1. we have waged a war against smog.
  2. we have waged a war on smog.

If I want to figuratively convey the message we have started to tackle air pollution, smog in particular, which preposition should I choose?

Another question: if the war is fought to ensure we can always see blue skies, can I say we have staged a war for blue skies?


If you check on Google Books Ngram Viewer, you will see that the expressions war on and war against are just about equally popular.

In my experience, war on is used typically for popular campaigns such as war on waste, war on plastic and war on drugs. In each of these war is being used as a metaphor for a campaign linked to ecology, pollution or health concerns.

War against is used mainly for actual wars in which one nation, tribe or group fights against another.

Sometimes the distinction is blurred. For example, one can choose whether a campaign to eradicate mosquitoes is a war on or a war against the pests.

As far as smog is concerned, you can wage a war on the causes but hardly on smog itself (except as a popular catch-phrase) and certainly not against it.


  • Well explained! Oh I have another question: if the war are fought to get blue skies, can I say we fight a war for blue skies? – Mike Philip Dec 16 '18 at 13:26
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    Yes, it's both grammatical and idiomatic, using war to mean a campaign. – Ronald Sole Dec 16 '18 at 13:28
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    Declaring a "war on X" when you really need a "war" against the causes of X is a long tradition going back at least to the War on Poverty. A "war on smog" seems to me to fit that pattern. – David K Dec 16 '18 at 14:13

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