'Mother of all bombs', part of 'Operation Infinite Justice', latest in US military's grandiose naming protocol

On Thursday evening, US President Donald Trump turned his and his military's attention to Afghanistan, striking a tunnel complex with the largest ever non-nuclear weapon ever used by the United States in combat, and in typically understated Donald Trump vocabulary, termed it the "mother of all bombs".

File image of Donald Trump. AP

File image of Donald Trump. AP

The grandiose moniker is a throwback to the first Gulf War in the early 90s, when after George HW Bush bombed Iraq, and the then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein called it the "mother of all battles".

The phrase soon picked up steam and being called "mother of" was to be the greatest thing in American 90s pop culture, a sign that you had arrived. So people began being stuck in the "mother of all traffic jams" and having the "mother of all dinners". It was followed by another typically grandiose sounding operation, 'Operation Desert Storm', meant to eliminate Kuwait of Iraqi occupation.

It was a remarkably successful operation, at least considering the number of bruising operations the country's military has been involved in before and since. Saddam's troops fled Kuwait almost immediately after the US invasion, and Bush's approval ratings jumped 18 points to reach a high of 82 percent.

As this Atlantic article points out, however, during the build up to the Gulf war, over 1,200 women US military personnel became pregnant. Considering just 148 Americans died in combat, it adds up to a ratio of eight pregnant officers for every one who was killed. "Saddam promised "the mother of all battles. What he got was the battle of all mothers," the article notes.

The American protocol of naming the battles the country is involved in dates back to the Second World War. But as Geoffrey Nunberg has pointed out, the names would usually be plain and unambitious. "President Eisenhower sent the Marines to Lebanon in 1957 under the name Operation Blue Bat, and the military operations in Vietnam tended to have names like End-Sweep, Pocket Money, and Abilene... generals occasionally picked operation names that had more martial connotations, but that could backfire. When General Ridgeway named one Korea operation Killer, the State Department complained that he had soured the ongoing negotiations with the Chinese. Fifteen years later in Vietnam, General Westmoreland was forced to rename Operation Masher when President Johnson objected that the name didn't reflect the administration's "pacification emphasis," he wrote.

However, there were exceptions. Operation Rolling Thunder, a sustained aerial bombardment campaign conducted by the US Air Force against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, lasted more than three-and-a-half years. The bombardment was  intended to put military pressure on North Vietnam’s Communist leaders and reduce their capacity to wage war against the US-supported government of South Vietnam.

Ronald Reagan then sent marines to the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983, a small-scale operation which went with the rather serious sounding name Operation Urgent Fury.

The US Army, under US President George W Bush, perhaps taking a cue from his father, launched three extremely cool sounding operations during the US occupation of Iraq: The first, launched in 2003, called Iron Justice, aimed to clear southern Baghdad of insurgents.

The second, operation Warrior's Rage, (which sounds like an awesome PS4 game), was launched in July 2005. The cordon and search operation netted eight terror suspects.

The third, entitled operation Valiant Guardian, took place in 2007, and comprised 4,000 marines, sailors and soldiers, and covered 30,000 square miles.

Clearly pleased with its successes, the Pentagon then tried out operations Restore Hope, Uphold Democracy and Provide Promise — all signs that the shining beacon of democracy, America, was doing its bit to uphold peace everywhere in the world.

It clearly went overboard with Operation Infinite Justice and Operation Enduring Freedom, names given to the global war on terror that the US has been fighting for the last decade and a half, and continues to do so. It truly has been the mother of all wars.

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Updated Date: Apr 14, 2017 15:33:04 IST

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