Lexicon of War


Anthony Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

October 11, 2012 – A few days ago, overwhelmed by the endless violence and wars in our world, I wrote a brief and simple email to a number of listservs where I listed a number of different adjectives preceding the word “war.”  I did this somewhat impulsively as a catharsis for my own angst and anger at the fact that “wars” and violence had become commonplace that they were part of our daily vernacular and popular culture. We had come to the place that virtually any conflict or disagreement could be labeled a “war.”

I stated that I was concerned the extensive number and widespread use of adjectives preceding the word “war” would somehow make us immune to its meaning – its horrible and tragic meaning.  As a result, we would find ourselves accustomed to its use and habituated to its subtle and apparent significance. I felt that under these circumstances, national policies and decisions regarding war could be pursued without a full recognition of consequences. It is easy to start a war, and difficult to end it.  It can become a reflexive response amidst any contention, precisely at the time when other solutions should be pursued.

I added with some degree of cynicism that there were even “futile wars.”  And I noted that this term seems to have escaped the vocabulary of our politicians. I published an article a few years ago on the United States as a “culture of war, that was based on the notion that a cultural ethos can develop that socializes war as a way of life. I have attached a figure from this article that captures the complexity of this process as we go back and forth among ethos, macrosocial institutions, microsocial institutions, and individual levels of organization.

Well, in the brief email where I listed the different kinds of war, I added a request to readers to make any additions they felt were appropriate.  I expected only a few.  But, in fact, the email brought many replies that both suggested additions and that acknowledged the implications of the emerging “lexicon of wars.”  Thus I share with you now, an updated and more comprehensive lexicon of wars.

I must admit, as I gathered the terms, I found myself “shocked” by the widespread use of the word “war.”  Was it possible that within the context of our global era and its increased inter-dependencies we had come to find the tensions of competition for comfort, resources, and survival itself to push us toward “wars” at all levels. A “versus” mentality had arisen that was pitting different people, organizations, nations, and products against one another in a win-lose arena. The tragedy of this situation is that there are never winners and losers in any war, only casualties and legacies of anger and revenge.

Table 1:

Lexicon of Wars

biological wars,

border wars

cab wars

cancer wars

civil wars,

cold wars

colonial wars

communication wars

corporate wars,

culture wars,

cyber wars,

diet wars

drug wars

ethnic wars

family wars

financial wars,

food wars

gang wars

gas wars

gasoline wars,

girl wars

global wars

happy wars

holy wars

hot wars

ideological wars

just wars (jus ad bellum)

language wars

low-intensity wars

media wars                                                  

neighbor wars

nuclear wars

oil wars

parking wars

pizza wars

price wars

product wars,

race wars

regional wars,

religious wars

restaurant wars

secret wars

shadow wars,

star wars

tribal wars

war to end war

wars against terrorism,

wars on poverty,

wars to end all wars

water wars

whale wars

word wars

world wars

And so, voilà, a lexicon of wars, and a figure (below) that suggests a socialization process that may keep us joined to a “futile” process in which competition is not an evolutionary necessity, as promulgated by social Darwinism, but rather an outcome of continued asymmetries in power, wealth, and equality.

A special thank you to all who contributed additions. They are noted in bold print.

From: Marsella, A.J. (2011). The United States of America: “A Culture of War.”
International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35, 714-728


Anthony Marsella, member of TRANSCEND, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 15 edited books, and more than 250 articles, chapters, book reviews, and and popular pieces. He can be reached at marsella@hawaii.edu.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 15 Oct 2012.

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