The British media today are full of commemorations of the Londoners who fell a year ago in the war on terror.
Except that they didn’t. Nobody, but nobody, is putting it like that. Here’s Tony Blair, here’s Mayor Ken Livingstone, here’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair. Plenty of time to prepare these statements, so it’s all deliberate.
Googling for “war on terror” on .uk sites, I couldn’t find direct uses of the phrase by politicians of any stripe, from lefty Ken to the right-wing Tory David Davis. The closest Tony Blair got was in a speech in March 2004:
We wage war relentlessly on those who would exploit racial and religious division to bring catastrophe to the world.
Blair’s antennae for public opinion and the impact of words are very sensitive, and if he hasn’t hammered on the “war on terror” trope since, it’s because he knows that it doesn’t work. The British argument over antiterrorism law and police powers is fierce, but where is the claim “we must do this because it’s war”?
“War on terror” is used quite a lot by headline-writers in the press, as here, just as they write about the “war on crime” and refer to a politician’s annoyance as “fury”. This doesn’t mean much. The phrase is also used to describe American policy, across the cultural gulf.