APPOMATTOX, VA, April 9, 1865 -- Northern U.S. news outlets have resisted calling the conflict between the states a "civil war," in order to avoid undue public alarm.
But with today's surrender of General Robert E. Lee, the Associated Press has gone out on a limb to label the struggle precisely that.
In a press release issued yesterday, AP managing director Matthew Lauer explained the decision. "After careful consideration, we have decided the change in terminology is warranted and what went on can now be characterized as civil war," Lauer said.
"We should mention we didn't just wake up on a Monday morning and say 'Let's call this a civil war.' This took research. We consulted the dictionary."*
Other news outlets were not willing to go so far. Reuters referred yesterday to the fighting that has split the country in two and claimed roughly 600,000 lives as "sectarian conflict." The Washington Evening Star used the phrase "sectarian violence." The New York Times quoted experts describing the last four years of unpleasantness as a civil war, but stopped short of using the label directly, without attribution.
The question now is whether these and other news outlets will continue to resist the "civil war" designation or dare eventually to follow the Associate Press.
"If the past is any guide, sir, only time will tell," said General Lee. Mounting nobel Traveler, he tipped his hat and cantered into history, a civil warrior to the end.
* This quotation derives from an actual statement by NBC's Matt Lauer regarding Iraq. Source: Editor and Publisher.