Friday, March 22, 2013

March 22, 2003

From An American Tune

The foreboding she felt as war in Iraq grew closer, more inevitable, deepened her
confusion and despair. Massive peace demonstrations around the world, petitions against the war flooded the internet, claims of faulty intelligence made by imminently trustworthy people did nothing to stop the clock ticking toward the showdown that most believed, for better or worse, had been planned for in the days after September eleventh.

When it finally came, Nora and Tom watched, mesmerized: the president at the podium
in his dark business suit, behind him a long, empty, red-carpeted corridor. Clever planning, they agreed: the image of him framed by the doorway, strong, silent, completely alone. When he spoke, the arrogant, in-your-face tone of the past months was gone and in its place the voice of reason. No smart-ass comments about Freedom Fries, no bragging about shock and awe, no threats about evil empires.

“My fellow citizens,” he said. “Events in Iraq have now reached the final days of
decision.” Then, lying as Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon had done before him, made his case for war.

In the morning Nora turned on the “Today Show,” to find that, though the war had not officially started, a logo had been assigned to it—and, beneath that logo, flanked by a huge map of the Middle East, Katie Couric, in a black suit, interviewed two generals, who touted amazing, “intelligent” bombs and, with obvious difficulty, restrained their enthusiasm describing the M.O.A.B.: “Mother of All Bombs.”

“A last resort,” one said.

“Of course, we hope not to use it,” said the other

They made Nora think of watching “Apocalypse Now” with Tom a few nights before. Robert Duvall crowing, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!”

The whole broadcast mirrored the surreal quality of that movie as it proceeded. Duvall himself was on the show, teaching Katie how to tango—revealing spike heels and lacy black tights beneath the surprisingly short skirt of the black suit she’d worn in the presence of the generals. There was a feature on Saddam’s luxury bunker, another on arms brokering—dozens of men in a Baghdad gun store testing the heft of shoulder-held weapons, one of them cocking a pistol toward the camera “U.S.A,” he said, grinning. Another on a Chinook-flying grandmother with gray, coiffed hair, an American flag pin on her Army fatigues.

In Rockefeller Plaza, the usual screamers competed for a moment onscreen.

“Hey, Al! I’m twenty-one today!” a kid called.

His friend held up a cardboard Wisconsin Badger.

But Al headed for a woman holding up a baby in a pink snowsuit.

“This is an anti-war baby,” she said into the microphone, and he backed away.

Back in the studio, Elmo reassured the children. “Do you ever feel upset when you see or
hear something scary?” he asked in his sweet, scratchy little voice. “Elmo does, too! Talk to a grown-up! Draw a picture! Tell a story! Or—” He waved his fuzzy red arms wildly and hollered, “Wubawubawuba!”

“Stay calm,” a human citizen of Sesame Street advised parents. “Keep a routine.”

“Give them a big kiss, too!” Elmo said.

Perhaps strangest of all, there were regular updates on a “Today” employee undergoing a
colonoscopy. “She’s under conscious sedation,” the doctor said. “Relaxed, comfortable. But she thinks she’s awake, she wants to talk.” He smiled. “That’s what conscious sedation is.”

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