A Rose by Any Other Name

by Norman Horowitz

As a television executive, I have realized the value of selling things with more or less “catchy” or previously used titles. There were programs called “Poltergeist: The Series,” “The New Sea Hunt,” and “American Werewolf in London: The Series.” Words used to describe movies and television content matter, and they matter a lot.

I was on a cable panel about 30 years ago when I suggested that the television series “Happy Days” lived in the consciousness of the American public and that everyone who watched television at that time knew what it was. Names of things mattered then as they do today. Television people and politicians have long understood this.

I just loved it when the White House apologized for the President’s description of the campaign against terrorism as a “crusade.” For an encore, they renamed the campaign “Operation Infinite Justice,” a name that seemed to some Muslims to promise what only Allah could deliver.  

It has always amazed me that rape, incest, and murder are ho-hum events, while at the same time the media and the public go ape when what they consider to be an inappropriate word is used.

We redesigned the buildup “Operation Enduring Freedom,” a name that manages to be both grandiose and dangerously ambiguous. It’s also fascinating that we’re using “lovely words” to describe our intention, which is, as a rule, to kill people.

During World War II, operations bore names like Avalanche, Market Garden, Mulberry, and of course Overlord, the name personally selected by Winston Churchill for the Normandy invasion.

After the war, names like Overlord and Avalanche became household words, in addition to the names of many movies, from Operation Pacific to Operation Petticoat.

President Eisenhower sent the Marines to Lebanon in 1957 under the name “Operation Blue Bat,” and the military operations in Vietnam tended to have names like End-Sweep, Pocket Money, and Abilene.

One Korea operation was named “Killer,” and fifteen years later in Vietnam, General Westmoreland was forced to rename Operation Masher when President Johnson objected that the name didn’t reflect the administration’s “pacification emphasis.”

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Reaching a new level of chutzpah, the Reagan administration dubbed the invasion of Grenada “Operation Urgent Fury,” exemplifying how important a name can be in determining the public perception of a military action.

When the US sent troops to Panama in 1989, the Bush Administration named the operation “Just Cause.” While I can’t be certain, I think that they took the name from an issue of Batman comics.

Next came operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Restore Hope in Somalia, Uphold Democracy in Haiti, and operations in the Balkans that went by names like Shining Hope, Determined Force, and Provide Promise. (“Provide” is a favorite element in these names. Since 1989, we have had operations called Provide Promise, Provide Refuge, Provide Hope, Provide Transition, Provide Comfort, and Provide Relief.)

Of course the broadcast networks struggle to find a unifying theme for their coverage: Assault on America, America Unites, America Rising, America on Alert, America Fights Back.

Words matter.

Many years ago, I lived happily with Carol Harrison, the daughter of a Fundamentalist Church of Christ minister.  She picked up a few Yiddish expressions like kin ahora, which means something like “knock on wood” or “don’t jinx it.”

We were driving somewhere on a freeway. There was no traffic at all, and I commented on it. Carol replied: “Norman, careful, don’t give yourself a kinda hurry…”

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