Monday, September 11, 2006

'World War III' title not fitting for current conflicts

World War III, in past, was the term used to describe what would have occurred if war broke out between the United States and the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, one would have thought it the remnant of a bygone era. Alas, some politicians are attempting to resurrect it for use in their own political maneuvering. World War III is now being used to describe the “war on terror.”

President Bush in May referred to the war on terror as “World War III,” and former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in a gutsier move, has stated that the United States has been fighting this war since the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut — strangely enough, at the same time we were still fearing World War III with the Soviets. It’s rather odd that we’ve apparently been involved in a world war and didn’t even notice for 20 years. What’s far more absurd, though, is what happens when you start to compare what World War III with the U.S.S.R. would be like to the current situation — nuclear holocaust versus war on terror?

The title of “world war” simply is not fitting. The current battles occurring in the world simply do not have the markings of a world war. The enemy is a number of loosely affiliated, nongovernmental groups with their own goals and motivations. In the Cold War, we had a discernible foe in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries, but we now have a hodgepodge of fighters from all over the globe.

While the claim that we are engaged in the third world war makes for a weak argument, it does raise an interesting concern, which has tentatively been remarked upon following the 9/11 attacks. It has been said before, but it needs to be stated again: Terrorism is the new communism. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States found itself without a worthy adversary to direct aggression against. There is a lot of history repeating itself, albeit in a very short span of time. Most noticeably has been the rationale offered in explaining the conflict. One of the initial explanations was the “clash of civilizations” claim, that there was an inevitable showdown between the East and the West, the modern world versus radical Islam. This sounds strikingly similar to the criticisms of the Soviet Union started by former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who saw an atheist nation and advocated the U.S. role as a God-fearing nation was to resist such a scourge.

The advantage that terrorism has over communism is its ambiguity and ubiquity. It’s an enemy that can be found in any country where individuals are willing to resort to violence for political means — and will be a lasting problem. Unlike the Soviet Union, which occupied definite geographical boundaries and had a government and a standing army, this threat could be the person sitting next to you on a plane. It sets no limit to the paranoia it can instill, a bogeyman for the adult world that can carry all the fear and blame that needs to be laid.

Joe Dunkle
editorial writer

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