GOES TO WAR
Our lives go
on in war,
but the shadows gather
By JOYCE KIEFER
War is surreal. Literally, unless you live in, say,
Israel or Chechnya, where you are born into it. But for Americans,
the thought still lingers that when we go to war, the action
will begin and end someplace else. Our home front is secured
by two oceans on the sides and friendly neighbors top and bottom.
Of course the attacks of 9/11 exploded that notion of geographic
security. The fear factor that has hovered over us since then
shot up Monday, March 17, when PresidentBush announced that he
was giving Saddam Hussein 48 hours to get himself and his sons
out of Iraq or else. Like any unpredictable event that involves
death, war is scary business. With this one, fighting back by
the enemy might include terrorist attacks on the places we love
as well as the people--like the Golden Gate Bridge just 50 miles
from where I live.
Fear can cast a surrealist glow on the commonplace. Let me recount
Monday--St. Patricks Day. Just before the evening
news, President Bush states his ultimatum to Saddam Hussein.
He will chase the snakes out of Iraq one way or another, no need
for approval from the oddly cobbled troika of France, Germany
and Russia. If this were World War II, no one would believe this
alliance could exist, especially to face down the U.S. After
months of shrugging off orange alerts and ever-postponed deadlines
for action, I have a cold, sure sense that Bush will act this
As I watch the evening traffic go through its drills at the stop
lightleft lanes left; center lanes march aheadI wonder
what will happen in my fiction writing class tonight. Our instructor
is a self-described Berkeley radical of the 60s. Will she
declare there will be no business as usual tonight and have us
. . . do what? Lie down in the parking lot? Compose extemporaneous
anti-war poems? After a day at work were too tired for
that. Instead, she tells us that now is the time to write. It
is a time of history, she says.
Wednesday--As I flip on the TV before going off
to help deliver a continuing education program at Stanford University,
I hear the Hussein men are staying put. Their 48 hours will end
at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. Enough time for an uninterrupted
At 2:30, as I chat alone with the catering delivery man, we hear
the penetrating throb of a helicopter. Suddenly a Black Hawk
looms over our heads, almost close enough to touch us. It seems
to hesitate and then move on to dip below a line of trees. Pablo
beckons me to stand close, as if a ring of antiwar students would
attack if they heard what he said. Im from Mexico,
he explains, and I know that no one can feel about Saddam
Hussein like Americans do because 9/11 didnt happen to
them. Saddam and Osama are like this. He crosses his fingers
together. The French and those other countries want to
be sure they keep getting their petroleum. They dont care
what happens to us.
As soon as he sets up our table and leaves, I walk over to Roble
Field next door and sure enough, thats where the Black
Hawk landed. Two of them. Students from the dorms across the
street cluster together and stare. Some hold digital cameras.
A man with a TV camera is already at work. Police are posted
out on the grass. A fire truck and several ambulances stand at
When the door of one of the copters opens, I half expect
Bruce Willis to jump down. Instead, about a dozen Air National
Guardsmen rush out dressed in camoflauge. What happened, I ask
a bystander. He says, Some people have been injured offshore
and theyre being brought in to Stanford Hospital.
I grow cold with the thought that Saddam has jumped the gun and
ordered his terrorist allies to go to work on us. I walk further
and eavesdrop on a reporter interviewing a woman who looks official.
She tells him that three people aboard a cruise ship had heart
attacks and are being brought into the hospital. You mean
its not that new virus? the reporter asks and then
says, Now Im less interested in the story.
I thought he should observe the small, silent groups of people
and note the palpable fear inside their curiosity.
I return to my duties. An hour or so later Im back at the
field. The copters remain in place but the scene has changed.
The warm spring day has taken over and the students feel like
relaxing now. They cluster around the Black Hawks and listen
as the Guardsmen describe the equipment and how they conduct
rescues. It seems like a recruitment event. One girl takes a
tray of Jamba Juices to a Guardsman still patrolling the field.
One guardsman is a woman. A young Black woman tells her friend,
I wanted to ask her how she got into the service and how
long shell be in but I didnt want to seem patronizing.
As the copters lift up to leave, there is applause.
That night there is a dinner for our course participants. At
7 p.m. when our program starts, the master of ceremonies says,
Missiles are flying around in Iraq and continues
the program. We stare at him. War has begun and this is how we
hear about it.
Friday--First day of Spring. Then it happened in the
spring at the time when kings go out to battle . . . So
begins the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel, Chapter
11. Today I consider possible maneuvers to avoid the battle of
the antiwar protesters on the streets of San Francisco when my
husband and I will attempt to go see the stage production of
The Producers tomorrow. The theater is downtown on
Market Street. The protestors havent had such smashingly
good days since the Vietnam War. In the evening I hear that 1,400
were arrested on their first day of stopping business as
usual as long as the war lasts.
I plan to carry on with the business as usual of
my personal life as long as possible. Watching the goose-stepping
dancers in the Springtime for Hitler centerpiece
number of The Producers may seem callous in this
somber time but it is an act of personal survival. Fear and the
horror of war will not seize up my life; they will not be its
I look forward to attending a garden wedding on Saturday. The
grooms mother planted hundreds of bulbs last winter. They
should be in full bloom.
©2003 by Joyce Kiefer. The illustration is from IMSI's Master
Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506,
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