Words : Wrath

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The Independent Online
There is something slightly incongruous about the Israelis' choice of codeword for their Lebanon offensive, Operation Grapes of Wrath. On the one hand we see the craggy face of Prime Minister Shimon Peres; on the other, framed in a seemly bonnet, that of the gentle and scholarly Unitarian preacher who invented the phrase 135 years ago. Julia Ward Howe wrote her Battle Hymn of the Republic during the American Civil War because she was convinced that God was on the side of the Union. The line about the grapes ("He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored") is not her best, but it certainly helped to rally the troops.

Modern warfare being computer-driven, it is only natural that the Israeli High Command should have used one here, and I read somewhere that they chose the codeword after tapping in a number of warlike expressions. If so, one can understand why they saluted this one when the computer ran it up the flagpole. For there are two kinds of wrath, as there have been ever since our Anglo-Saxon ancestors began using the word, so much more terrible than the much later anger or the Latin-derived ire.

One of them is purely human, and a matter for shame, because it involves a loss of personal control. The other is divine. The wrath of God is invincible and can be appeased only by immediate capitulation to His wishes. (The OED's copious examples of the first kind heavily outnumber those of the second, but this is no more than a reflection on human nature.) If Mr Peres can show that it was not he but the Almighty who got angry with the Hizbollah he will have done much for his conscience and for the opinion of other nations. We don't know whether Julia Ward Howe would have approved.

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