Fish Stories: Changing the way we talk about the War on Terror

By: Paul A. Ibbetson

I am a fisherman. I guess you could say that I was bitten by the “fishing bug” as a child and it never let go. If this has happened to you then you know that each year fishermen around the country get that special calling, almost like an internal instinct that kicks in, to break out the tackle and head to that special lake, pond, or river. For me, I’m called to the ponds of Kansas, locations which I will never disclose, where the bass are dark green, large, and feisty. I’m called to the water each year when the world starts turning green, you know, when the smell of cut grass hits your nose and the crickets and cicadas start playing their evening serenade. While my line seems to hit the water less and less each season, the undeniable yearly urge never diminishes.

One thing I learned early in my fishing career was the existence of the fish story. The fish story is created and continues to exist in any place where at least one lure is sold and two people meet. There are endless variations to the fish story but they often contain common elements which include the following: the perfect day, the perfect lure, the perfect placement, the perfect strike, the perfect fight, and the perfect landing of a lunker.

Let me say from the beginning that the fish story is not a lie, not exactly. The fish story is more accurately described as a glorified version of the truth. That is, there is most often not only an embellishment of the facts, but also an omission of certain details that make the story less appealing. For example, often it’s omitted that the perfect weather conditions for fishing only started after three hours of standing in the rain. The use of the perfect lure may exclude the fact that it was only tried after half the lures in the tackle box were on the bottom of the pond or permanent Christmas ornaments in the nearby trees. One of the worst things about the fish story is that it can never be repeated in practice; however, the sad thing is that we all try. Everybody wants the grand results as told in the fish story but we forget that we are following a very imperfect accounting of the facts. In the end, trying to emulate the fish story leaves most mosquito bitten, baitless, and angry.

There is obviously a world of difference between fishing and the war on terror; however, they both share one thing in common, an abundance of fish stories. These stories are created and reproduced by both the left and the right and all are counterproductive to the war effort. On the right, there is a tendency at times to avoid fully disclosing that the war on terror suffers from what all wars do, and that is an abundance of mistakes. More boots on the ground from the conflicts start probably would have been a better strategy. Not allowing the huge amount of post-conflict looting and infrastructure damage is but one more example of changes that would have probably been implemented if we could do things all over again. I’m not saying that there should be a daily self-chastising by the government but when the running account of the war purposely avoids the downsides to what is happening, you’re hearing a fish story.

While the right should be wary against creating fish stories, the left should be warned against demanding that the country live and conduct war in one. The left is notorious for demanding that every aspect of the war run within the perfect environment of the fish story or it’s time to get out! Meanwhile the actual fish story that the left constructs, and wishes the country follow is created not in an idyllic vision of how we win, but how we must inevitably lose. One of the fish stories that the left loves, which has to be seen as one of the “whoppers” surrounding the war on terror, are the various yarns that entail the line of thinking that if we just run from our enemies, they surely will not follow.

When we cut through the embellishments and the omissions, we are left with several facts that seem very different from the standard fish stories told by many on both the left and right. They include the following:

1) Mistakes have been, and will continue to be made in this war. To assume that a level of perfection will at some point be achieved is simply a fish story.
2) The U.S. military is a noble force that remains so even when a handful in the ranks falls from grace.
3) The war in Iraq is a worthy effort that serves the interest of American security as well as the furtherance of democracy.
4) It’s a war we can win or lose
5) For the war in Iraq to be successful, the Iraqis must step forward and defend their right to be free. We cannot do that for them.
6) Until the war on Iraq, and for that matter the war on terror is over, America will always be at its strongest when united in a common cause. Anyone who tells you that the caustic division over how to protect the nation is a positive thing is telling you the darkest of fish stories.

I sigh at times myself, along with a nation that is becoming war weary. It would be inaccurate to say that the country is weary of the need to secure the nation, but more weary of the loss of American soldiers that the television documents on a daily basis. Weary of a loss of normalcy that war brings to daily life. Most notably, Americans are weary of a lack of victory in this conflict. The concept of stalemates, deadlocks, and quagmires run completely counter to the American psyche. In short, America is a land of winners; anything short of victory is defeat. I feel that the U.S. is at a crossroads in the war on terror. We will either, reach down deep and get our second wind to continue what we started, or we will in fishing terms “cut bait”. I think that victory in Iraq is far too important for a wavering American resolve to be the factor that causes success in this highly volatile part of the world to be “the one that got away”. If Iraq is to become a free nation, a trophy on the mantle of democracy, it will be in part because the American people had the grit to weather the storms of doubt and despair that war always brings. The least any of us can do is speak the unvarnished truth about the challenge. The country would do well to have the fish stories end at the water’s edge.

Paul A. Ibbetson is a published author and lecturer on the Patriot Act. He is a former Chief of Police of Cherryvale, Kansas, and member of the Montgomery County Drug Task Force. Paul received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Criminal Justice at Wichita State University, and is currently completing his PhD. in sociology at Kansas State University. Paul is the author of the book “Living under the Patriot Act: Educating a Society” coming out in 2006, as well as director of the “Patriot Act Research Website”:

About The Author Paul A. Ibbetson:
Paul A. Ibbetson is a former Chief of Police of Cherryvale, Kansas, and member of the Montgomery County Drug Task Force. Paul received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Criminal Justice at Wichita State University, and his Ph.D. in Sociology at Kansas State University. Paul is the author of several books including the 2011 release “The Good Fight: Why Conservatives Must Take Back America.” Paul is also the radio host of the Kansas Broadcasting Association’s 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 award-winning radio program, Conscience of Kansas airing on KRMR The Patriot 105.7 FM, For interviews or questions, please contact him at

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