History call the war? I've seen several...


March 09, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

WHAT WILL history call the war? I've seen several references to "The 100-Hour War," which is catchy enough to stick, but is it true enough?

The 100 hours these namers have in mind are those that began at 4 a.m. Feb. 24 (Baghdad time), when allied forces began their ground offensive, and ended at 8 a.m. Feb. 28, the day and hour President Bush announced a cease-fire would begin. That's exactly 100 hours. The president reportedly selected 8 a.m. rather than 6 or 10 or whatever because of the roundness of the hours. Given the influence of the image-makers in this administration, I wouldn't doubt it.

Technically, what began on Feb. 24 was not a war but a battle. The war began at least as early as 12:50 a.m. Jan. 17, when the first planes took off on bombing missions in Iraq. That would make it "The 915-Hour War." No ring to that. To have waited 85 hours more to declare a cease-fire, in order to have "The Thousand-Hour War," would have been a criminal sacrifice of lives. Not even Roger Ailes, the most hard-hearted of the political campaign advisers, would stoop that low.

Jan. 17-Feb. 28 was "The 43-Day War." If the cease-fire had come three days earlier, this could have been "The 40-Days-and-40-Nights War." Nice biblical resonance.

Other beginning dates would be Aug. 2, when Iraq invaded Kuwait; Aug. 6, when the U.S. sent forces to Saudi Arabia; Aug. 18, when a Navy ship fired the first shot across an Iraqi vessel's bow ("The Seven-Month War")(you don't have to be as precise with months as with days); Nov. 29, when the U.N. authorized the use of force against Iraq ("The Three-Month War"); Jan. 15, the date the U.N. resolution gave as a deadline before force could be used ("The 45-Day War").

I emphasize the time factor in this because that seems to be a Middle East tradition. "The Yom Kippur War." "The Six-Day War." Of course there was the geography-based "The Iraq-Iran War," or was it "The Iran-Iraq War"? I can never remember the rule. Does the invader come first or the invadee? Did France invade Prussia or vice versa?

There is some confusion about the naming of the operations in this war. When we went into Saudi Arabia in August, in a defensive mode, the Pentagon code-named the operation "Desert Shield." On Jan. 16, White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater announced that the new offensive phase of the war would be code-named "Desert Storm." On Feb. 24, when the ground offensive began, some American journalists began referring to the operation as "Desert Sword." British journalists used "Desert Sabre." The Pentagon says no, it was "Desert Storm" to the end.

Now that the shooting has stopped and the troops are being pulled out, the lawyers are going in to survey the damage the Iraqis caused. Thus begins "Desert Litigation." Saddam, you thought the 82nd Airborne was lean and mean, but you ain't seen nothing yet.

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