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In the crowded world of Washington think tankery, eggheads need every advantage they can get. So it’s only natural that two of Washington’s most bellicose think tanks have been feuding for more than a year over which of them can use just three words as their motto. Now the dispute’s headed to the only two places a dispute this thorny can be settled: federal court, and Wikipedia.

The prize here is “Peace Through Strength,” a phrase made famous by Ronald Reagan. The antagonists are the similarly-named American Security Council Foundation and the Center for Security Policy, both based in D.C. The ASCF has trademarked “Peace Through Strength” and wants the CSP to stop using it, but so far, the CSP hasn’t budged.

Things heated up in May 2011, when ASCF president Dr. Henry A. Fischer sent CSP president Frank Gaffney a passive-aggressive letter mentioning their shared concerns (Iran, China, “the ever increasing Muslim population growth in Europe”)—-and oh, by the way, that’s our slogan.

“I would like to give you an update on the issues we are concentrating on as a band of like minded brothers,” Fischer wrote, while making sure to plaster every mention of “Peace Through Strength” with registered trademark marks.

Proving that they really believe in peace through strength, ASCF soon hired mega law firm Holland & Knight, which sent Gaffney a cease-and-desist. That apparently didn’t work, because the ASCF filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Gaffney and his think tank last week.

The CSP isn’t talking about the lawsuit, but through Gary James, ASCF’s direction of operations, I was able to get a brief statement from ASCF chairman, retired brigadier general Donald B. Smith. Alas, most of Smith’s brief statement was a quote about “peace through strength” from Reagan (complete with him saying, against linguistic logic, the little registered trademark sign!).

The ASCF’s registered trademark mania has also spread to Wikipedia, where the entry for “Peace Through Strength” is drenched in trademark symbols and ASCF references. Interestingly, most of the trademark symbols were added in late August by Wikipedia user “Gjames775,” which looks a lot like an abbreviated version of “Gary James,” the name of ASCF’s director of operations! When I asked James if he’s been editing Wikipedia lately,  he declined to comment.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons used under a Creative Commons license