In our blessed Republic, wars were once declared. They were also won or lost, or in any case ended, after some time.
Since the end of WWII, however, we have told ourselves and others that we have been engaged in a number of wars, which seemingly differ from wars as traditionally conceived in the sense that they do not end, and probably cannot end. I don't refer to the Korean or Vietnam wars, which it is true also differed from wars as traditionally conceived in the sense that they were not formally declared. I refer to such wars as the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and more recently the War on Terror.
These wars have been declared in a sense--often loudly and continually. And the latter two have involved the use of military or quasi-military force, and have resulted in deaths, like traditional wars. But thus far at least, they haven't ended, and there is no reason to believe they will anytime soon.
The use of the word "war" in connection with these programs, or policies, may be attributed to an understandable, though I think regrettable, tendency to indulge in dramatic displays. They may be intended by our leaders and those who seek to influence (manipulate?) us to demonstrate that they are serious efforts, i.e. that we will stamp out poverty, drugs and terrorism with the same fervor and intensity as we would employ if we were actually waging a real war. The trouble is we don't, and likely never will.
The War on Poverty and the War on Drugs have lasted for decades. The War on Terrorism will soon have lasted a decade. Poverty and drug use have shown no inclination to diminish, though, and although we may assert that there have been no successful terrorist strikes within the U.S. since 9/11, terrorism is very much a part of the world, and has been for quite some time. It's not going to go away because there is no indication that the world anytime in the forseeable future will be rid of furious people filled with hate who think they have nothing to lose, just as there is no reason to think that poverty will vanish or that people will stop using and paying for drugs they desire.
What we have been calling wars, therefore, are more correctly described as seemingly endless, expensive, and so far and most likely to continue be futile efforts on the part of our government to eradicate certain things. It seems silly to call such efforts "wars." Perhaps more significantly, calling such things "wars" serves only to emphasize the fact that the efforts made are unnsuccessful. What is the point of having a war we cannot win, because it will never end?
Unless, that is, we prefer to see ourselves at "war." Or, that there are those who would prefer us to believe we are, perpetually, at war.