Thursday, March 20, 2003
When the first targeted strikes on Iraq began last night, I was en route home from an evening class at Loyola, blissfully unaware of what was happening. I was reading my current 'subway book', Neverwhere - an oddly appropriate choice because the main character finds himself in an Alice-In-Wonderland-meets-Mad-Max alternate reality in the 'Tube' beneath the streets of London. A very good distraction for a bumpy underground train ride - how many novels are there about magical subways?
Within moments of walking in the front door, I knew something was wrong - the TV was on, which it rarely ever is in our house - and an ABC commentator was discussing the reports of explosions being heard in Baghdad.
Roughly 9:20pm Central time, the early morning skies of Iraq looked relatively peaceful with only a bird or two disrupting the grey expanse...another camera angle, toward the darker west, showed a popping fusillade of firework-like explosions that turned out to be Iraqi anti-aircraft fire, not US missles. Then the President addressed the nation in a terse, unadorned speech without fanfare, introduction or superimposed text; just a stark closeup of George Bush speaking at his desk which faded unceremoniously to black before the TV news pundits began to analyze the words.
I didn't so much feel fright as resigned sadness and anxiety, watching the first hours of the war. I hope it's over quickly, although that may not be the case.
This morning, the newspaper sellers waved armfuls of Sun-Times with glaring "WAR" healdines; further south a handful of anti-war protesters with placards stood on the North Avenue walkway bridge over Lake Shore Drive, with only a tiny fraction of passing vehicles acknowledging their presence with tentative tootles of horns. Here at work, at the University of Chicago, rush-produced handouts announcing a planned "civil disobedience event" this afternoon at 5:00 - protesters are planning to block Lake Shore Drive. I don't know whether to leave early to avoid the possible traffic snarlups, or go just to see the ruckus - probably best to avoid the area because the protesters will probably be handcuffed and gone by the time I make my way through the traffic jam.
Talk about ratings; having worked in the TV industry for a number of years, I can tell you that war is the ultimate reality-TV entertainment. The problem is that real men, women and children suffer and die during wartime, and the blood isn't ketchup.
So it begins. I'll be in front of the TV tonight. Besides blocking Lake Shore Drive, there's not much more else I feel I can do. Perhaps that's the worst feeling of all when war begins: the feeling of being utterly powerless to make it stop. Turning off the TV won't make it all go away.