You will not be surprised to hear that I do not know what to do about “Isis.” Or “Isil.” (Because “Isis” sounds too much like the “Forces of Evil” in a James Bond movie and we do not want to cede them the sexy marketing cachet. “Isil” sounds like a mistake. Or a diminutive for “Ise.”)
As usual, I have no answers, suggestions or strategies for what to do about this terrible situation. But I think I have an inkling concerning what not to do.
After the attacks on Paris, the president of France announced that his country was at war with “Isis.”
One could imagine that that French president was speaking metaphorically. But then he bombed “Isis” strongholds in Syria, so apparently, he wasn’t.
Here’s what I know. Not from attending a War College, but from just thinking about things in the comfort of my hardly overtaxed brain.
You know that saying:
“If it looks like a duck and acts like duck and quacks like a duck then it’s probably a duck”?
Well, the opposite, of course, is also valid.
Consider the following:
Things We Think About When We Think About War:
War involves a declaration of war.
War involves two sides – not one side and innocent victims drinking in a cafe.
War involves armies and navies and Air Forces and Marines. It also involves submarines.
War involves a deliberate plan of battle.
War involves face-to-face confrontations, the lines drawn up, including trenches so the opponents can comfortably relax between onslaughts.
War involves countries.
War involves flags.
War involves uniforms.
War involves a hierarchy of participants, from the generals down to the privates.
War involves swelling pride, inspiring marching bands and patriotic music.
War involves medals of valor, and memorial statues down the line.
War involves advances and retreats.
War involves “Rules” – actions that are acceptable in war and actions that are not.
War involves objectives, sometimes, small ones like the taking of a hill, or the objective that winning that war will ultimately achieve.
War involves an at least theoretical understanding of why that war is going on.
War involves negotiations, armistice and/or surrender.
War involves the imaginable possibility of peace.
By these recognizable standards, the conflict between the rest of the world and “Isis”…
… is not a duck.
I am not sure what it is – an extremist eruption, an unstoppable plague, a murderous street gang –
But I do know this.
When a thing is not a duck…
It is unhelpful to treat it like a duck.