Hitler has refused to retreat from Poland and an international conflict is about to begin. Not saying this was the most important issue of the day, but recently released documents reveal that two eminent historians were instructed to meet in order to determine what to name it.
We are fortunate to have the “minutes” of that meeting. And here, for your education and enlightenment, they are.
Two superannuated historians, Cosgrove and Bumbershoot, assemble to discuss an issue of utmost urgency and significance.
Cosgrove: I cannot for the life of me see why they selected us for this assignment. Can you?
Bumbershoot: The important historian said “No.”
C: “You’re probably right. Sparing their reputations due to faulty decision-making.”
B: “Our decision today will be preserved for the ages, you know. Muck it up and we shall be laughingstocks for eternity.”
“I never quite thought of it that way. ‘Laughingstocks for eternity.’ Ah well. At least we’ll be remembered.”
“It’s difficult to believe, isn’t it? It seems like just yesterday they were naming the last war.”
“They did a damn fine job of it. ‘The Great War’.”
“It suits it to a ‘T.” Because it was in every regard…”
“A great war.”
“The greatest. Howitzers. Dogfights in the air. Mustard gas. ‘Waterloo, by comparison?’ – a Sunday School picnic! ” And yet, here we are, about to undo their magnificent labeling.”
“What do you mean?”
“We are at the dawn of a devastating conflict. Better technology. A more insidious opponent.”
“Worse than the Kaiser?”
“Significantly worse. The previous war’s labeling is about to become obsolete. I mean, what are the chances of the upcoming encounter being less great than the last one?”
“I see what you mean. We are unlikely to go backwards. (AFTER A BEAT) We could call it ‘The Greater War’.”
“And breed competition between the respective participants? (PROVOCATIVELY SING-SONGY) ‘Our war was greater than your war.’ How insensitively unfair!”
“I was just trying to preserve the previous accomplishment. But I suppose we shall have to dig deeper. You know, Cosgrove…”
“Am I? Oh yes, I suppose I am – sorry. You know, Bumbershoot, historically this upcoming war is to a great degree a consequence of the Treaty of Versailles which brought an end to the last war, making this war arguably a continuation of the last war. Why then not label the upcoming war… “B.”
“Do you follow my reasoning? If w label the original war ‘A’, the continuation thereof would then inevitably be called ‘B’.”
“You want to call a war ‘B’?”
“Signifying a continuation of ‘A.’”
“It doesn’t sound like a continuation. It sounds, first, ridiculously inconsequential, considering the death toll. Plus, as with your earlier suggestion…
“Which you most sensibly shot down…”
“Thank you… it, once again, makes the original war seem comparatively less important. ‘What war did you fight in?’ ‘B.’ ‘I fought in “A.” But I’m sure “B” was fine too.”
“I see what you mean. Historically correct, perhaps. But a psychological faux pas.”
“Let’s get away from the comparatives. I believe that’s what’s catching us up.”
“All right then. What if we renamed the previous war “Yellow”, and label the war we are about to embark upon “Red”?
“You want to name wars after colours?”
“Yellow is comparatively no more important than red. So we cannot be called on the carpet for prioritizing.”
“Well why then restrict the possibilities to colours? Why not call one war ‘Teacup’ and the other war ‘Chest of Drawers.’ Or one war ‘Omelet’ and the other war, ‘Suet Pudding.’ What about actual names! No name is superior to any other name. We can name the formerly-labeled ‘Great War’ ‘Harry’ and the impending conflict ‘Bartholomew.’”
“My name’s Bartholomew. I don’t a war named after me.”
“Nobody does. A ‘war name’ must be epic. Not colours. Not furniture. After, mistakenly it turns out, naming the last war ‘The Great War’, we now need to come up with something gigantic!”
“How about ‘Gigantic’?”
“‘The Gigantic War’?”
“It’s not a direct comparative. The ‘Great’ in ‘The Great War’ could refer to its ‘moral significance’ while ‘gigantic’ for this one could refer to its sheer magnitude. I like it, don’t you?”
THE ROOM FALLS INTO THUNDEROUS SILENCE. FOR THE NEXT SIX HOURS. YOU CAN HEAR A SUSPENDED WALL CLOCK TICKING, BUT THAT’S ALL.
IT IS NOW MIDNIGHT. A MAINTENANCE MAN ENTERS, SURPRISED THAT THE HISTORIANS ARE STILL AT WORK.
“Sorry, gents. I could come back later.”
“No, no. You are interrupting nothing… unfortunately. Do what you must.”
“I’ll just empty these ashtrays and be on my way. (AS HE PROCEEDS) Terrible times, these is. I mean, who would have thought that in the span of just a single generation, we could have one big war, and then Number Two.”
TWO LIGHTBULBS SIMULTANEOUSLY COME TO LIFE.
“‘War One’ and ‘War Two’!”
“Labeled exclusively in order of chronology!”
“I think we’ve got something, Pendrake.”
“Come to think of it, I believe neither of us is Pendrake.”
“I shall leave you two to your business. And apologies again for the inconvenience.”
THE MAINTENANCE MAN EXITS.
“‘War One’ and ‘War Two.’ (AFTER A BEAT) Something’s missing.”
(DESPERATELY WANTING TO GO HOME) “Really?”
“It’s just ‘war counting.’ One – two. I don’t know, it needs some… pizzazz. What in the world could we add?”
Ultimately hearing themselves, they appended the word “World.” And from then on, the respective conflicts were known forever as World War One and World War Two, the superannuated not only successfully completing their assignment, but creating the template for all the international wars yet to come.
We, of course, hope that there aren’t any. But if there are, at least there will not be a meeting to name them.
Another Time, Maybe: The Explosive Brouhaha Over Naming The Old And New Testament.