by Peter Byrne
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
—William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible."
—George Orwell, Politics and the English Language
(Swans - June 20, 2011) Students, patriots, veterans of campaigns subliminal and campaigns verbally over-the-top, I am going to call my lecture today Operation Gentle Zeus. In its course you will learn why I honor a Greek god known as the Thunderer with such a pacific epithet. My lecture concerns the unsung heroes of our war-for-peace nation. Let me begin by asking you a simple question. When you first heard that we fired Cruise missiles into Libya to save the innocent from massacre, how many of you immediately gave credit to the anonymous few who energized the endeavor? I thought so. You don't even know who they were. No, not the Central Intelligence Agency (please don't be uncouth) nor Royal Dutch Shell or ENI, the Italian Oil and Gas Corporation, (now you are being crudely materialistic).
Friends, I speak of the warrior poets who came up with the name of the Libyan operation, Odyssey Dawn. Not one of you thought of them. Only a few insiders -- and they are not here but in Washington -- could have answered my question and they would have been too aware of the Espionage Act of 1917 to open their mouths.
Yet you are all educated Americans and ought to know that our glorious republic could not have billowed forth into an empire of peace without the contribution of the greatest admen the world has ever seen. Instead, in your naïve self-confidence -- don't get me wrong, your ignorance is innocent -- this is how you see the process that led to Operation Odyssey Dawn:
A couple of relaxed and sleepy males have their elbows on a conference table. When their female secretary comes in they straighten up and one clicks his tongue in her direction. The other stares blankly at a no-smoking sign. The first puts his shoes back on and begins to snap his fingers. The sound is a dull thudding at first, but the tempo increases until finally an inspirational snapping pervades the room.
"I see it," says the inspired one, "The sun rising over the Mediterranean Sea."
The other drops his stare, "Rebirth?"
"Yeah," comes the answer, "what could be more positive save twins."
"We keep it Greco-Roman, classical."
"That old chestnut, The Sword of Achilles?"
"Ouch!! That's bloodthirsty."
"Okay, why not Sheathed-Sword Sunrise?"
"Those Ss hiss like a rattlesnake and a sword is sharp even in a sheath. But early in the morning is good."
"I got it, Homeric Dawn."
"Never. It sounds like a Homoerotic Morning After."
"Wait a second, hear this, Odyssey Dawn!"
"I'll buy that though it's hard to spell."
"Let's open the window for a smoke."
Fellow Americans, flag-wavers, counterterrorists, it's not done like that at all. Our creative officers hold PhD's in advertising science. If they don't wear suits and ties, they dress according to the established office conventions of the moment. They are all non-smokers and feminists. They are also the latest link in a long tradition that I want to put before you.
Looking back to the pioneering days of World War II, we note an aristocratic tinge in Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. The British still had weight in 1944. But our own boys were on the right track. Operation Manhattan added the barrel-of-fun touch and George Gershwin charm to the project that would produce the atomic bomb.
We were, however, still feeling our way. Operation Torch designating the troop movement to North Africa was ambiguous. Were we going to bring the light of freedom or burn the place down? This unfortunate double sense continued with the invasion of Sicily. Operation Husky showed muscle but could have been the name of a specialized kennel. Operation Avalanche, the landing at Salerno, opened the way to the future: Not our little selves but a force of nature would be doing the damage henceforth. WWII ended with the anodyne Operation Olympic that never took place. Operation Manhattan, with a big bang, made the invasion of Japan unnecessary. Thus victory came to our wordmeisters.
But stay-at-home repose is not for a nation that fights for peace. Richard Nixon's contribution was well meant but not quite on target. Operation Linebacker, his intensive bombing of Northern Vietnam, did show his sporting side. However, like other of his efforts, it decidedly lacked that je ne sais quoi of grandeur.
Jimmy Carter went after the hostages in Iran in the right spirit. Some say Operation Eagle Claw failed abominably, and one has to admit it sounds a tad vicious. The breakthrough would come with Ronald Reagan. Operation Urgent Fury struck the right note when he closed in on a half-dozen Castroites in Grenada. We were plenty mad but not showing our talons. Then All-American Ronny went for gold and dropped bombs on Gaddafi's family in Operation El Dorado Canyon. Notice how the whiff of Movieland softened the body count. Our poets were hitting their stride.
Operation Just Cause underlined the righteousness of first President Bush when he was constrained to invade Panama to rid it of that scoundrel Manuel Noriega. Justice, not force was the watchword and self-defense too when he sent troops to Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Shield. Alas, that humane action shielded insufficiently and our verbal brain trust had to call on Mother Nature in a big way. Operation Desert Storm blew Bush Senior right into Iraq on his noble crusade against a mustachioed ogre.
Not an easy act to follow, I hear you murmur. But our President Clinton was no slouch and he actually offered his own creative input to the experts who came up with Operation Infinite Reach for his obliteration of an empty aspirin factory in the Sudan. Smiling Bill felt the pain of ordinary folks and he shed a tear when the operational admen handed him the name Operation Restore Hope for his, pessimists say, hopeless incursion into Somalia.
But there are evil people out there and some of them were Serbs. That same President Clinton turned a stern eye toward the Balkans and the warriors of the word complied by excogitating Operation Noble Anvil and it was bombs away once more. But were our sloganeers never stumped, never wrong? There's no heroism without setbacks. Theirs came in 2001 when President Bush Junior went to Afghanistan to teach the Taliban manners. The name Operation Infinite Justice was a too generous interpretation of presidential power. God, his followers decided, wouldn't appreciate it. A substitute was supplied in haste and Operation Enduring Freedom -- it endures still, surge after surge -- took verbal wing into adman's heaven. That same President Bush Junior kept closer to the ground in his 2003 invasion of Iraq with Operation Iraqi Freedom. He liked things simple.
And so my fellow Americans of all stripes of political correctness, you have accompanied me down the trail of benevolent words along the humanitarian way and we have circled back to that masterwork of concision Operation Odyssey Dawn. With it our young president, impelled by a bad case of nerves, invested his own mite of altruism. May the Founders watch over him and out prayers enhance his eloquence.
You ask (I can hear you) what of Operation Gentle Zeus? I confess with a blush that it's my own modest contribution to the poetry of world order. How proud I would be to lend it to some operation that called for both deference and thunderbolts. Yemen? Pakistan? The world is so large and inviting. God bless America.
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