Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Naming of Wars

In a desperate bid to illustrate this piece of mine (that originally appeared in thefirstpost last week) I have resorted to the above image of a Hussar. It's a picture of the sort of soldier who might have fought in The War of Jenkins' Ear. OK, bit gay, I know. But still - "The War of Jenkins' Ear"? You have to admit that's a funky name for a war. Unlike "The War of the Northern Peace Shield".

Read on for an explanation.

What Do You Call A War?

It seems an arcane, peculiar and even pointless argument. But it is vexing the Israeli government mightily.

What should be the official name for last year's conflict between the Jewish state and Hezbollah, in south Lebanon? So important is the debate, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has appointed a government commission, which this week reached a conclusion.

For some Israelis, simply calling it a 'war' is difficult. Because if the Israelis call it a war, they are admitting that Hezbollah somehow represents the Lebanese state - as only sovereign states can, theoretically, fight wars.

Yet this argument hasn't worked. Because the brutal facts don't fit. Thousands died in last summer's hostilities, tens of thousands were made homeless, millions took shelter from the ceaseless bullets, shells, bombs, and missiles. It was a war.

Therefore, like all wars, it must be named. And this is where the argument gets heated. History is written by the victors, and some in Israel would like to win the war after the event - or at least spin the conflict favourably - by giving it a pointed title.

One proposal was the 'War of the Hostages'. This would underline the angry Israeli perception: that the conflict was kicked off by Hezbollah's kidnapping of an Israeli soldier (whose fate is still unknown).

Yet the idea didn't appeal to the commission. Similarly unpopular was another suggestion: the 'War of the Northern Peace Shield'. Perhaps the desperate clumsiness of the phrase was a problem here. The official title for the 1992 war with Lebanon was the 'War of the Peace of the Galilee'. And that never caught on, either.

In the end, the commission has bowed to simple logic. Last summer's fighting will henceforth be known as the 'Second Lebanon War'. Israeli officials strenuously deny that this name, in itself, pre-supposes more Lebanese wars to come.

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