The readiness of America, and sometimes Britain, to fight difficult conflicts in faraway places was one reason for victory in the cold war. But the end of the anti-communist struggle removed the moral justification for intervention and, as the Iraq war shows, a new source of legitimacy has yet to be foundby Ferdinand Mount / January 14, 2007 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2007 issue of Prospect Magazine
The naming of cats is a difficult matter, according to TS Eliot in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The naming of wars is just as tricky. Only rarely do we pause to note the political will and imagination that have gone into imposing a title on this or that episode of state-sponsored violence. Yet the war name matters, because it provides the heading to what we now call the “narrative,” the purpose of which is to explain the reasons for going to war and to justify, even ennoble, the bloodshed and sacrifice. Every war needs, as Old Possum says a cat does,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Sometimes this means that the two sides to a conflict adopt different names for it. The southern states of America preferred to remember the civil war as “the war between the states,” because to call it a civil war was to accept the north’s opinion that it was a war within one nation from which a group of slave-owning states had no legal or moral right to break away. Stalin preferred to call the second world war “the great patriotic war,” in order to highlight the heroic defence of the motherland and relegate to the shadows the Nazi-Soviet pact.
The title of “cold war” for the east-west hostility that occupied most of the second half of the 20th century has a disputed origin. American historians assume that the term was first used either by the presidential guru Bernard Baruch in 1947 or by Walter Lippmann, who published a book called The Cold War in that same year. But the first use that the Oxford English Dictionary can track down comes from a piece by George Orwell in Tribune nearly two years earlier, entitled “You and the Atom Bomb.” Orwell set out a vision of a “horribly stable” future in which the world was divided into superpowers, each of which was “at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of ‘cold war’ with its neighbours.”