Art of Political Warfare

I always look forward to reading a review book from the University of Oklahoma Press at Norman. It publishes on a variety of subjects and is especially strong on Oklahoma politics and Oklahoma history. Recently they sent me The Art of Political Warfare by John J. Pitney, Jr. who teaches political science at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. I picked it up, paged through it briefly, looked at the end notes and the index, saw the author's photo and brief biography, and put it aside to read more thoroughly later. But even that brief look left me a little puzzled as to its purpose.

On a closer reading I found that Pitney's writing is easy to read, and his main point is simple. In the author's words, "Politics resembles warfare, so military literature can teach us something about political action." True, the language of both is strikingly similar. In both war and politics we speak of campaigns, of battle strategies, of setting up strategic centers of action, of attacking, or counterattacking, and finally, of winning or losing the battle. Pitney also observes that even as these figures of speech are expressing our thoughts on warfare and politics that using such language is influencing the way we think about these activities. But is he implying here that it's not only acceptable, but good, to frame politics in the same harsh and cruel language as we do war? That's my conclusion, and that's what worries me about his enthusiasm for the similarity.

Interesting as his idea is, heck, we already know a great deal about politics and political campaigns. We know, for example, that 1) campaigns are usually quite superficial. Real issues like the exorbitant amount we spend on "defense," the alarming lack of a national system of health care, the tragic gap between the rich and poor -- these are frequently ignored. 2) Campaigns are celebrity-enhanced as the candidates gleefully embrace a talk show host and hope for more superficiality. 3) They are money-driven with the biggest chunk coming from the wealthy, not from you and me. 4) They do not attract the interest of at least half the eligible voters, if we judge by the turnout at the polls. And 5) debates during the campaigns systematically exclude candidates like Ralph Nader who might bring up some real issues.

Now as my 4-year-old grandson so often says before he starts some new bit of fun, "I got an idea!" My idea is that because language and its tone are so important, just as the author says, that we might start looking for some better and more positive words, phrases, mottoes, and sayings to use in describing politics.

First, we could replace battle with struggle. A struggle may be hard, but it doesn't kill people. A battle always does. And we ought to be very careful about the way we think and talk about human life. To use George W. Bush's great new malapropism, we wouldn't want anyone "to be held hostile."

Instead, we could all walk confidently into the marketplace of ideas. What could be more American than a marketplace? We could sit down at the bargaining table. We could light up the peace pipe. We could say, "Come, let us reason together." Why, we could even reach an informed consensus, just as members of the League of Women Voters do after we study all sides of an issue.

Then we might start chanting, "Give me your tired, your poor, your run-of-the-mill American, cynical and bewildered, longing for something more than slogans." We could openly talk about the defense budget. We could start turning swords into plowshares. We could go down by the riverside and lay down more swords along with Star Wars and ICBMs and bombers. We could resolve to study peacemaking more than warmaking and plan to spend more on people than on weapons.

We could think seriously about what it means morally to be the richest country in the world, the richest country in history. We could start singing again about amber waves of grain and purple mountains and fruited plains, and brotherhood stretching from sea to shining sea. And we could quietly reflect that some truths are still self-evident, that we all should value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Thanks again, OU Press.

Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email

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