ON THE 50th anniversary of the beginning of World War II (Sept.1, 1939), I explained here that there was a World War II before there was a World War I, since, logically, one couldn't refer to something as being a first until one knew there would be a second.
I bring this up because people at the Pentagon whose job it is to name wars are considering "World War III."
I know this because Andrew Mollison of Cox Newspapers asked historians at the Defense Department, "is this World War III?"
Now the good news is the official answer to his question was, "no, it isn't." However, you can be sure that thanks to Mollison's nosiness, military historians are meeting night and day in crisis atmosphere trying to come up with an official designation, something that goes beyond the operational "Desert Storm," and sure as shooting World War III is on the list.
My own suggestion is "The Republican War." In 1976 when he was running for vice president, Sen. Bob Dole described "the Vietnam War, World War I and World War II and the Korean War" as "all Democrat wars." He went on, "I figured up the other day if we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit."
I don't know if there's any connection, but the Jerry Ford-Bob Dole ticket carried Michigan, and since then Detroit has lost 600,000 population.
Senator Dole voted for war in the Persian Gulf, as did 42 of 44 Republican senators. Democratic senators voted 45 to 10 against war. Hence "the Republican War."
I know what I hope the war is not called. I thought of this listening to President Bush's speech to the National Religious Broadcasters convention Monday. He said this:
"Saddam tried to cast this conflict as a religious war. But it [has] nothing to do with religion per se."
"Per se" is Latin for "it really does but I don't want to admit it." For example, country club officers' explanations of why all their members are white often begin, "Now this doesn't have anything to do with race per se, but . . ."
President Bush went on to tell the religious broadcasters, "It [the war] embodies good versus evil, right versus wrong, human dignity and freedom versus tyranny and oppression. The war in the gulf is . . . a just war, and it is a war in which good will prevail. . . . You all know the verse from Ecclesiastes 'there is a time for peace, a time for war.' "
Whenever I hear people start talking about a war between good and evil in that part of the world, it is not Ecclesiastes I think of, but Revelations -- you know, Judgment Day and the final battle between good and evil at Armageddon at which the world is destroyed. That's what I hope historians won't have to call this war, "Armageddon."
But given Americans' habit of exaggeration, I won't be surprised. I won't even be surprised if someday there is an "Armageddon II."