In Wake of Colorado Shooting, Cool It With the 'War' Talk

A Penn State football suspension isn't death, getting shot at in a Colorado movie theater is.


If the terrible tragedy in Colorado teaches us something, perhaps it's to ratchet down the rhetoric, and to be more careful in employing war- and violence-related terminology to describe political disagreements or consequences.

Penn State, for one, has just been spared what is known in the collegiate sports world as the "death penalty." That sanction, which the NCAA declined to impose after an investigation concluded that the school protected its image ahead of the safety of sexually abused boys, means Penn State would have been cut out of football for a year or more. Instead, Penn State was hit with $60 million in fines and other punishments. (That's a debatable conclusion: On the one hand, a school shouldn't be able to buy its way out of a scandal, especially when the lives of children are involved. But on the other hand, college sports is about money, so why not hit the school on the same level?) Still, forgoing a college sport for a year is not "death." Going to a midnight movie with friends and having a gunman shoot up the theater is death.

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Democrats, meanwhile, tell us the GOP is waging a "war on women." True, there are officials and candidates who want to limit women's access to contraception, or who seem not to mind that women still make markedly less than men for doing the same work. It's even more insulting to have male politicians inform us, with metaphorical head-pats, that what women really care about is the economy. Women do care about the economy, but unremarkably—especially considering how many women handle child-rearing and careers—are able to think about and care about more than one thing at once. And the two are intertwined, since it's pretty tough to plan a career or advance in business if a woman can't control the size or timing of her family. But it's not a "war."  It's just an insult.

And as for the Republicans who accuse President Barack Obama of waging a "class war:" Nope, no guns and ammo involved in that conflict either. Yes, there is resentment on the part of low- and middle-income people over the great wealth enjoyed by others—including those who rely on the work of employees whose wages and benefits have been decreasing as compensation has increased for the wealthy. It's a heated clash, but it's not a war—and given the fact that actual wars have been fought in other countries over the years because of class conflict, calling what's happening here a "war" seems not only exaggerated but self-centered. There are no armed throngs storming boardrooms and summarily executing corporate executives. There's a serious conflict going on, and important questions to be raised about fairness and rewards and protections for working people. But it's not a war.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

Nor are the accusations being traded by the presidential campaigns "vicious attacks," as they have been characterized by the respective other sides. They are sometimes petty, sometimes overblown and even inaccurate. "Vicious attacks" they are generally not—though accusing someone of committing that transgression tends to divert attention away from the actual substance of the criticism.

What happened in Colorado is death. It was, in fact, a vicious attack. And what the victims went through is the same sort of terror experienced by innocent people who have perished in or survived actual wars. When we casually use words like "war" and "death," we diminish the memories of those who suffered a terrible death in that Colorado theater.

  • Read Brad Bannon: Colorado Shooting Reminds Us 2nd Amendment Isn't a License to Kill
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