Operation Voldemort: The War Which Must Not Be Named

by | Oct 7, 2014

Lord Voldemort

There is an interesting dimension to the ongoing circumvention of the Constitution over our latest undeclared war. While some Administration officials are finally calling our attacks in Syria as a “war,” the discomfort over defining this indefinite campaign has led to equal discomfort over naming it. After two months of airstrikes and statements that the campaign will likely go on for years, the Administration still have not named this war. The choice would now seem obvious: Operation Voldemort, the war which must not be named.

Usually, the military loves to give inspiring names to its campaigns, though sometimes the name can reveal a bit of insecurity like “Operation Just Cause” in Panama — a name that only seemed to amplify the questions of the legality or legitimacy of the invasion. Once coined, the name then appears on everything from government contracts to legislation to service medals.

However, the Administration has been in a not-so-private internal debate over what to call the campaign against Islamic State. Like naming a puppy, the naming of a war can create a dangerous achievement to those with commitment issues. As one defense official was quoted as saying “If you name it, you own it. And they don’t want to own it.”

For the moment, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby says that the Administration currently has “no plans to name the operation” but that there is “an effort underway to consider … a potential name for this operation.”

They may have time. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said this week that this could be a “30-year war.” At least the 100 years war between England and France had a name, it was called the 100 years war. You do not even have to be accurate. After all, the 100 Years war lasted 116 years.

Whatever its name, it has its first casualty. Marine Cpl. Jordan Spears was lost at sea after he and another crewman abandoned their MV-22 Osprey when it nearly crashed into the Persian Gulf. They had taken off from the USS Makin Island. For the moment, he will presumably be listed as killed in military operations.

Reprinted from author’s blog with permission.


  • Jonathan Turley

    Professor Jonathan Turley is a nationally recognized legal scholar who has written extensively in areas ranging from constitutional law to legal theory to tort law. He has written over three dozen academic articles that have appeared in a variety of leading law journals at Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, University of Chicago, and other schools.

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