Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

Are we at war? Is Macron right?

(B2) The Coronavirus crisis is serious and requires exceptional measures. But we are not at war. To claim otherwise could be wrong, historically, politically and semantically.

(credit: DICOD / Ministry of Defense / FAZSOI)

Excessive repetition, in a public speech — as French President Emmanuel Macron did very emphatically on Monday (March 16) — is troubling to say the least.

The trivialization of a word

Five years ago, we were at war against terrorism. Today is against the coronavirus. Tomorrow against what? This lack of inventiveness in crisis terminology is questionable, to say the least. What word will we use when we are really at war, with general mobilization of the population, commitment to the front, bombardments and killings, etc.? If a journalist, a writer can use this terminology in everyday language, or if the hospitals are on a war footing, one can wonder if this is really the role of a head of state, too chief of the armies, to proclaim this state of war, without triggering the war.

A terminology that contradicts the objective

First of all, this evocation is confusing. It is contradictory with the watchword 'don't panic', 'think', think differently. Instead of reassuring, this speech contributes to general anxiety. Isn't the role of a president rather to be there, to plan, to decide, to give orientations, instructions or orders? It is not to generate and maintain fears. On the other hand, he can recognize errors. To have summoned the population to a first round of the elections was thus of notable inconsistency (1).

A definition error

Then, if we take the definition of Carl (von Clausewitz), one of the 'war' thinkers, there is a lexical error. Certainly the " first goal of war is to defeat the adversary in order to put him in a state of incapacity to resist ". But we must not stop at this first element, it is the following that we must read. War is " an act of violence whose purpose is to compel the adversary to bend to our will ". However, until further notice, the virus does not really have the will to impose or the specific regime it intends to put in place. It's like a fire against which we must resist by implementing the best firewalls. We are not at war.

A lack of respect for war victims

Using that word in this context seems like an enforcer of a generation (our own) that hasn't really experienced war. It is a certain lack of respect towards the generations who have really experienced the horrors of war (that of our parents or grandparents) or towards the populations who are still suffering from it (Syria, Somalia, Yemen) or have experienced it recently (Balkans, DR Congo, Algeria, etc.). We cannot compare our suffering, even serious, with a state of war. We cannot thus compare the ravages of the Spanish flu in 1918-1919, to the traumas of the 1914-1918 war, even if the mortality rate may have been identical.

A different mindset

Staying at home confined is certainly demanding, requires changes in mentality, organization and functioning. But food, water, electricity and heating, as well as the telephone, remain provided. We continue to be free to say what we think everywhere. Our children, our friends, our young people are not mobilized to risk their lives on the front lines. No one is subjected to torture, etc. To remain confined in this way even for long months is surely less boring than to be forced to live in a camp for displaced persons in the vicinity of Idlib under Russian-Syrian bombardment. The people mobilized, like the health personnel, are subjected to severe strain and exposed to the risk of disease. But they still do not operate underground, under duress or in the angle of sniper sights, as in the former Yugoslavia a few decades ago or in Syria still today...

No, definitely no, we are not at war. And fortunately...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. We can mock and make fun of a population for having walked in the parks. But she only applied a command from above: you can go.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

4 thoughts on “Are we at war? Is Macron right?"

  • Thanks, Nicholas. A wise voice in an ocean of newspapers under orders...

  • excellent.

  • Stop the pseudo-intellectual journalistic blabla: it is a question of making an impression, intellectuals as well as non-intellectuals, and obtaining “general mobilization” against this invisible “enemy”. The motherland world is in danger! If the word "war" allows a better awareness and responsibility by the unconscious and the irresponsible, then I am for its use.

  • Hans-Uwe Mergener

    Thank you, Nicolas/Mr. Gros-Verheyde,

    I totally agree with this comment. What an inflation of terminology just for a dramaturgy that those responsible for too long have not taken into account.
    Let's see where we will go again in this “war” of words.

    Take care of yourself – and your loved ones
    For yourself
    H. Uwe Mergener

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