Metaphor and War
An excerpt from a seminal essay
by the linguist, George Lakoff
"The use of a metaphor with a set of
definitions becomes pernicious when
it hides realities in a harmful way."
From Metaphor and War by George Lakoff
A classic essay written more than ten years ago on the eve of the Gulf War
by the eminent Professor of Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley.
At the time, it was also historic for being one of the first such articles to be widely
circulated via the then just emerging Internet.
"[...] Metaphorical thought, in itself, is neither good nor bad; it is simply
commonplace and inescapable. Abstractions and enormously complex
situations are routinely understood via metaphor. Indeed, there is an
extensive, and mostly unconscious, system of metaphor that we use
automatically and unreflectively to understand complexities and
abstractions. Part of this system is devoted to understanding interna-
tional relations and war. [...]"
"[...] The use of a metaphor with a set of definitions becomes pernicious
when it hides realities in a harmful way. It is important to distinguish
what is metaphorical from what is not. Pain, dismemberment, death,
starvation, and the death and injury of loved ones are not metaphori-
cal. They are real and in a war, they could afflict tens, perhaps hundreds
of thousands, of real human beings, whether Iraqi, Kuwaiti,
Other related links. . .
For the complete text of the above essay, go to:
Metaphor and War: The Metaphor System
Used to Justify War in the Gulf
(Part 1 of 2, follow link to Part II)
The Metaphor Systems
The State-as-Person System
The Fairy Tale of the Just War
The Ruler-for-State Metonymy
Risks are Gambles
The Mathematicization of Metaphor
Clausewitz's Metaphor: War is Politics, pursued by other means
War as Violent Crime
War as a Competitive Game
War as Medicine
The First Days of the War
Medicine: Endless pictures of surgical strikes