BOB GARFIELD: If embedded reporters prove to be unreliable in promoting the war, the Pentagon has far more dependable tools for shaping public perception of military campaigns. When the phrase Operation Iraqi Freedom first appeared at the bottom of TV screens, it was simply another effort to hammer home the administration's stated mission of liberation. But this Madison Avenue approach to branding war is a relatively recent invention. Joining us for a look back at the Pentagon's name game is Professor Conrad Crane, director of the U.S. Army Military History Institute. Professor Crane, welcome to the show.
CONRAD CRANE: Thank you for inviting me.
BOB GARFIELD: When exactly did the Defense Department start actually naming its operations?
CONRAD CRANE: That's a good question. I guess the Germans started putting specific names on operations in World War I, but the United States really didn't start doing it till World War II, and at that point the operational names were basically a classified name for an operation that enabled different planners and officers and different participants to talk about an operation without giving too much away. But beginning in Korea with Matt Ridgeway, he started naming his operations to give little boosts to the troops as well, and so he liked to name his operations things like Killer and Ripper, because he thought it kind of inspired troops and showed the attitude that he wanted them to have, because he was concerned about the fighting spirit of his army.
BOB GARFIELD: Operation Killer. Now how did that name play on the home front, or was the home front even aware of Operation Killer?
CONRAD CRANE:How the home front became aware of operation Killer -- and, and there were complaints from General Ridgeway's superiors in Washington that didn't like the name because it sounded too belligerent and wouldn't play well in the public relations and didn't affect Ridgeway -he maintained that name.
BOB GARFIELD:Well when did the bell go off that said ah ha -- we can help manage public opinion by cunningly naming these operations explicitly for public consumption?
CONRAD CRANE: Seems to me to be much more a 1990s and later phenomenon where you really start to think about the name that's going to play well on the world stage.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me the mechanism for developing these names. Is there a naming directorate somewhere in the Pentagon?
CONRAD CRANE:The name for an operation normally comes from whatever group of staff officers is in charge of developing it. It gets vetted at a lot of different levels, however, depending how important the operation is. High visibility operations get a lot of attention on their names.
BOB GARFIELD:Now the government has its name for this war -- Operation Iraqi Freedom - but the networks have various other brand names for the war --Attack on Iraq -- Strike on Iraq -- and so forth. Is the Pentagon in competition with the networks to come up with the catchiest moniker? Do they concern themselves with how the private sector will do its own naming?
CONRAD CRANE: Well obviously there's a concern about how these names are going to play on the outside. You could see that with the initial name for the war on terrorism which I believe was Infinite Justice, and they realized very quickly that that was going to have some problems in the Arab world, and they quickly changed it to Enduring Freedom. But overall the concern I, I think is more that it doesn't cause problems externally, at the same it, it sends a message internally as well, and I think that the Iraqi Freedom has been very successful in communicating to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines involved in this operation what their real overall mission is.
BOB GARFIELD:These names seem to be somewhat transitory. For example, Operation Desert Storm has long since mutated into simply being the Gulf War or now the first gulf war.
CONRAD CRANE: Well I think it depends on who is talking about it. I know within the military Desert Storm is still a very commonly used term; but normally the public is a little less comfortable with these operational code names and comes up with some other name for wars. So I would expect that that same pattern would probably hold true.
BOB GARFIELD: So what's your favorite operation name? The one that has the most resonance for you?
CONRAD CRANE:I mean I like Urgent Fury -- I think it really talks-- it sends a great message. Desert Storm has, has played very well within the Army. I mean it really gives a sense of the -it leads to a lot of similes and metaphors about the, the, the application of military force in that war that had been very - very graphic, so that one there's, there's a certain almost literary quality to that one.
BOB GARFIELD:Whereas for example maybe in this war, Operation Dangerously Long Supply Lines probably - you know - that probably wouldn't play.
CONRAD CRANE: No, that probably would not play.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, well Conrad Crane, thank you very much.
CONRAD CRANE: Okay.
BOB GARFIELD: Professor Conrad Crane is director of the U.S. Army Military History Institute. He joins us from the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. [MUSIC]