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War Names

Now that the fighting in Lebanon has ended, at least for the time being, what shall we call it? Israel’s five-week war with Hizbullah does not have a name yet — or, rather, it has many, none of which is clearly in the lead.

Wars may take years, or even decades, to get their permanent titles. World War I, for instance, was widely known until 1939 as the Great War, a name that had to be discarded when an even greater war broke out. Similarly, the term American Civil War, although coming straight out of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether [this] nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure”), did not gain much currency until the early 20th century. When the North-South war broke out in 1861, it was commonly referred to in the North as the Rebellion and in the South as the War of Southern Independence, and the most common name for it in the late 19th century was the War Between the States.

Other wars get instant names that tend to stick: The Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War are both examples of this, although neither is recognized in the Arab world (which calls the latter the Ramadan War), and some historians are eager to stress their neutrality by speaking of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. And there are still other wars for which alternate versions of the same name coexist. Is it the Second World War or World War II? The Vietnam War or the War in Vietnam? Both.

Here, in any case, are some of the current contenders for July and August’s fighting in Lebanon:

• The Hizbullah War. “94 Israelis Killed in Hizbullah War,” was a headline in the August 7 Jerusalem Post. The August 17 Chicago Sun-Times informed readers, “Tens of thousands of Israelis sweated out the Hezbollah War in bomb shelters.” (Of the two common English spellings, “Hizbullah” and “Hezbollah,” the former is closer to the Arabic h.izb allah, “the party of God,” in which the first “a” of allah is pronounced more like the “u” of “but.”)

• The War Against Hizbullah. This has turned up in The Christian Science Monitor and in The Guardian, among other publications. In the August 16 issue of The Guardian, for example, we read: “The war against Hizbullah has leveled the political landscape of Israel almost as completely as it has the physical landscape of southern Lebanon.”

• The Israel-Hizbullah War. Newspapers using this term include both The Jerusalem Post, once again, and Lebanon’s Al Balad.

• The Second Lebanese War. This is to distinguish this summer’s hostilities from the First Lebanese War that broke out with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. According to journalist Katherine Zoepf, writing in The New York Observer on August 7, this term has been used widely in Syria. Yet it can be found in pro-Israel circles, too, such as in the Council of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ Daily News Alert From Israel, where it appeared August 22.

• The Second War in Lebanon. A variation on the previous name, this has surfaced in such places as the English editions of the Hebrew newspapers Ha’aretz (August 17) and Yediot Aharonot (August 10).

• Operation Change of Direction. This was the official Israeli army code name for the campaign against Hizbullah, and it has been used almost exclusively by the Hebrew media. In Israel, indeed, there is something of a tradition of adopting such terms. The 1956 Sinai War is still often referred to by its army name of mivtsa kadesh, “the Kadesh Campaign,” and the first war in Lebanon is similarly often called milh.emet shlom ha-galil, “the Peace of Galilee War.” In the case of Operation Change of Direction, however, this is unlikely to happen, since the name already has taken on an ironic ring. As Ha’aretz columnist Amos Harel observed on the fighting’s final day: “Repetition of the facts may be tedious, but it is important to note them: Even on the 33d day of Operation Change of Direction in Lebanon, there has been no change of direction.”

Perhaps still more candidates will be added to the list. As things stand now, though, I’d put my money on “the Hizbullah War.” It’s snappier than the others, and more accurate than “the Second Lebanese War,” in part because the “The Lebanese War,” which in effect lasted from 1982 until the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, had many stages and phases that in themselves could be labeled The Second Lebanese War, The Third Lebanese War and so on. The only trouble with “The Hizbullah War” is that it, too, may not prove permanent. At the very least, it may have to be changed before too long to “the First Hizbullah War.”

Questions for Philologos can be sent to [email protected].

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