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A Review of Five Words

I saw this on a car the other day.

On my very first reading, I saw only “HATE THE ENEMY”. It was a few seconds later before I was able to see the tiny “is” and “only” that had been designed to look like they were written in later, so that the bumper sticker read “HATE is THE only ENEMY” So my first impression was “Ugh”. When I finally saw the little print, I rolled my eyes.

It isn’t that there is something wrong with the message. It is a very good message, if a little incomplete. It is how it is delivered.

The marked in words are meant to say that we need to change. But the phrase “hate the enemy” is already a phrase that you can pretty much guarantee turns off everyone that is a part of American culture. And that is the first, and sometimes the only impact that any reader of that bumper sticker will get. The second reading of the phrase is equally cliché and obvious to any well bred American.

The bumper sticker speaks down to its readers, proclaiming the one in the car is allegedly free of hate, while other drivers have lessons that need to be learned.

But this bumper sticker also got me thinking: If hate is the only enemy, and I need to hate the enemy, can I hate HATE? What about someone who is a hater? Or should that be a case of hating the sin but not the sinner? Is there a difference in the acceptability of hating the hater if the hater is outside my culture, like a terrorist from the Middle East (that isn’t a terrorist, that’s a freedom fighter), or an American rightwing conservative hatemonger? How would the driver feel about me if I told her I was a conservative? What would she automatically assume about me, and why? She’s probably just a liberal commie who thinks she knows better than me how the world should work.

Do you see what I’m getting at? Such bumper stickers can only be inflammatory, except to a specific audience that believes the whole message: that most people need to be educated about who we should not be hating.

If you are really trying to get the true message out, that “Hate is the only enemy”, then perhaps there is a better phrase for it. One that uses fewer words and allows for the fact that we might have enemies or at least people who consider us enemies whether we like it or not. One that is a little more proactive.

Maybe something like “Love thy enemy.” I kind of like the ring to that.

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