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Mideast Press Tries to Name the War

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A war by any other name would still be a war, but wars do acquire names and sometimes that takes time. The American Civil War wasn't commonly called that until the early 20th Century. During the war it was known as the Rebellion or Mr. Lincoln's war. And afterwards, it was The War Between The States or The War of Northern Aggression - depending on who was doing the talking.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The same holds true with the latest conflict in the Middle East. It's still recent and there is not agreement on what it should be called. Nadia Belbase(ph) is a Senior Correspondent with al-Arabiya Television.

Ms. NADIA BELBASE (al-Arabiya): Up to yesterday we were using the Arabic word (speaking foreign language), which is the hot summer. We decided to change it and we call it The War of the 33 Days, which is not really as catchy.

SIEGEL: She says the rival network, al-Jazeera, is calling this summer's conflict in Lebanon The 6th War and Jordan's Alarehe(ph) newspaper expands that phrase to the Arab Israeli 6th War.

But other Arab media aren't so neutral. Nadia Belbase told us that she has read or heard such titles as The War on Lebanon or the latest Israeli aggression or the Hezbollah War.

BLOCK: Israeli's are also dividend on a name.

Mr. GIL HOFFMAN (Jerusalem Post): Officially we just refer to it as the Israel Military Operations in Lebanon. In conversation people call The 2nd Lebanon War.

BLOCK: That's Gil Hoffman, political reporter for the Jerusalem Post. He says Israelis also used a familiar acronym from the past.

Mr. HOFFMAN: The official name that Israel called the first Lebanon war, was The War for Peace in the Galilee, which actually was abbreviated by the first letters in Hebrew, which spelled the word for SNOW. And so there were radio reporters that talked to generals about The 2nd SNOW.

SIEGEL: Jay Winter is a Professor of History at Yale and author of Remembering War. He's got a clear favorite.

Mr. JAY WINTER (Yale University): Second Lebanon War is the name that I'd bet on.

SIEGEL: Winter says wars tend to be named by the media and by the people who fight them. Location, duration and place in history are big influences. Think of the first Gulf War or the Hundred Years War. And though Arabs and Israelis tend to chose different names for their conflicts - what Israelis call The War of Independence is known to the Arab world as the catastrophe - Winter thinks the 2nd Lebanon War will ultimately stick for both cultures.

MR. WINTER: Naming is a moral act, too. You'll find people trying to get value judgments using the word aggression or whatever, but it won't last because of the slipperiness of the language. You need something simple, you need something catchy and you need something that can be abbreviated. And The 2nd Lebanon War has all of that.

BLOCK: But the 2nd Lebanon War is not a satisfying name for Hanna Ambar(ph) Publisher of the Beirut Star. He says it ignores his countries other conflicts.

Mr. HANNA AMBAR (Beirut Star): You know we haven't even thought of it yet. It's not history yet.

BLOCK: Ambar says he doesn't know which name will stick, but he hopes this war will ultimately be called The Last War. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.