Odyssey what? When it comes to choosing a label for military operations, what’s in a name?
By Robert Bound
“Odyssey Dawn” it is, then. If you listen to the political rhetoric about Libya you’ll hear that “no one wants another Iraq”. Sure, no one wants a 12-year no-fly zone followed by a war, a country split between tribal and religious difference and a simmering feeling that things might have been better under the rule of a luxuriantly moustachioed despot, after all. But you’d never know that from the names of the military operations.
In Iraq, Allied forces mustered and attacked under operational names that spelt out geographical and political reductivism and aggression: Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Desert Strike. OK, there’s quite a bit of sand in the Gulf, but come on. Bombs have been dropped on Tripoli under the name of Odyssey Dawn, a weird and wonderful name, which, you might think, imagines the Western military powers’ role as quasi-mystical figures, travelling healers intent on quelling local trouble with wisdom, crystals and arcane ritual. Of course, that’s not really true: if the US, the UK and France see themselves as the Magi, they’re Magi with might, muscle and mid-to-long range military capability. And no camels.
These flamboyant names are mainly an American problem. While RAF Tornados patrol for operation Ellamy (a code name chosen at random by a computer program) and ALA Mirages fly for operation Harmattan (named after a dusty west African wind), USAF jets are consigned to flying around for a mission that sounds like a dodgy science-fantasy novel, a role-play computer game, or an English prog rock band. Or a fearsomely potent aftershave with a vaguely racist and sexist ad campaign: “Odyssey Dawn is for the explorer, the adventurer, for the man who’s not afraid to show her that deep down he’s a savage.”
In fact, the US military chooses operational names within specific guidelines. According to its spokesman, names should not “express a degree of hostility” or be “offensive to good taste or derogatory to a particular group, sect, or creed”. Due to both external criticism and self-restraint, the military has weaned itself off the aggressive, the bullying and the triumphalist. In short, since Operation Killer in the Korean war, Operation Masher in Vietnam and the 1983 invasion of Grenada (“Urgent Fury”), the American military has, at least outwardly, untied its bloodstained bandana and stopped pretending to be John Rambo.
A serious point lies behind the silly titles. A population’s belief in the wisdom of regime change, a foreign power’s protection of them, and the safeguarding of democracy are achieved by winning “hearts and minds” more than unleashing “shock and awe”. Naming a mission Smash The Moustache will only guarantee crowds take to the streets, burning the invader’s flag. And it makes a terrible name for an aftershave.
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How and where did you make the record?
I had a few songs ready, but I often start from scratch when I’m in the studio, so many of the songs were just ideas. I recorded a bit in Paris, Tel-Aviv, New York and Reykjavik: wherever other projects took me.
Does each of those places leave its mark on the sound or lyrics?
I think a specific room can be heard in a recording, you may recognise the high ceilings of one studio, the walls of the other… It’s all in there, at least I feel it.
Do you write as you record or is it all done in your head and ready to go?
Both. Some songs require hours with just a guitar or piano, others get built while producing. “My name is Trouble” took 15 minutes to write with just a guitar, but producing it was the constructive, fun part.
What kicks off the writing process? Are you disciplined or a dilettante?
I need to be able to write at all times. This morning I flew in from New York to Paris and had to go directly to the studio to write and produce a song.
Nice look on the cover. What’s going on with the gun?
Thanks! I wanted a strong image that could be both a gangster and a poet. Writing gives me the freedom to find an aesthetic aspect to certain objects that don’t seem appealing.