The reading wars are alive and well - see for yourself in this New York Magazine article, A is for Apple, B is for Brawl. "To phonics advocates, whole language...lacks rigor and standards. On the other hand, "whole language proponents, in turn, say phonics perpetuates authoritarian, patronizing 'drill and kill' strategies that insult the art of teaching."
So what do you see when you look into the brains of people learning how to read? It's not a simple matter - learning to read requires recognizing the sound of words (phonics), the visual appearance of words (whole word), and meaning.
This shouldn't be a big surprise. So why the war? It isn't not either-or. Phonics, whole word, and semantics are all necessary. But what may be more important in real life- is figuring out how a particular child may be struggling or thriving with component of reading.
Some kids naturally discriminate the sounds in words quite well - so that they don't have to learn phonics rules to pronounce them (e.g. they pick it up by ear and by matching words in a book). On the other hand, others may excel at word recognition or definitions, but may struggle with sounding out.
More customization is needed in reading instruction - maybe that will be the best way to end the reading wars?
Reading Requires Seeing, Hearing, and Meaning
A is for Apple, B is for Brawl: Why New York's Reading Wars Are So Contentious