A War By Any Other Name

In one of the more thoughtful reviews of Kruger, Kommandos & Kak, it was mentioned that I use the name ‘the Boer War’ to describe the conflict, and then suggested that this was inaccurate:

In the very first footnote Ash rubbishes the need to assign proper titles to events because “Boer War” is “the established name”. Established it may be, but it is inaccurate and misleading – the Boers fought many wars – as Ash is keen to point out later, so which “Boer War” do we refer to; if you ask a Swazi, a Zulu, a Sotho,  a Tswana and an Englishman you may get five different answers, all of them correct. A Boer of course will respond “Watter een – Eerste Vryheidsoorlog of Tweede Vryheidsoorlog?”
Page one and Ash has succeeded in making me shout at what I am reading.

The reviewer, who I am sorry that I annoyed as the rest of his review was actually rather positive, is of course perfectly correct in that the name ‘the Boer War’ is not absolutely, 100% accurate, and fails to conveys every conceivable nuance of the conflict; but, like it or not, the reality is that it has been used for so long that everyone knows exactly what it means. The inference that someone might pick up Pakenham’s (God-awful) offering on the subject and wonder which war the book is about simply does not wash.

The painfully politically-correct BBC History website sagely assures us that ‘Most scholars prefer to call the war of 1899-1902 the South African War thereby acknowledging that all South Africans, white and black, were affected by the war and that many were participants’ . This is also the name offered on a couple of official South African tourist sites, one of which assures readers that this ‘is what the war is now called’. But surely this title is even less accurate than ‘the Boer War’ as it could equally refer to any one of dozens of wars fought in South Africa, up to and including the ‘armed struggle’ waged by Umkhonto we Sizwe during the Apartheid-era. It also ignores the fact that, as Kruger’s plan was to build ‘an Afrikaans Empire stretching from the Zambesi to the Cape’, the Boer War spilled over into Bechuanaland, Rhodesia and Swaziland too – so why should they get left out in this politically-correct rush for ‘inclusiveness’?

Others offer ‘the Anglo-Boer War’ which, at first glance, might seem more germane, but also implies that it was the one and only such conflict between the two foes – which it certainly wasn’t. Another alternative which bounces about is ‘the Second Anglo-Boer War’ which appears more precise, but is actually just as inaccurate as it most certainly was not only the second time that Imperial forces had fought against the Boers. And even if we settled on something even more unwieldy like ‘the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902’, no doubt those people who spend their lives pretending to be offended by something / anything would pop up sooner or later, wringing their hands and desperate to object that even this name does not specifically mention the fact that Indian stretcher-bearers and African wagon drivers served.

Some on the lunatic fringe of the Afrikaner Far Right even claim that the war should be known as ‘The English War’ on the distinctly spurious basis that ‘they started it and we didn’t want a war’. Given that it was Kruger’s forces who sparked the war by surging over their borders to invade and annex great swathes of Natal, the Cape Colony and Bechuanaland, this is a truly insane claim – as is only to be expected from such knuckle-dragging Neo-Nazis.

But more importantly, what is the point of trying to re-brand a war with a ‘proper’ name over a hundred years later? For obvious reasons, few would refer to ‘The Cape Frontier Wars’ by their original name these days, but, unlike ‘kaffir’, it is not as though the word ‘Boer’ is now considered offensive, so this cannot be considered the justification for a re-brand. On the contrary, ‘Boer’ is a title still used with some considerable pride by many white South Africans, so the term ‘Boer War’ is by no means offensive.

Those who worry about this long-established name being ‘inaccurate’ or fret that it ‘doesn’t acknowledge that the war impacted South Africans both black and white’ imply that all other wars have perfectly apt, appropriate and ‘inclusive’ names – which they most certainly do not. Indeed, how on earth could any reasonably concise and usable name be expected to tell the whole story of any given conflict? With this in mind, it seems senseless to single out the Boer War for special attention from the Thought Police© when there are countless other ‘inaccurate’ and ‘non-inclusive’ names of wars out there:

‘The English Civil War’ – fair enough, the conflict fought between the Roundheads and Cavaliers was indeed a civil war, but was not fought entirely in England, and was by no means the only civil war ever fought there. Why are ‘the Wars of the Roses’, for example, not termed a civil war?

‘The Korean War’ – most people will grasp that this refers to the war fought in the early 1950s, even though it was not the only war ever to be fought in the Korean Peninsula, and – horror of horrors – does not list the names of all the nations involved (which would make for a rather lengthy title).

‘The Gulf War’ – when I was a teenager, this referred to the Iran-Iraq War (or should that be ‘Iraq-Iran War’ – Thought Police: please advise urgently before someone gets ‘triggered’), but the name was later re-appropriated to refer to the US-led Liberation of Kuwait in 1991. Either way, and whether it refers to either conflict, it remains just as an ‘inaccurate’ title as The Boer War, implying that there is only one Gulf in the world, and failing to list all the people impacted by the war.

‘The Peninsular War’ – similarly to the above, this is obviously the established name for the fighting in the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars, though one which either suggests it is the only peninsula which has ever hosted a war (thus ignoring the likes of Italy and Korea) or was the only war ever fought in the Iberian Peninsula, thus ignoring numerous other conflicts such as the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.

‘The Hundred Years War’ – OK… but it actually lasted for 116 years.

‘The First World War’ – originally termed ‘the Great War’, this is obviously now the established name for the war of 1914-1918, but was it the first war to be fought all over the world? Of course not: what about the Seven Years War or the Napoleonic Wars?

‘The War of 1812’ – a decidedly inaccurate name as this war raged from 1812 to 1815, and was far from being the only war fought in 1812 in any case.

‘The Vietnam War’ – in every day usage, this obviously refers to the involvement of America and her allies there in the 1960s and 70s, but ignores the many other wars which have been fought in the nation over the centuries.

‘The Border War’ – to any South African, this (or the equally vague ‘The Bush War’) refers to the long running, Apartheid-era fighting mainly in Namibia and Angola… but it is far from being the only war ever fought on or near a border (or in the bush, for that matter).

‘The Falklands War’ – every man and his dog knows this means the short war fought in the South Atlantic in 1982, but wouldn’t it be more ‘accurate’ to always refer to it as: ‘the Falklands-Malvinas War’? Or, given that war was never declared, ‘the Falklands-Malvinas Conflict’? Or, if that still too frightfully Anglo-Centric for the forces of political correctness, should it instead be the ‘Malvinas-Falklands Conflict’? Or perhaps ‘the Glorious yet totally unsuccessful attempt to liberate the Malvinas’?

I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea. Indeed, it is actually hard to think of a war which does have an ‘accurate’ name or one which lists all those who were affected by it… so why pretend to get all hot-and-bothered in the case of ‘the Boer War’? That there are certain people who still claim to be offended by every single aspect of the Boer War is testament to the enduring power of the Apartheid-era propaganda machine.



  • Mike Oettle Posted December 1, 2017 1:50 pm

    A concise run-down of all the silly arguments that are offered about political correctness.
    We were taught at school to speak of the South African War, but everybody knows it as the Boer War.
    The Cape Frontier Wars should really be called the Xhosa Wars (that is what was meant and understood at the term by the word “Kaffir”) – before the Boers came into conflict with the amaXhosa, they and/or the Dutch authorities had previously fought a series of wars against the Khoikhoi (“Hottentots”) and the Bushmen (insultingly misnamed the San) – two “Hottentot” wars and three against the Bushmen.

  • Robin W Smith Posted December 1, 2017 2:09 pm

    How about Kruger’s War?!

    • Bulldog Posted December 1, 2017 3:57 pm

      Well, if the cap fits…

  • Patricia Ash Posted December 14, 2017 3:54 pm

    I have always been intrigued by The War of Jenkin’s Ear! At least with a name like that school children do not forget it.

    • Bulldog Posted December 16, 2017 4:42 am

      Interestingly, The War of Jenkins’ Ear was only give its memorable name over a century after the war ended.
      And poor old Jenkins had his ear cut off 8 years before it began.

      • Patricia Ash Posted December 20, 2017 11:29 am

        So much for history learned at school!

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