Home Front: Life during wartime

Fox hates the protesters, the U.S. hates the French, and Slovenia wants out! Plus: War comes to a playground in Brooklyn.

Topics: Al-Qaida, Fox News, Michael Moore,

Home Front: Life during wartime

Fallout

Fox News outdid itself during an antiwar rally on Thursday in New York, replacing the war updates on its Sixth Avenue ticker with insults for the protesters. Ever known for its subtle humor, Fox ran cheery little messages such as “Attention protesters: the Michael Moore Fan Club meets Thursday at a phone booth at Sixth Avenue and 50th Street,” and “War protester auditions here today … thanks for coming!” It was actually quite sweet of the Fox folks, considering how much more fun those tickers are to read when they’re not informing us of missing American soldiers or Iraqi civilian deaths — you know, the news.

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As if the whole freedom fries fiasco wasn’t enough, now Air Force One is calling its french toast “freedom toast.” Ah, nothing like a little government-sanctioned pettiness. And if Germany is feeling left out, looks like a school in the U.S. dissed them this week too:

Oakland High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn., jettisoned its German-English exchange program last week, according to the Associated Press. Even though the principal insists the trip was canceled for security reasons, the students aren’t buying that explanation. One of the German students said: “We were really shocked and felt like we’d been taken for a ride.” Antiwar Americans know just how she feels.

In another shining example of transatlantic vitriol: A 72-year-old Briton living in Southern France has legally changed his name from Eric Bush to Eric Buisson, which is French for “Bush,” claiming he doesn’t want to keep a name which will “go down in history as the name of a tyrant.”

Oh well, if Bush doesn’t achieve all his goals in Iraq, at least he’s helping to build a united Europe.

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Not all of America’s current miscommunications with the rest of the world are pure malice, however. Some can be chalked up to basic stupidity. Turns out the U.S. mistakenly included Slovenia as a member of its ever-shrinking “coalition of the willing.” Slovenia has requested that the error be corrected — which means they’re out the $4.5 million that was originally slated to them in the war budget. Perhaps the money will go toward healthcare, education, or Social Security, but somehow we doubt it.

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First Person: Brooklyn in wartime

On the day the bombing of Baghdad begins, my kids and I are at Park Slope’s Ninth Street playground when a few dozen African-American schoolchildren in Muslim dress come charging in to join us. Big girls in headscarves take the swings on either side of my 4-year-old daughter and me. They pump hard, leaning back for extra momentum, and one girl sings out with joy, “No Arabic today!” In their long skirts and dark tights, they remind me of the Orthodox Jewish girls who often use the playgrounds of Prospect Park — with their mothers in headscarves, their brothers in side curls. As the girls play, 10 police helicopters begin to circle low overhead. I learn later that the display is part of the funeral pageantry for a murdered detective, but that morning we grown-ups think that helicopters mean danger. I exchange a look with the Caribbean woman who is watching the kids whom my kids have met for a play date. “Let’s get out of here,” we say.

I am reminded of 9/11. That morning, unable to absorb the size of the catastrophe taking place a few miles from my home, I turned off the radio, loaded the kids into the double stroller and pushed them to the playground. Normally packed on such a fine day, it was deserted but for a few other disoriented women and their children. While our kids climbed shrieking around us, we mothers sat on the equipment and took turns listening to the news on my Walkman. When we could smell and then see the debris cloud, we packed up the little ones again and walked out of the park, only to encounter disheveled office workers wandering home.

In Brooklyn these days, I am enjoying unfathomable privileges — peace and prosperity — and everywhere around me noticing shadows of war. My daughter used to think that the Muslim women we saw on the street were various versions of Maria, the Catholic novice from “The Sound of Music,” but now she knows well enough to point and shout, “Look, Mommy, Muslims!” I stop at the newsstand to visit Abdul from Yemen, and as he admires how my kids have grown I learn that his wife is about to bear his sixth child. He shows me pictures; he’s brought all of them to Brooklyn now. I wonder if he has heard of the Al-Farooq mosque over on Atlantic Avenue, which was shut down when its members were found to be funneling millions to al-Qaida. On the morning the bombing begins, we smile at each other extra hard.

I have never mentioned the war to my daughter, yet over breakfast — with NPR murmuring in the background — she points to the radio and says, “Is that the war they’re talking about? What’s a war?” In my fumbled answer I use the word “battle,” and she says, “Battle? Like the Mouse King in the Nutcracker?” Even at that moment, I am pleased that her cultural references are so sophisticated. She has seen the New York City Ballet perform at Lincoln Center. My 2-year-old son prances around the kitchen stabbing imaginary foes. “I’m the Mouse King! I kill you!” My daughter knows Frances Hodgson Burnett’s story of the Little Princess — whose father goes to fight in a war and is long presumed dead. Worried, she wants to know if her father will fight in this war. “Oh, no,” I am happy to reassure her. “Papa is much, much too old.”

My daughter attends afternoon pre-K at P.S. 321, which holds shelter drills when the bombing of Baghdad begins. For my benefit, she imitates a tinkling alarm and then explains how she took her partner’s hand and marched into the hallway, where the children sat on the floor with their backs to the walls. Why? I ask her, stupidly. To get away, she explains, from anything outside the windows. Days before, I’d overheard a teacher in that hallway greet a little boy who will be starting school in the fall. “See you in pre-K next year, Jihad!”

On the day that the “shock and awe” bombing begins, I am standing on the sidewalk opposite Beth Elohim, the elegant synagogue on Eighth Avenue that now draws a police presence on the Jewish holidays. I think about how I love my multiethnic home — Brooklyn — once known as “the borough of churches.” I am comforting my son, who is worn-out and howling, and at the same time I am working hard to put out of my head thoughts of children in Baghdad screaming in terror and pain.

– Eileen Kelly

Sheerly Avni is a freelance writer living in Oakland.

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