What to Name the War?

I wrote this in November, on a thread about what to call the war. It’s actually the second — the first was silly, and I am not minded to post silliness today.

Before I’d name the war, I’d ask to know
What I was calling “in” and calling “out”,
And how this situation’s like to grow.
It’s clarity we’ve been too long without.
New York, Afghanistan, Madrid, Iraq,
Guantanamo and London, Bali too;
Iran and North Korea, from the talk,
And then Peoria? and me? and you?
We move in darkness, as it seems to me
Not of fear only, but the shades of lie
That hide the places we become less free
And trumpet out the ways that we could die.
Until we get so used to constant strife
That we don’t call it war, but normal life.

This sonnet quotes quite extensively from one of my favourite poems, Mending Wall, by Robert Frost. It was one of my attempts to recast another poem into sonnet meter and rhyme. Both the octave and the sestet start off with Frost quotes, like a touchstone:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.


He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

I have always used Frost’s poem as a metaphor for the intellectual distinctions we make to parse the world, and the need to make those distinctions intelligently and thoughtfully. It is only now, writing this entry, that I realise that he wrote it in 1915, when the First World War was already underway. Though that conflict is far from his verse, I find this interesting.

3 thoughts on “What to Name the War?”

  1. What WILL this war be called by History? The ‘Iraq War’ says where it’s happening, but not not what it’s about. The War of Lies?

  2. But Serge, pretty much every war I can think of has been started in a cloud of lies.

    The most egregious example I can think of is the Spanish-American war, with the infamous “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war” quote. But the events surrounding the Zimmermann telegram before World War I come to mind as well. (OK, and the Third Punic War, but I studied Classics.)

    It looks worse, up close, than with the comfortable distance of history. But I don’t think that any war starts cleanly. Why should it, since they’re never conducted or finished cleanly either?

  3. War is more likely to begin with lies in a democracy. That’s because it is the democracy that fights, and most people are averse to giving up their lives for bad reasons.

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