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March Madness, signs of insanity

The War Page 

March Madness, signs of insanity

Wednesday: Target of Opportunity. Bush unloads his first shots on "senior Iraqi leadership" asleep in a bunker. Could it be over that fast? Saddam dead? Dubya'd be a magician, making the regime in Baghdad disappear while he misdirected our attention to the borders. Wouldn't that make us on the antiwar side look like idiots.

Suddenly, every TV channel's got a general, and every general's learned his lines. Global positioning technology. Real precision, unlike the infamous "smart bombs" of Gulf War I. We're calling the Republican Guard-ians on their cell phones, been talking to them (and emailing! so cool!) for months.

Thursday: Tip of the Spear.

Decapitation! The generals are giddy. The regime's in disarray, ready to fall. Weren't we just debating (the nation, I mean) whether invading Iraq would be worth the price in blood and global revulsion. Well, that's so five minutes ago. Actual reporters are "embedded." Exactly. NBC's David Bloom, with the 3rd Infantry, keeps talking about "our unit." He tries to say "they" when referring to the troops. But it usually comes out "we." As in, "they had to take out 30 Iraqis. ... Right now, we're on the front lines."

"David Bloom," says a proud Tom Brokaw. "The tip of the spear."

No attention whatsoever to the speech yesterday by Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia. (But soon, it's all over the Internet--the most forwarded document on commondreams.org, an invaluable website.) Iraq, Byrd says, is a target of opportunity. "We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice," Byrd said:

Today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.

Over at the Cameron Village Draft House, I join fellow knuckleheads to watch our Wolfpack battle California in the NCAA tournament. The games must go on, as the N&O's A.C. Snow says later, if only so that "a fearful, homesick sports fan 6,000 miles away in Iraq might ... momentarily be diverted from thoughts of dying."

I support the troops, too. But this isn't just about us, remember? We're fighting this war for the people of Iraq. Message: We Care. Right now they're under attack. Some are dying. Here, though, we're upset that CBS has preempted basketball for Dan Rather and the Pack's not on the satellite. "They're showing this stupid, fucking war," says the guy next to me when his girlfriend arrives. No sound is audible, but still he adds: "And they're saying the same things over and over and over."

The United States is just not ready be the world's messiah.

The stock market is up 70 points.

Friday: Shock & Awe.

"We all share President Bush's hope that ousting Saddam will transform Iraq into a flourishing democracy...." says The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Ready to help: Dick Cheney's old cookie jar, the Halliburton Company, through its Kellogg, Brown & Root subsidiary; also, the Bechtel Group (former Defense Secretary Cap Weinberger) and the Fluor Corp. (where the Army's ex-procurement chief, Kenneth Oscar, now resides).The U.S. Agency for International Development is handing out $900 million in post-war Iraq contracts, The Wall Street Journal reports. The handful of big American construction firms getting them are also--surprise!--among the biggest Bush and Republican Party contributors.

In short, the war is golden so far. NPR's general tells us that "logistics" stopped Germany's charge into Russia--Napoleon's too--but our fighting forces have mastered them. "We pride ourselves on that."

Pride Goeth Before the Fall. And logistics is all that stopped Hitler? There's two books right there. NPR reporter Tom Gjelten adds that there's "excitement" at the Pentagon: "The intensive bombing we've been promised has started."

Meanwhile, the embedded press shows us how they can put their gas masks on ... and take them off. By the way, where are those Weapons of Mass Destruction Saddam was hiding?

The stock market is up 200 points.

Now, I'm giddy. Rania Masri, leading the peace effort out of the Institute of Southern Studies in Durham, talks me down. She's one of the antiwar leaders holding a press conference to point out that, notwithstanding the generals, hundreds of Triangle residents have hit the streets in protest since Wednesday night--along with millions around the world.

Me, old white male: Isn't overthrowing Saddam the right thing?

She, young Middle Eastern (Lebanon) female: No. The likely result is a civil war.

Me: But if we'd really built an international coalition?

She: If you believe in democracy, you know that you can't impose it.

Me: But the Iraqi people can't free themselves.

She: Yes, they can. But 13 years of sanctions have destroyed the middle class and made Saddam's government even stronger. Lift the sanctions, foster trade, repair the country's infrastructure, clean up the depleted uranium left over from Gulf War I, use inspections to disarm the regime while empowering the people of Iraq. You assume the people are weak. They're not, but we've weakened them. Let's start with a "do no harm" policy.

I'm reminded: Young people haven't been brainwashed as long as our Brokaw generation.

Saturday: Keys of Resistance. A scene from Sen. Byrd's youth, reported by our Byron Woods. Four quiet, dignified young women, dressed smartly in vintage clothes, are in the window seats at the Chapel Hill Starbucks. On the table in front of them: Four manual typewriters. They're "taking letters" to elected officials about the war. UNC student Chase Foster, after dictating one, says: "It doesn't seem very effective just to march up and down with a sign anymore."

Sunday: Guerrilla Theater. What, the Iraqis are fighting back? They're not dancing in the streets? Saddam looks like he's alive, the Republican Guard isn't as stupid as Rumsfeld thought they were, and people on both sides are dying. Rummy is outraged that Iraq showed pictures of American POWs. Cut to reality: "Photos of Taliban prisoners of war and John Walker Lindh were continually broadcast on U.S. media outlets," says Marjorie Cohn, a law professor at UC-San Diego.

A couple of hundred protesters turn out for the John Edwards fund-raiser at Democratic headquarters in Raleigh this fine evening. Edwards declines his Bobby Kennedy moment, sneaking into the building via the back door in the close company of eight other suits. Later, he's whisked out the same way.His contributors, though, make their way through the crowd to the front door. No one bothers them. Most don't pause. Don and Mamie Burdick do, though. "You're going in?" I ask. "Yes, but our hearts are out here with you," Dr. Burdick, a retired Duke University statistics professor, says back.

The event is cathartic. I ask a few people if they voted for Edwards. Yes, they did, which is why they're so mad at him. Burdick, for example, thinks Edwards staked himself out on the pro-war side without knowing enough and will eventually turn around on the issue.

One scene remains with me: Raleigh Police Chief Jane Perlov arrives all business, as I'm talking with that well-known dissident (and Indy contributor) Patrick O'Neill. Capt. Tim Shermer is with her. "Hi, Patrick," Shermer goes. "Hey, Tim."

They're friends. Or at least they're friendly. "I deal with him all the time on (demonstration) permits," O'Neill says matter-of-factly.

Well, there's hope for this country, anyway, between the Chapel Hill kids willing to bang away on their empty barrels for hours on end--"Bring Edwards Out, Bring Edwards Out"--and cops who understand that Patrick O'Neill is just as patriotic as they are.

Monday: Reality Bites.

The stock market is down 300 points.Occupation's gonna be a bitch, any way you slice it. EndBlock

Embedded at home

Time: 3:15 p.m.

Date: Sunday, March 23

Place: Peace Celebration, Durham Armory, sponsored by RTP Reclaiming, "a community that believes in the sacredness of the natural world and its connections to personal healing and political activism." It's been advertised in the paper as a family-friendly event with drums, a green dragon and dancing.

Cary resident Joshua Samara, a 27-year-old former chef who's now a stay-at-home dad and home-schooler, is manning the face-painting table. "Basically, we're trying to get the word out that this war is not justified. I think it's great to go somewhere and be able to see people who are having the same response to it. It's comforting. I've got a lot of friends here. My opposition is based on what this does to civilians and to the military people. I know people in the military and they have to come home and deal with the effects. What does this solve? You have to let your children know this is not the only way to solve problems. Basically, what we're doing is reinforcing that violence is not the answer to all questions."

  • March Madness, signs of insanity

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