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Opinion A name by any other name

George HasaraAs the war of words intensifies with Iran, perhaps it is some non-words that are a portent of things to come. Google recently decided to omit the name “Persian Gulf” from its online maps. Right now, it's just a large nameless body of water. So far, Google's only response has been a lame explanation that not all locations on their global maps are named. Fortunately, Franklin's geopolitical flashpoint – Lake Emory, is properly identified.

Barring the possibility of a computer programming glitch, the missing moniker may indicate a political back story. In recent years, there has been a trend for the U.S. Government to refer to the Persian Gulf as the Arabian Gulf. Our ships aren't patrolling off the Persian coast – we're patrolling off the Arabian coast. No provocation here. If the U.S. Navy starts referring to the English Channel by its French name “la Manche” I'd be a little perturbed if I were British.

Naming something has the effect of controlling the narrative. Was our Civil War the “War of Southern Secession” or the “War of Northern Aggression?” The Republic of Macedonia isn't even allowed to use their own name in the context of United Nations membership. That country is officially listed as “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” which has the same ring to it as "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince." Greece doesn't want to share any of its past glory (it needs all it can get right now), and it has been successful in labeling the birthplace of Alexander the Great with an awkward name that doesn't even spell out a decent acronym.

Sometimes name changes are an attempt to obscure identity. Now you see me, now you don't. The military training center located at Fort Benning, Georgia, used to be called the School of the Americas. That was a rather pleasant sounding name, but after decades of training Latin American military personnel and the history of their not so pleasant tactics, the name was scrubbed. Like magic, SOA instantly became The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. For me, its hard to criticize something when I can't even remember what it is called. The infamous private military contractor Blackwater took the same route – twice. Known briefly as Xe, last year it became Academi. The technique is similar to money laundering, but using names instead.

Google's map omission of the Persian Gulf just goes to show you that you can't believe everything you DON'T read on the Internet. Perhaps Google thought no name at all was a viable compromise in lieu of the politically motivated term Arabian Gulf. There are others who prefer the name, Gulf of Amoco (BP, Shell and Exxon), but you are not likely to see that on the map.


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