed its final "soft victory" to its deft use of every instrument of persuasion and coercion - moral, ideological, cultural, financial, as well as military. It is no coincidence that America's struggles for civil rights and women's equality made their greatest gains during the Cold War - they were part of the war effort.
Today, the struggle we've labeled GWOT is looking more like World War III than we thought it would on 9/11. Yes, there will necessarily be James Bond-style skullduggery, guerrilla struggles and even conventional sub-wars.
Genuine victory, however, will be won in the markets of Afghanistan, the streets of Palestine, private homes in Iraq, and the churches and mosques of America itself.
Now, there is an art to naming wars. GWOT fails as both art and politics. Wars are fought between groups of people over powerful political disagreement, not against a mere technique of applying violence. Thus, declaring a "war on terrorism" after Sept. 11, 2001, is rather ludicrously like declaring "war on carrier aviation" after Dec. 7, 1941.
One obvious alternative name - "War Against Militant Islam" - unfortunately sounds too much like a war on Islam itself. We understandably shy away from anything that looks like an attack on anyone's freedom to practice a religion.
Again, however, names are confusing. Islam is not simply "a religion," just as communism was much more than simply "a theory of history." Historically, Islam has been an aggressive, all-encompassing socio-political ideology. It has sought, wherever its armies have marched, to suppress any group, any thought, that questioned its self-appointed elite's right to rule. The self-imposed ignorance of Islam's holy warriors long kept them from posing a serious threat to modern civilization. Then they learned to hijack airplanes. Now, with weapons ranging from missiles to jetliners packed with fuel and innocent civilians, from smallpox to suitcase nukes, they threaten our existence.
Like the Cold War, then, this current war is no mere contest of arms or a game between rival intelligence agencies. It is an ideological struggle for the soul of the human race, one we could very well lose. Therefore, it must be a primary political goal of the West to protect and foster the reformed brand of Islam offered by progressive Muslim thinkers like Iranian activist Hashem Aghajari, an ally of reformist President Mohammad Khatami.
We must see it through to its rightful victory over those who have made Islam a bastion of barbarism. Like historical Catholicism or Protestantism, Islam must be freed from kleptocrats and violent fanatics to fulfill its genuine ideals in harmony with the rest of mankind.
In truth, liberal democracy is pretty good at wars like this one. Americans have forgotten or never have known the fierce struggle it took to tame the West's own religious devils in the murderous conflicts between Catholicism and Protestantism. Eventually, and painfully, the fanatics were crowded to the political margins. Generation by generation since, we have overthrown the Southern slave power, defeated the Monarchists, crushed the Fascists, and contained and then converted the Communists. One way or another, we will destroy the radical Islamists and Islamo-Fascists. We will see Islam become the religion of peace the apologists of terror now proclaim it to be.
But for that to happen, we need to give this war a name that reflects its true character: World War IV.
Christopher Bassford is a professor of strategy at the National War College, Washington. The opinions reflected here are his own.
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GnySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952 (Plt #437)--'72
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