Middle Israel: The secret protocols of the war-name committee
'It is hard to find a satisfactory "official" name for the war.' World War US president Wilson said once.
By AMOTZ ASA-EL
Naming people often begins pompously and ends farcically. How many marriages began with darling, honey and sweetheart only to end with witch, bitch or klafte?
The same can happen with wars.
For instance, what began as the elegant, 48-hour "Peace for Galilee" cruise later became an 18-year drowning in the Lebanese quagmire, and what was initially celebrated as the War to End All Wars - the one that killed a mere 10 million people - proved to have been but a prelude to a war five times as deadly.
Obviously, that unfortunate turn of events, besides bringing mankind to the brink of extinction, also created a terrible war-name problem, as the War to End All Wars had not ended all wars after all, and the Great War's 10 million fatalities, with all due respect, no longer sufficed to render a war great; there was a greater one.
Fortunately, that particular war begged a substantive, catchy and lasting name and what it got already in 1919, while flawed, only needed modifying to survive what followed it. "It is hard to find a satisfactory 'official' name for the war," wrote a frustrated Woodrow Wilson to secretary of war Newton Baker, "but the best, I think, that has been suggested is 'the World War.'"
This week the Olmert government conceded that it is also hard to find a satisfactory name for its own war, the one that other than its branding problem has been remarkably satisfying, at least in the eyes of its prime minister.
MOST WAR names avoid value judgment.
Some indicate - pardon the oxymoron - a war's theater, whether as nouns, as in the Vietnam War or Afghanistan War, or as adjectives, as in the Korean, Algerian or Crimean wars. Other names tell a war's duration, as in the Six Day, Seven Years, Thirty Years or Hundred Years wars, and others detail a war's combatants, as in the Russo-Japanese, Iran-Iraq or Franco-German wars. Others specify a date, like 1812, Ramadan or Yom Kippur, and yet others a generic batch, as in the Colonial, Crusader or Balkan wars.
Of course, even such ostensibly mechanical choices can actually be judgmental. What to the British comes naturally as the Falklands War is to the Argentineans the Malvinas War, what to us is the Yom Kippur War is to the Egyptians the October War and what to everyone else is World War II has been to the Soviet Union - its largest victim - the Great Patriotic War.
One can therefore not blame the Israeli government for having initially tried to altogether deny that last summer's war was a war. Why even approach this jungle of ambiguities, subtexts and postmodernisms, it asked?
Alas, as with so many other issues, the more the ministers escaped this prickly matter, the more it haunted them. As the enclosed protocol indicates, when the war-name debate finally commenced, it was conducted almost as professionally as the war itself.
"WHO SAYS this was a war?" asked the minister of health, sifting through voluminous dictionaries, none of which said expressly that the wholesale unleashing of rockets, planes, gunships, tanks, artillery batteries and infantry brigades for six straight weeks, during which hundreds of people are killed, thousands of homes are razed and hundreds of thousands are displaced, actually constitutes a war.
"Anyhow," said the minister of tourism, "wars can also be abstract, as in 'war of the sexes,' or proverbial, as in the Wars of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, or altogether fictional, as in The War of the Worlds." The minister of justice noted that regular wars involve two governments. "Our whatever-it-was," he then punch-lined, "was against an organization, so how could it be a war?"
"People," said the cabinet secretary, "you're all correct, but that, er, clash, must be given a name, for legal and bureaucratic reasons, not to mention the bereaved families' pressure; they insist this was a war."
"Clearly, they know something we don't," said the minister of communications.
"Ha," came a general sigh, "let's find a name and get it over with."
"It says here there once were the Wars of the Roses," said the minister of finance, amused by the poeticism, "how about the War of the Brave?"
"Right," said the minister of transportation wryly, "how about the War of the Clueless?"
"Hey," said the interior minister, "if they had the Napoleonic Wars how about the Olmert War?"
"Right," said the minister for strategic threats, "only problem is we had two Napoleons in this war, and this is not counting Nasrallah."
"Yeah," said the minister for national broadcasting, doing his best not to crack up, "someone this morning on the radio suggested we call it the War of the Odd Couple."
"Mario Vargas Llosa has a book titled The War of the End of the World, said the minister of education, "how about we go with the War of the End of Our Rule?"
"Man," said the minister of pensions wiping his glasses and yawning, "once, when I was tapping cigars with Fidel, he told me of this Cuban dude who wrote a book titled A War of Time; so how about A Time of War? This way we admit it was a war, like they want, but keep it vague, like we want."
"Vague my mustache," retorted the minister of defense, "I want clarity; heck, if Moshe Dayan could have his Six Day War why can't I have my Six Week War?"
"That can be confusing," said the foreign minister didactically.
The defense minister, who in the aftermath of a shouting match with his advisers earlier that morning grudgingly abandoned his original idea of War of the Classes, now protested to the foreign minister: "But confusion is what we came to do here!"
"Right," whispered the foreign minister, "but some people, instead of forgetting what we did to them in '06, might actually forget what our parents did to the enemy in '67."
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