The Big Spill: Who’s the Enemy?

I had a “business as usual” blog ready to post today, but I can’t in good conscience pretend that business is usual right now. Today is day 50 of the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history. As I write this, 50,932,978 gallons and counting of crude oil are pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. The toxic substance is fouling the ocean, desecrating the gorgeous coastal beeches, destroying wildlife habitat and killing countless birds and sea life. Eleven men have lost their lives and thousands more will be sickened from toxic exposure.

Yet, I listened with hope yesterday morning as Coast Guard Admiral Thad W. Allen, gave a press conference. Admiral Allen is a serious man with a powerful presence. He answered questions with authority and somber facts. Never once did I doubt his intention, but I was startled to hear him use the word “enemy” in his description of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Why is it necessary for our leaders to create a metaphor of war to galvanize the public into action and signal to us that someone has the muscle to take the situation seriously?

Yes, there is power is the use of certain words, and the word “enemy” has weight. It conjures up images of fear, panic, horror and alarm. In his press conference, that word was designed to grab our attention and to tell us in no uncertain terms that Admiral Allen meant business.

Now, I’m more than okay with someone taking control of this crisis, but frankly, I’ve had it with the endless use of the war metaphor. We’ve had the War on Crime, The War on Poverty, The War on Illiteracy, The War on Drugs, and most recently, The War on Terror.

And now Admiral Allen is suggesting that a new war is underway, that the oil spill is holding us hostage and we must fight back and defend ourselves. The great spill has become the new enemy and we must wage war. But what do we call this new war?

We can’t call it The War on Oil, because we are too fond of, addicted to and dependent on oil. It is the crude lifeblood of our economy. Waging war on it would be counterproductive.

We can’t go to war against BP, because whether we like it or not, they are the only hope we have for finding a solution to this immediate crisis.

We can’t call it The War on the Complicit Relationship between Government and Big Oil, because that’s way too complicated a problem to solve by a simple war metaphor.

So what do we call our new war? I like the idea of calling it like it is: The War on the Big Gushing Hole in the Bottom of the Ocean Floor. I know it may not be a catchy title, but it accurately describes the type of war we’re facing—a long, inelegant and dirty war.

No matter how hard anyone tries, we can’t spin this one into something “catchy.” And at this point, I’m certain of only one thing: We don’t need a war metaphor or any other marketing phrase to act as a substitute for what’s most important right now: right action, true compassion and long lasting commitment to solve this crisis...by all of us.