The lexicon of war has suddenly parachuted into the nation's consciousness. A "sortie" is a Frenchy way of saying a round-trip flight by a single military aircraft. "Collateral damage" is the polite term for when civilians are killed by one of these sorties.
The professional jargon makes the war seem more orderly, more logical, more sensible. The naming of things, even things as awful as chemical weapons, gives us a way to discuss in polite company actions and events that border on the unspeakable.
What is not yet established in the public vocabulary is the name of this war. A war must have a name.
"I think we're just calling it 'the war' at the moment," says Charles Hanley, deputy managing editor of the Associated Press. "There has not been an edict."
ABC has started running a logo saying "The Gulf War." CNN's says "War in the Gulf." CBS has the slightly goofy logo "Showdown in the Gulf." The "Persian" modifier seems to be dropping out of sight as the media go for the drama of monosyllabism. The common denominator of almost all media coverage has been "Gulf," but the events of last night -- the bombing of Israel, a nation on the Mediterranean Sea -- has escalated the conflict beyond the Gulf theater. One can only pray it never earns the name World War III.
Saddam Hussein himself has come up with the most memorable name: "The Mother of Battles." But that's a bit baroque for Western tastes.
Speaking of names: What should Saddam Hussein be called on second reference? The New York Times calls him Mr. Hussein. The Washington Post and most other news organizations call him Saddam. George Bush also calls him Saddam, though we are informed that he butchers the pronunciation -- it should be Sah-DAHM, not, as the president says, with noticeable distaste, SAD-um.
When the dictator was a young lad his name was Saddam Hussein al-Takriti -- Saddam being his given name, Hussein being his father's name, and al-Takriti being the geographical name, meaning "of Takrit." Apparently there were so many al-Takritis in the Iraqi government that, embarrassed by the suggestion of nepotism, S.H. banned the used of "al-Takriti" or any other regional surname.
He also decided he prefers, on second reference, "Saddam," which means "one who confronts." This is convenient for the Western press, because it prevents confusion with King Hussein of Jordan. Moreover, the entire Arab world calls him by that name. In Baghdad there is a Saddam International Airport. Little schoolgirls in Iraq sing a song, "Saddam, Saddam, we will give our blood for you."
Rep. Henry Gonzalez (D-Tex.) has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives to impeach President Bush.
"This isn't frivolous," the 15-term congressman from San Antonio insisted.
His complaint is multipronged, starting with the disproportionate number of minorities in the military. He says Bush bribed members of the U.N. Security Council to receive their support. He says the air war uses weapons that will kill innocent civilians. He refers to Bush in his impeachment resolution as "a President who, believing he is king, decides for the country -- unilaterally -- that war is the answer."
Gonzalez told us, "Maybe the president won't come before the Congress to justify his policy, but he is sure going to have to justify it to Heaven and history, and there, I think, the impeachment issue is already decided."
Gonzalez, it should be noted, introduced an impeachment resolution against Ronald Reagan in 1987. Something to do with Nicaragua.
How do you write a headline for a story this huge?
WAR, said the Miami Herald.
WAR, said the N.Y. Daily News.
Both headlines were mammoth, centered in the page, stark. But neither compared in grandeur to the WAR! of the New York Post. The triumph of that notorious tabloid in the headline wars confirms that there is still some order in the world. The headline, if three letters and a piece of punctuation can be called that, rose 6 1/2 inches, with a breadth of 10 1/2 inches.
"This is the largest headline the Post has ever run," said Managing Editor Lou Colasuonno. "It's a short word, so you can really blow it up."
Put it this way: The words in this story are printed in 9.6-point type, a point being a unit of measurement equal to 1/72 of an inch. The lead headline on the front page of today's Washington Post is in 72-point type. Colasuonno's headline was 439 points.
"It's the ultimate headline," he said.
Even the gray, stuffy, inflexible Wall Street Journal limbered up a few old joints and broke with its traditional format, running a multi-column headline for only the third time in the last half century. The paper gave the stock market crash of 1987 two columns. And in 1952, the Journal gave two columns to a major scoop: Eisenhower had decided not to run for president.
Which, Journal spokesman Roger May notes somberly, "didn't turn out to be right."