If nothing else, the current operation in Libya confirms that the United States has overwhelming global superiority in coming up with bad names.
Odyssey Dawn sounds like a porn star. I recall in my youth being intrigued by ads for the work of a stripper named Modesty Blaze, who I imagine took her name from the comic strip Modesty Blaise – either of which would have been suitable monikers for the mission in Libya.
Apparently the Pentagon was rushed on this one, and hastily skipped over Operation Mideast Pawn.
Sources indicate Hillary Clinton favored Operation Not Gonna Fawn, while Robert Gates preferred Operation Cut Gadhafi’s Lawn.
The General Accounting Office reportedly suggested Operation Fiscal Yawn.
At the end of the day, President Obama settled on Odyssey Dawn after assurances from the Joint Chiefs that no one would be able to attach any significance to it whatsoever, or accuse the US of using the name to rouse public, military or Congressional support.
Although you wouldn’t know it from its choices, the Defense Department actually has detailed guidelines for naming military operations. Nicknames must not “convey connotations offensive to good taste or derogatory to a particular group, sect, or creed” or “convey connotations offensive to allies or other Free World nations.”
Above all, the DOD doesn’t want “exotic words, trite expressions, or well-known commercial trademarks.” This presumably ruled out Operation This Bomb’s for You.
Since 1975, the US military has used a computer system for naming operations. Unfortunately, the system was not used to name the system itself, which is called the “Code Word, Nickname, and Exercise Term System.”
Between Operation Iraqi Freedom, coined in 2003, and Operation New Dawn, which replaced it in 2010, the military has authored over 500 names for operations in Iraq alone. These include (seriously) Operation Eagle Chickmauga, Operation Little Man Brief, and Operation Chicken Coup – followed a year later by the sequel, Chicken Coup II.
Winston Churchill was apparently a student of military nicknames and believed they should not have ”an air of despondency” nor should they be frivolous or ordinary.” No widow or mother, Churchill is reported to have cautioned, should have ”to say that her son was killed in an operation called Bunnyhug or Ballyhoo.”
The US learned this the hard way when the 1989 invasion of Panama was dubbed Operation Blue Spoon. It was renamed Operation Just Cause because the original nickname did not “inspire the forces and the people back home,” according to a report released by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The New York Times lampooned the process in an editorial headlined “Operation High Hokum.”
The Pentagon could save a lot of effort and expense if it bought one of these random security-word generators used by online services like Ticketmaster. Then the war in Iraq would be called Operation Wilshon Fisham; the war in Afghanistan Operation Mislaf Parsop, and the new war in Libya Operation Lotusile Minslo. Or, something to that effect.
The Random House definition of “dawn” is “the beginning of anything,” and “odyssey” is a “long, adventurous journey.”
The best we can hope for is that the military is serious when it insists these names don’t mean anything.