Monthly Archives: September 2014

President Obama and the ISIS Crisis

As you may know from recent news reports, the terrorist group known as ISIS recently brutally beheaded several American and European journalists in the Middle East.  The United States and its allies in Europe and the Middle East have begun a strategic bombing campaign to destroy them.

There have been a wide variety of metaphors used described these terrorists.  President Obama gave a short speech on September 10 as the Americans began their aerial attacks.  Today I would like to share a brief analysis of the metaphors used in that speech.

blog - obama - LevantFirst, however, a couple clarifications are in order.  For one, there are many confusing names for the terrorist group.  Most media experts refer to them as ISIS (pronounced EYE-sis) which is an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (the countries on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean) with the final “S” indicating the specific country of Syria.    Other experts refer to the group as ISIL (EYE-sil) with the “L” referring to the Levant.  Yet others use this same acronym but pronounce it as IH-sil, rhyming with whistle.  In the speech by President Obama, he refers to the group as ISIL with the long “i” pronunciation.  Yet others refer to the group as simply the Islamic State, a name that is somewhat confusing since the group does not belong to any particular country or nation state. Nonetheless, I noticed in browsing through French and Spanish online newspapers, journalists in those countries also refer to the group simply as the Islamic State while those in England refer to it as ISIS as well.

blog - rhetoric - ethos pathos logosAlso, I would like to explain something very interesting about the speech.  If you are a student of classical rhetoric, you may have studied that the ancient Greeks, especially Aristotle and Cicero, were among the first to analyze what made a speech effective.*  Aristotle wrote that a good speech moves the listeners by appealing to their senses of pathos (emotions), logos (logic) and ethos (ethics).  Although I have not had a class in classical rhetoric since about the time of the ancient Greeks, I could not help but notice that President Obama’s speech seemed to have been written to appeal to all three of these senses.

At the beginning of the speech, Obama reminded the audience of the brutal behavior of ISIS, including the beheadings of the American journalists.

“In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. In acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists — Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff.”

Although this is an important reason why he was persuaded to launch attacks against ISIS, I believe he also mentioned the beheadings to appeal to the pathos of the listeners.  He knows that Americans will be more supportive of military actions if they have an emotional response to the behavior of the terrorist group.

In the middle of the speech, Obama outlines the four steps in his strategy to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.  He gave very clear summaries of these four steps and explained why each step had to be taken.

“Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

This part of the speech appeals to our sense of logos.  We can understand why a military response is needed given the brutality of the killings mentioned earlier in the speech.

At the end of the speech, Obama explains that America has a moral duty to do something about these terrorists.  He suggested that we could not simply sit back and do nothing.

“America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead.”

With these remarks he appealed to our sense of ethos, including the audience in his sense of a moral obligation to do something to stop the terrorists before they could do any more brutal killings.

By appealing to the listeners’ sense of pathos, logos, and ethos, President Obama most likely was trying to persuade his audience to support him in his military operations at a time in history when most Americans are tired of war.

As for the speech itself, here are a few examples of the metaphors used to further appeal to the audience.  Let me begin with several idiosyncratic metaphors to describe the terrorists themselves.


Obama describes the terrorist group as a cancer, using a medical metaphor we all understand as a serious and often fatal medical condition.  Even with modern medicine, beating cancer is a daunting task requiring great skill and practice.  Obama’s use of the cancer metaphor here indicates that getting ridding of ISIS will also require great skill and patience.

Example:  “Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL.”

blog - nature - river damcut off, stem the flow

In a pair of metaphors used to describe the terrorists, their funding and their source of fighters are compared to a stream of water.  In one part of the speech, President Obama describes how to need to stem of the flow of European soldiers into the area who fight with ISIS, as if they are flowing down a river.  The phrase cut off can be used to mean a literal cutting of a physical material, such as cutting off a branch of a tree, but can also mean turning off a flow of water from a hose. Metaphorically, to cut off something means to stop the flow of some source of money, goods or services.

Example: “Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into — and out of — the Middle East.”

blog - education - erasererase

We are all familiar with the ability to erase marks we make on paper with a lead pencil.  Metaphorically, we can also erase problems, mistakes, or bad aspects of our lives.  In the president’s speech, he talks about the desire to erase the evil of the terrorist groups.

Example:  “Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm.”

blog - machines - counterweightcounterweight

The final example of a metaphor used to describe the terrorist group is counterweight.   Some types of heavy machinery require a heavy weight on one side of the machine to balance out the tremendous weight on the other side of the machine, such as on a building crane.  The opposite, balancing weight is called the counterweight.  Metaphorically, a counterweight is an action or process that balances out the effects of another process, usually one that is out of the control of the people involved.  In the speech in question here, President Obama describes his military strategy as a counterweight to the actions of the terrorist group in light of the civil war already ongoing in Syria, fueled by the actions of President Bashar al-Assad.

Example:  “In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its people; a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”

The final set of metaphor examples are based on the principle of personification in which an inanimate object or abstract idea is described in terms of a human being.  In this case, President Obama describes the United States as being a person in several different ways.

blog - personification - strength 2strength/strongest as a nation

Human beings have physical strength from the use of their muscles. People can increase their strength through physical labor, exercise or weight lifting.  Metaphorically, countries can have strength through the force of their citizens or their military power.

Example: “I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve.”

Example: “I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL. But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together.”

blog - personification - seizeposition/seize

Humans can also have strength from a certain body position, as a boxer takes a stance to throw a punch.  From certain positions, a person can also grab or seize something if it is within his or her reach. Metaphorically, countries can be in a position to take an action or seize something important.

Example: “Next week marks 6 years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression. Yet despite these shocks; through the pain we have felt and the grueling work required to bounce back — America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.”

dragged into

A person lacking in strength or in the wrong position can be pushed or pulled into a weaker position. In some cases, weaker people can be forcibly dragged into a new position by someone or something stronger.  Metaphorically, countries can be dragged into a war or some other dangerous situation if they are not in control of their own governments.

Example: “…we will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”


People can work on a project together.  In such cases, these people may be considered partners in this endeavor.  In some cases, the people who began the project can be joined by others who may help them achieve their goals.  Metaphorically, countries can also work as partners, and later be joined by other countries to achieve a common goal.

Example: “But this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region.”

Example: “This is our strategy. And in each of these four parts of our strategy, America will be joined by a broad coalition of partners.”

blog - personification - handshakehelping

A strong person may be in a position to help a weaker person achieve a goal.  Countries can also metaphorically help another country with military or financial aid.

Example: “And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.”

at home

Most people live in houses, and metaphorically countries also have a home in their own government and land.  When politicians do international diplomacy or take military actions in other countries, they often refer to the United States as home.

Example: “So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.”

These are just a few of the many examples of metaphors used by President Obama in the short speech on his planned attacks on ISIS.  It is clear that he and his speechwriters used the classical rhetoric strategy of pathos, logos and ethos to gain support from Americans for his military actions.  He also used many examples of personification to make it appear that the government is acting as a sensible person instead of an abstract body of politicians.

blog - personification - home

Strangely, I noticed that there was a distinct absence of journey metaphors.  As faithful readers of this blog know, journey metaphors are commonly used in important political speeches such as state of the union addresses or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  These journey metaphors are used by skilled orators to involve the listeners in the process as if the audience and the speaker are on an important journey through life together.  Given that the speech was focused solely on an immediate military strategy, perhaps metaphors about long journeys would have been inappropriate.  However, I can’t help but think that President Obama is not quite sure the American people are joining him on this journey into more military action in the Middle East.

Next time:  More metaphors of the ISIS crisis.

*If anyone is interested in further research on classical or modern rhetoric, here are a few suggestions.

Aristotle (1991). On rhetoric: A theory of civic discourse (G. Kennedy, Trans.).  New York: Oxford University Press.

Charteris-Black, J. (2011). Politicians and rhetoric:  The persuasive power of metaphor (2nd Ed.).  New York:  Palgrave Macmillan.

Cicero (1986). On oratory and orators (J. S. Watson, Trans.).  Carbondale, IL:  Southern Illinois University Press.

Copi, I. & Cohen, C. (2001). Introduction to logic (11th Ed.).  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Prentice Hall.

Book Review: Politicians and Rhetoric by Jonathan Charteris-Black

To continue my short series of book reviews, I would like to share a few comments on an amazing book entitled Politicians and Rhetoric:  The Persuasive Power of Metaphor, 2nd Edition by Jonathan Charteris-Black (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).    Charteris-Black is a professor of linguistics at the University of the West of England in Bristol, England.

blog - review - charteris blackThe book consists of twelve chapters.  The first two chapters provide an excellent summary of the importance of understanding metaphors in the art of rhetoric, persuasion, and speech making used by all successful politicians.  The next nine chapters consist of incredibly insightful analyses of how certain political leaders have used metaphors in their speeches.  These politicians include four giants of British politics: Winston Churchill, Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair along with five American leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  The final chapter provides an analysis of the nexus of myth, metaphor and political leadership.

In each chapter, Charteris-Black analyzes the speeches of the politician with a specific theme that characterizes their particular rhetoric.  For example, he discusses Winston Churchill in terms of the heroic myth, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the messianic myth, Ronald Reagan and the romantic myth, Margaret Thatcher and the myth of Boudicca, George Bush and the rhetoric of moral accounting and Barack Obama and the myth of the American Dream.  Each person’s speeches are analyzed in the historical context and particular political environment.  He explains how we can understand the rhetoric of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher in terms of myths of heroes or past warriors.  Churchill had to rally British citizens to make sacrifices for the war effort and had to persuade the Americans to become their allies.  He was successful at doing this by using metaphors of journeys and heroes. Thatcher tapped into the myth of Boudicca, the 1st century Celtic queen who led an uprising against the Roman army.  Thatcher used metaphors of conflict as in the concept that political opponents are enemies to get the British to rally around her as Boudicca did centuries earlier. Charteris-Black also provides insightful analyses of the speeches of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all in the context of difficult political climates.

By far the most fascinating chapter for me was the section on Martin Luther King, Jr. Having analyzed his speeches myself, I was in awe of the depth of analysis that Charteris-Black presented in this book.  He analyzed his speeches in terms of the Messianic myth, journey metaphors, landscape metaphors and in the context of the segregation and non-violence of the 1960s.  This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. (BTW, my most popular blog posts are concerned with Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches.  All of the students reading this blog with assignments on MLK speeches would be well advised to buy this book!)

My only criticisms of the book consist of a few editorial oversights.  Although the author provides excellent appendices on his corpuses, a list of conceptual metaphors analyzed in the book, and a general index, cited authors are not included in any of the indices, a strange fact given the excellence of the scholarship throughout the book.  Also, there is an inconsistent use of italics in examples of metaphors.  In most cases, the conceptual metaphors being analyzed are italicized in quotations from the corpus while in other cases there are no italics. More substantively, in the chapter on Margaret Thatcher, Charteris-Black compares her to Boudica but never gives a background on the Celtic warrior, nor does he make explicit how Thatcher compared to Boudica.  Perhaps British readers are more familiar with both Thatcher and Boudica but Americans may have to do a bit of research to understand the relationship between the two as I had to do.

Finally, I also found it odd that Charteris-Black uses a theory of metaphor analysis called blending theory without citing any references for its origin.  I assume he is referring to the theories proposed by Fauconnier and Turner (2002) or the nice summary of the theory in Koveces (2004) but he does not mention either.  Despite this omission, he makes great use of blending theory and, while although a bit cumbersome to explain, promises to be a very useful way to explain metaphors.  No one quite understands how citizens understand political metaphors, using blended theory may be a way to fine tune our analyses of metaphor usage.

Overall, Politicians and Rhetoric is a great addition to our study of metaphors in politics.  Charteris-Black shows a masterful understanding of classical and modern rhetoric, metaphor analysis and current political machinations of skilled orators. It is essential reading for any student of English, linguistics, or political science.

Next time:  Obama and the ISIS Crisis

Metaphors of Tools

There have two distinct metaphors of tools in the news lately: the word tool itself and the phrase to ratchet up something.  The word tool came up a few weeks ago when it was announced that David Gregory was no longer going to be the host of Meet the Press.  In fact, yesterday was the first day for the new host, Chuck Todd.  David Gregory was the host of the news show for seven years and by some accounts did a fine job.  However, ratings were dropping and he was removed.  Moreover, many people on the Internet, mostly Democrats, were extremely critical of him, often calling him a tool, implying that he was being used by the GOP and that he was not critical enough of his Republican guests and their political positions.

blog - tools - wrench shadowThe usage of the word tool in this metaphorical sense indicates a person who is being used by someone else.  The Urban Dictionary describes the meaning even more harshly, indicating that a tool is a person who does even have the mental capacity to know he or she is being used.  I think this is an unfair criticism of David Gregory.  Regardless of his interview abilities, the guests and talking points are most likely dictated by the producers and corporate sponsors of the Meet the Press, not the host.  Regardless of Gregory’s interview skills, he has been roundly criticized on the Internet.  Here is just one blunt example.

Example:  “David Gregory is a tool.” (Daily Kos, June 22, 2014).

blog - tools - ratchetThe other tool metaphor common in the news lately is to ratchet up something.  When the young black man, Michael Brown, was killed by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9 of this year, many journalists reported that the police force had to ratchet up their presence in Ferguson in response to widespread protests by the local people angered about the death. A ratchet is a type of wrench for tightening or loosening nuts and bolts.  It has gears that prevent it from turning in the opposite direction that one is working.  When tightening something, the more one uses the ratchet, the tighter the nut or bolt becomes.  Figuratively, to ratchet up something means to increase it in gradual steps or degrees.

Example:  “The calls for Obama to take a leading role in this drama seem likely to ratchet up this week, with protests spinning out of control in the St. Louis suburb and Obama briefly interrupting his vacation to return to Washington for meetings.” Newsnet5, August 18, 2014.

Here are a few more examples of metaphors of tools used in American newspapers and magazines, TV and radio broadcasts, and Internet news sources.


Most of us are familiar with household tools such as hammers, saws, drills, and rakes, along with nails, screws and bolts for attaching parts of metal or wood together.  The concept of tools has led to many metaphors of fixing or repairing.  Instead of physical objects, tools can be any strategy, plan or action that helps one achieve a goal.

policy tool or planning tool

Government officials can use specific strategies for achieving a fiscal or military goal. These strategies are sometimes referred to as policy or planning tools.

Example:  Raising taxes is one policy tool that the government can use to reduce the deficit.

blog - tools - tool boxrecruiting tool

Governments can also use strategies to recruit people for governmental or military service. These methods may be known as recruiting tools.

Example:  Terrorist organizations sometimes use American military actions around the world as recruiting tools to train new terrorists.


When a factory updates its equipment to improve its production, this is known as retooling the plant.  Metaphorically, any changes made to a process can be called a retooling.

Example:  For the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama had to retool his campaign strategies to earn the votes of progressives that had supported him in 2008.

blog - tools - scalpelsinstrument

Another word for tool is instrument especially when referring to specialized tools for science and medicine.  The word instrument can also be used metaphorically to refer to any method of measuring steps in a process or to achieve a goal.

Example:  The U.S. Constitution has proven to be an excellent instrument of preventing the government from abusing the civil rights of the American people.


The adjective form of instrument is instrumental. Metaphorically, something or someone can be instrumental in accomplishing a goal if they are very useful or helpful in the process.

Example:  Harry S Truman was instrumental in ending World War II by 1945.

well equipped, ill equipped

Factory workers, mechanics or repairpersons need a specific set of tools to do the jobs they are trying to do.  If they have the right tools, we might say that they are well equipped to do the job.  If not, we say that they are ill equipped.

Example:  Some Americans thought that Sarah Palin’s lack of experience in the federal government made her ill equipped to become Vice President in 2008.

blog - tools - axe 2unwieldy

Some tools such as shovels and axes are very heavy and difficult to use or wield in a work situation.  When a tool is difficult to lift or swing, we may say that it is unwieldy.  Metaphorically, a process or policy may be unwieldy if it is difficult to implement.

Example:  Consisting of thousands of pages, the U.S. government’s tax codes are very unwieldy for Congress to regulate.


A hammer is a powerful tool used to pound in nails in building houses and other wooden structures. The action of hammering is used metaphorically to describe any forceful and repetitive action as in reporters hammering away questions at people.

Example:  Some critics have hammered Joe Biden for being outspoken and making errors when he is giving speeches.

blog - tools - sledgehammersledgehammer

A sledgehammer is a very large, heavy hammer used to break apart concrete or wooden structures.  Metaphorically, to sledgehammer something means to destroy it completely.

Example:  Some military dictators around the world take a sledgehammer to civil rights in their countries and arrest and detain anyone they please.

make one’s mark on

When one uses a heavy tool such as a hammer, the action makes a mark or dent on the surface of the material that is struck.  In a figurative phrase, to make one’s mark on something means that the person has made a lasting contribution or had an effect on a cultural or political process.

Example:  John F. Kennedy made his mark on progressive Democratic policies in his short term as president in the early 1960s.

Drills and Needles

full bore

Drills are used for making or boring holes in wood or metal.  The word bore has come to mean the size of a tube that is used in machines.  In a combustion engine a carburetor running wide open (as fast as possible) is said to be operating at full bore.  Metaphorically, anything that is done with great effort may be described as being full bore.

Example:  Presidential candidates often come out with full-bore assaults on their opponents in the last few weeks of the campaign.

small bore

In an opposite sense, a device with a small bore lacks power.  If a gun or rifle has a small-bore barrel, it can only shoot small bullets so cannot be very powerful.  Figuratively, any action, statement or idea that is weak may be described as being small bore.

Example:  Conservatives may accuse liberals of having small-bore ideas when it comes to reducing the deficit since the liberals like to increase spending for social programs.

blog - tools - needleneedle

A needle is a small, sharp instrument used in sewing.  Figuratively, to needle a person means to tease, mock or ask him or her many repeated questions.

Example:  Newspaper reporters often needle politicians on important issues to get the most information as possible for their articles.

move the needle

Needle is also the name of a small piece of metal in machines used to measure the strength or pressure of something.  For example, a loud noise will move the needle of sound recording equipment.  Figuratively, saying an action moves the needle means that it has made a large increase in the amount of something.

Example:  In a political campaign, thousands of small donations barely move the needle while a huge corporate donation can make a big difference in the campaign funds.

Other Tools

blog - tools - rakerake in

A rake is a common garden tool for collecting leaves and other yard debris.  In a common metaphor, collecting lots of money in sales or campaign donations is called raking it in.

Example:  In most presidential campaigns, the candidates rake in millions of dollars in donations.

blog - tools - keykey issues

We all use keys in our daily lives to open locked doors.  The concept of a key being something important is one of the most common of all English metaphors.  In politics, important problems can be called key issues. We can also speak of key states, key districts, key cabinet posts, etc.

Example:  American voters like to hear candidates discuss the key issues during presidential debates.


A rivet is a small bolt used to connect two sheets of metal.  Sheets that are riveted together are firmly attached to each other.  In a figurative phrase, something that is riveting is very interesting or fascinating to a viewer or listener.

Example:  Martin Luther King, Jr. was famous for his riveting and inspiring speeches on civil rights.

lightning rod

A lightning rod is a metal device placed on a roof of a building to absorb any lightning strikes instead of the lightning going into the building. Figuratively a lightning rod is any person who seems to be the focus of controversy wherever he or she goes.

Example:  As soon as Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan for his running mate prior to the 2012 presidential election, Ryan became the lightning rod for all Democratic criticisms against the Republican budget proposals.

cobble together

To cobble means to repair something quickly and ineffectively.  Metaphorically, to cobble together something form a makeshift alliance of people or combination of ideas.

Example:  Presidential candidates may try to cobble together a coalition of minority voters to try to help them win the election.

blog - tools - whipMinority Whip

A whip is a long braided piece of leather used to make horses or farm animals work harder or run faster.  In a strange metaphor from the British Parliament, a person who is in charge of maintaining order among the members of the minority party is known as the minority whip.

Example:  Normally it is the job of the Minority Whip in the House of Representatives to rally the members of Congress to support the party’s national policies.

Next time: Book Review – Politicians and Rhetoric

Book Review: Metaphors in International Relations Theory

Today I would like to share the first of several book reviews.  In the process of researching metaphors for my book in the past few years, I have read many brilliant scholarly works.  One of the books I have enjoyed the most is one entitled Metaphors in International Relations Theory by Michael P. Marks (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).   Professor Marks teaches political science at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and has published several books on international relations.  I must admit that I do not have much training or experience in political science, much less international relations theory.  However, I would like to offer a few comments with regard to Professor Marks’ analysis of the metaphors used in international relations.

Marks book

The book consists of nine chapters.  The first four chapters provide an excellent background to the complexity of international relations. The next two chapters consist of analyses of two common topic areas: power and international security.  The following chapter details how game theory is used to create metaphors to describe international politics. The final two chapters summarize how metaphors are actually changing how experts understand international relations.

In the introductory chapter Marks claims, “…a major contention of this study is that the generally accepted paradigms that are used to analyze international relations are built on metaphorical imagery that provides the very theoretical propositions these paradigms use to hypothesize and make predictions about international affairs” (p. 4).  He goes on to provide an excellent summary of research on metaphors.  Building on the seminal work of Lakoff and Johnson (e.g. Metaphors We Live By, 1980, and other great works), Marks demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the conceptual metaphor model and applies this knowledge to a very detailed analysis of political metaphors throughout the book.

The bulk of the book is dedicated to showing how conceptual metaphors are commonly used in international relations.  Marks gives many examples such as using personification to describe a state as in “yesterday France vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution” (p. 50) or talking about the “balance of power” between two nations as if they are on a scale (p. 82).  The most fascinating chapter is one dedicated to metaphors of international security, specifically war and terrorism.  Marks provides detailed analyses of common metaphors such as the “Cold War” “hawks and doves” and “sheriffs and cowboys” among many others. He also explains how we routinely have “wars” on every social problem such as the “war on drugs” or the “war on terrorism.”  Marks also includes a chapter on game theory metaphors, explaining how experts in international relations analyze political decisions in terms of games such as the “prisoner’s dilemma” or “chicken.”

In the penultimate chapter, Marks gives a brief summary of how metaphors were used throughout history to describe politics and international relations.  He notes that in the Middle Ages, nations were described as places on a map “occupying a space relative to the divine forces of the universe” (p. 162).  Starting in the 17th century, political theories were modeled after machines (following the invention of mechanical devices of the time) and people were described as being influenced by the social and political transformations of the era as if they were part of a clockwork mechanism.  In the 18th century, machine metaphors were replaced by biological metaphors, representing the dynamic political changes that were happening at the time such as the French Revolution.  These biological metaphors led in the 19th century to such common phrases as the “society of nations” or the “community of states” (p. 166).  More recent metaphors include describing international relations as the “world” or the “web” with “dark corners” and “dark shadows.”

Marks concludes the book by summarizing the importance of metaphors in international relations.  He argues that although many theorists are not even aware of their metaphor usage, their metaphors influence the way other experts and the general public think about the issues at hand.  Marks claims, “the state of theorizing any given moment in the field of international relations is a direct reflection of the metaphorical language that is shared among scholars at that time” (p. 189).

It is difficult for me to pass judgment on the entirety of the book.  Not having a background in politics or international relations, I cannot comment on the accuracy of his descriptions of political theories.  However, having studied metaphors for about 30 years, I was quite impressed with Marks’ knowledge of metaphors.  I am always impressed when scholars from other fields show mastery of such a difficult subject.  Marks certainly does this throughout the book.

My quibbles with the book are few.  I was a little confused in his chapter on game theory.  He did not spend a great deal of time explaining the prisoner’s dilemma game and how it is applied to international relations.  In fact, my only frustration with the book was that Marks provided great examples of metaphors in international relations, but he did not always provide examples of how these metaphors were used in real-life political decisions or events.  For example, how has the “war on terrorism” influenced U.S. foreign policy since the Bush administration?  Or how could the “balance of power” metaphor be used to explain the endless battles between Israel and Palestine? Perhaps that is expecting too much from one book.  Marks bemoans the fact that no one has written a thorough history of political metaphors.  I would love to see Professor Marks write such a book, giving examples of how metaphors have influenced policies and world events throughout history.  I definitely look forward to his next book.

In the meantime, linguists and political scientists would both benefit a great deal from reading Michael Marks’ Metaphors in International Relations Theory.  If you are interested, check your local bookstores for a copy or order it online.

 Next time:  Metaphors of Tools