War letters

Salon readers -- including an impassioned vet, a woman with a husband in Kuwait, a Gen-Xer who wants better antiwar music and a student sitting alone in Brooklyn watching "Dr. Strangelove" -- tell us how the impending war is changing their lives.


Salon readers
February 25, 2003 1:45AM (UTC)

As Herodotus wrote in Book 1 of his "Histories": "In peace, children inter their parents; war violates the order of nature and causes parents to inter their children." In my family, war violated the order of who buried whom but it did not violate the order of who told the stories to whom. It was always the uncles, the grandparents, the parents telling the stories, and it was always the kids, the teenagers, who hadn't seen the carnage, who sat and listened, horrified or mesmerized or bored senseless.

In the stories the elders told it was always before the war or after the war or around the time it looked like war was coming, or when they bombed Pearl Harbor, or when your father came home from the war, or when the Russians came, when the Germans came, when the Americans came. And depending on the intricate spiral of fateful couplings that made you Czech or Albanian or Jewish or gay or Swiss or Alabaman or all of them together, it would be you behind the barbed wire or you hiding in the attic or you who rode the bus up a dusty road to boot camp, or you who stood at the crossroads waving and crying as your brother or your father or your sister rode away. War, that terrible necessity, seemed to be the great incubator of all our stories.

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So now we stand on the brink, still shocked and bruised by an appalling act of violence carried out by a few angry zealots who flew civilian airplanes into civilian buildings and incinerated office workers and mail clerks and security guards and commodities brokers. And somehow that event has led us to where we are today: with 150,000 Americans halfway around the world, ready to attack a country run by an evil dictator who may or may not represent an imminent threat to us. And as we argue, or march, or wave flags, in a little more than a week the bombs could start falling.

If you would like to share with us how the impending war is affecting your life, write to warletters@salon.com.

Here are some stories from our readers.

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I am pissed

I watch too much evening news, especially the national news, darting back and forth from the kitchen, keeping an ear out while preparing dinner, and hope that the constant refrain of "imminent war" is not soaking into my children's psyches in too threatening a way. I wrestle with my need to know, to get some answers, and my duty as a parent to protect their gentle, dreamy hearts and minds.

And yet, I can't seem to stop myself, to find some balance. I've become some kind of broken-record news junkie, scouring the paper and the Internet, spouting off to uninterested friends, trying to put all the pieces together: What are the real issues here in going to war, or preventing it? What's going on behind the curtain? What's true? What's not? What's propaganda? What's coming?

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I, like so many others, don't know. I don't know what war will look like, what Pandora's box we may or may not unleash.

But here's what I do know: I am pissed. I'm pissed at Bush, I'm disgusted and amused by his swaggering, know-it-all, but slightly confused posturing (that slight haze right behind his eyes is something else, and in a world leader, no less). I'm pissed at Rumsfeld and his arrogance, his international insults (let's project even a year down the line -- are these allies that we want to be throwing away for a couple of cheap ego strokes?). I'm pissed at Powell and how he seems to have turned from somewhat of a voice of reason into a warmongering parrot.

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Most of all, I'm pissed at Congress. You represent the people, we elected your asses into your cushy positions of power, and now you don't have the courage to ask hard, unpopular questions because you're afraid of losing your job?? How chickenshit! How offensive! How lame. Where is all the debate?

I worry about war with Iraq, in the evening, when it's quiet and I'm alone. A few times lately, I've woken up early in the morning, long before the alarm goes off, with a sense of impending doom and dread in the pit of my stomach.

So I was wrong in 1991 when I held my then brand-new infant in my arms and stepped out onto our sweeping front steps in Oregon, staring out into a peaceful nighttime sky of stars and valley, mountains in the distance. "War" had just begun, and like a movie, the reporters were right there in the middle of it. Boom! Flash! Explosions lighting up the sky! Staring into nothing, I wondered if my daughter would ever live to see her own children come into the world. Melodramatic? Yes, but luckily, my fears about the possibility of another world war were completely off the mark.

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Here's what shakes me up: We don't seem to know what the hell we're getting ourselves into. We're marching straight into a hornet's nest and it looks like we're going to be doing it mostly alone. There doesn't seem to be any compelling, absolutely necessary reason to do so. Most of the world is trying to say no to war. We're actively creating new and stronger hatred toward the United States. You just know something bad and unexpected is going to happen.

What are we doing?

-- Jennifer Marine
Austin, Texas

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War stories? Give me a break!

Tell you our war stories? Oh, please, please, give me a break! May I say that this seems like parochial self-absorption that is so typical of the Bay Area. (I graduated from Cal so I should know!)

My husband is currently on an aircraft carrier heading to one of the hot spots on the globe right now, yet even I, faced with an unprecedented deployment with two small children to care for, do not think that I have any tales that could be dignified with that name. During my husband's career we have spent many years overseas, and I have met many people who indeed had "war stories" to tell. My Italian tutor's mother, who fled with her family into the hills below Monte Cassino to avoid the French Moroccan troops who were raping and killing civilians, and watched her baby sister die from the poisoned mushrooms that her nursing mother ate when they were starving -- she has a war story to tell. Or my daughter's preschool teacher in England who was sent out of London, without her parents, armed only with a gas mask -- she, too, has a war story to tell.

Not me -- and not most people in this country. And all the accounts of the frenzied buying of duct tape should be seen for what they are -- an insult to the 50 million people (John Keegan's estimate) who died during World War II, and to the countless other people who daily die in conflicts scarcely noticed in the United States. So stop trying to stir up a little vicarious thrill with a call for the tiresome stories of our ever so comfortable population. Most of them have never seen the real face of war, and have no idea what they are talking about.

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-- Barbara Prentice

I'm not some knee-jerk liberal. I'm a vet

I want to establish that I'm not coming at this from some knee-jerk, liberal antiwar stance. I'm a vet. I not only served, I volunteered to be the first in harm's way by serving with the 2/75 Ranger battalion and the 1/509 NATO strike force. The need to mount a military defense of our country is an unfortunate fact of world politics that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

But if we are to claim the moral high ground as champions of peace and freedom, we must set a high standard for the use of force. The slope to brutish imperialism is indeed slippery. This is especially so when a nation stands unopposed. Force is a facile and tempting means to impose what is so difficult to achieve by diplomacy. If we aim no higher than establishing a new Rome with our brand of Pax Americana, then perhaps war in Iraq is what is called for. Perhaps I'm a rosy-eyed idealist, but the America I served had nobler dreams than merely having the biggest stick.

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You scoff at the last 12 years of Iraqi containment. When was the last time Iraq knew 12 years of peace? In that same period Hussein has not tested any nuclear weapons and it is very unlikely he has made any significant gain in a nuclear weapons program. Can we say the same of Pakistan? It is very difficult for a country that is quick to forgive and enjoys peaceful relations with its neighbors to truly grasp the depth of hatred or the complete unwillingness to forgive or forget that is endemic to that region. If anyone thinks the Iraqis will welcome foreign invaders or a military governor they should consider the experiences of the British in this region. No matter how odious Hussein is, a foreign oppressor will be hated worse, no matter how benign.

As for the war itself, there are several troubling concerns. First and foremost is the fact that Congress and only Congress has the right to declare a war. The president can act to defend our interests, but to place the power to arbitrarily start a war in the hands of the president goes against the very fiber of our democracy.

Second, what is the hurry? The containment may not be a perfect solution, but it is working. There is no immediate threat to us or anyone else. Why are we in such a rush to see the blood start flowing? As a vet who didn't go AWOL to avoid service to my country I am appalled that a coward like Bush is so ready to sacrifice the brave men and women who do serve for nothing more than his personal aggrandizement.

Third, the attempts by the administration to tie al-Qaida with Hussein have made us a laughingstock. There is no doubt where al-Qaida fled when Afghanistan fell. Nor is there any doubt where they still harass us from in Afghanistan. The country where you can find al-Qaida is Pakistan, not Iraq. It is pure folly to start a new war before you finish the last. Anyone who cannot understand this is not fit to lead.

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Fourth, we cannot afford another war at this time when we have a tanked economy and real threats to guard against like North Korea.

Fifth, when your staunchest allies start to oppose you it is time to stop and listen. It is not the time to blindly push on while burning every bridge behind you.

Sixth, any time you have to buy support for an action, as we are buying our allies, it is sure to be wrong.

Finally, I'll let Colin Powell speak (from "U.S. Forces: Challenges Ahead," by Colin Powell, Foreign Affairs, winter 1992): "When a 'fire' starts that might require committing armed forces, we need to evaluate the circumstances. Relevant questions include: Is the political objective we seek to achieve important, clearly defined and understood? Have all other nonviolent policy means failed? Will military force achieve the objective? At what cost? Have the gains and risks been analyzed? How might the situation that we seek to alter, once it is altered by force, develop further and what might be the consequences?

"When the political objective is important, clearly defined and understood, when the risks are acceptable, and when the use of force can be effectively combined with diplomatic and economic policies, then clear and unambiguous objectives must be given to the armed forces. These objectives must be firmly linked with the political objectives. We must not, for example, send military forces into a crisis with an unclear mission they cannot accomplish -- such as we did when we sent the U.S. Marines into Lebanon in 1983. We inserted those proud warriors into the middle of a five-faction civil war complete with terrorists, hostage-takers, and a dozen spies in every camp, and said, 'Gentlemen, be a buffer.'"

This war fails to met his tests in every regard. It is exactly the kind of action he warns against.

There is no doubt that Hussein is a despot, that his people suffer under his rule or that we should keep a careful eye on him. But there is no call for us to sink to his level and strike first. The world is full of Husseins and would-be Husseins. Here in America we deal with them with a policy of containment, called jail. In Iraq they let them lead the country. While I am sympathetic to their plight, there are some things the people of a country must do for themselves, and getting fed up enough to depose a dictator is one of them. Only then can we help and clearly be in the right. Until then, as outsiders, intervention by means of war must always be the last, absolutely last, possible resort because anything less and we are no better than those we despise.

We are definitely not to that point, and the bluster of the chickenhawks is perhaps the clearest proof of this. Hussein is contained and his being despicable is no reason to rain death down on the Iraqi people or sacrifice the life of one American. This war is wrong.

-- Jay

I want to be a mom

It's all about me. War I mean. I don't think I'm particularly unique in this attitude. Maybe, in fact, it's a particularly American attitude -- otherwise why pose the question? Missiles, inspections, the U.N., Bush. Me. Me. Me!

I want to be a mom. I've tried very hard to be a mom -- lots of angst, doctors and paperwork. In about six weeks I'm supposed to travel to China with my husband to meet and bring home our daughter. She's there. In an orphanage. With scabies and dirty diapers and not enough attention and love. But Bush has been working toward war for years and says it will be "weeks not months." Forget duct tape and plastic sheeting -- will my visa to China go through? Will the airports be shut down? Will the enormous amounts of luggage one needs for two freaked-out adults and one wiggling, beautiful, much loved infant make it through security intact? What about in the streets of Guangzhou? Will strangers curse me? Will I be the warmonger come to steal their young? And if we make it to China, will we make it out? Will I be practicing my brand-new mommy skills in the airport sitting area as soldiers pace and intercoms blare (in a language I don't understand) that flights into the U.S. are restricted until further notice?

I don't pretend to understand this war. I read the paper and listen to the news and still, all I hear is "your baby needs you now and this war will fuck you up."

By all accounts this war will take years to fight and decades to clean up. Can't we just wait until my baby is home? Until all the babies are home? Until they're all through school and have children of their own to love and protect? Until they can protest and ask for peace for just a little while longer? That seems plenty soon enough to try to start a war.

-- Amanda Beall

I buy cans of stuffed grape leaves

Over the past three weeks or so, I've been waking up with a vague feeling of dread. Usually it's because I've had nightmares that I can't remember, and I wake up feeling that something is terribly wrong. Other times I remember my dreams, and my day is clouded by lingering images from my subconscious mind. I guess my dreams are a manifestation of pre-war anxiety.

Like most of the people around me, I imagine, I'm anxious about the sealed room my husband and I will have to herd our dog and cat into. I'm anxious about biological or chemical attacks, about the effectiveness of the state-issued gas masks that all Israeli citizens receive. Most of all, I'm anxious because there's nothing I can do. No matter how much mineral water I stuff into our "sealed room," no matter how many cans of corn and beans I buy in case we get stuck at home, or the food sources are contaminated, I have no guarantee of staying safe.

So I buy more cans of stuffed grape leaves (they're much more interesting than beans), and collect books, magazines and pet toys in an effort to prepare for the inevitable. And I try to think of people who have more reason to be anxious: people with young children, poor people with insufficient housing and improperly sealed rooms, people who live in "target" areas like Tel Aviv. And I hope for the best.

-- Shelly Butcher

This protest needs better music!

I am part of Generation X. Twenty-three years old the first time I heard the term "slacker," I can also tell you where I was when I learned that Kurt Cobain was dead. As you may expect, I hate the baby boomers. My entire life I have heard the tales of the Beatles' first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan" show, Camelot, peace marches, free love, the second wave of feminism, bra burning, communes. I have heard and read the word "apathetic" in relation to people of my age group more times than Al Sharpton has run for president. I don't personally hate baby boomers, of course. I count several good friends and an ex-boyfriend among them. Yet, as a group, as a demographic, the baby boomers have continuously pissed me off. The relationship recalls two battling siblings: the older one is prettier, smarter and perhaps just a wee bit on the dramatic side, compulsively shoving the younger, quieter one out of the limelight. And yet, I have found myself in league with those of the baby-boom generation for the last eight weeks or so. All thanks to President George W. Bush.

After cowering under my proverbial bed since, oh, Sept. 11, and doing a mental holding-my hands-over-my-ears and yelling, "nyah-nyah-na-na-na" since sometime between the Axis of Evil and the first major breakdown of the Fourth Amendment, I finally got fed up enough to become righteously angry and begin the slow process of inserting myself into this new antiwar effort. I meet every Saturday morning to demonstrate against this hyperreal war in front of the local post office. Steven and Susan, the parents of my friend, Jaala, started what I call the "Post Office Protest Society" (or POPS). When you live in a rural town like I do (pop. 1,298) in Southwest Wisconsin, where the town hall sits across the street from the town dump, you've got to be creative. Not only is the Spring Green post office the only federal building around, but everyone in the town stops by there on Saturday mornings to get their mail.

Steven and Susan are shining examples of the baby boomers back in the day -- real hippie liberals. In fact, Steven met Susan when he was living in his pad in Harvard Square and Susan was on the run from the fuzz following that unfortunate Weathermen incident at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. If you don't recall the incident, it was the one in which a section of a research lab was blown up and a postgraduate student named Robert Fassnacht was killed. Susan has said, "Oh, I was in the intellectual part of the Weathermen -- we read about making bombs. We never would have actually done anything." Still, she had to hightail it out of Wisconsin for a while after the bombing, went to Harvard Square and grabbed the first hippie she saw on the street to beg for sanctuary. She was given Steven's apartment address. They met, fell in love and eventually had two great kids, now grown adults. So in a way, the death of Fassnacht resulted in my friend Jaala's birth. Well, when god closes a door ... The family moved to Wisconsin, Susan's home state, in the early '80s after Jimmy Carter granted amnesty to all these '60s radicals. POPS has been meeting at the post office every Saturday for a month and plans to do so indefinitely.

I have begun to go to marches and meetings, which are dizzying. I feel this unifying subterranean power when others voice what I have thought about this hypothetical Gulf War do-over. In the midst of this complaints seem irrelevant, but one thing has seriously started to bug the shit out of me: the music.

Seriously, guys, hasn't there been any good protest music -- or at least music with a political and appropriate cultural message -- made in the last, oh, 35 fucking years? "All we are saaaying ... is give peace a chance" was delightful when the guy singing it was John Lennon and he was willing to sit in a bed for a week to preach bed and hair peace, but hearing a bunch of tone-deaf people whining away at that song makes me want to scream until my voice gives out. Every time I see someone with a complete head of gray hair stand up at a protest or meeting with an acoustic guitar, I brace myself for the coming onslaught and so far, I haven't been wrong. I literally heard "Good Morning, Sunshine" and "Let the Sunshine In," from the soundtrack to "Hair," at the beginning of a march a few weeks ago. This is music that, when I last listened to it regularly, was on vinyl and I was still getting stoned three days a week in the dorms.

For the last several weeks I've been trying to think about songs that may have come out since, you know, "Bush Administration I: The Prequel" that might work right about now.

The first band that comes to mind is U2. It's a natural, of course, since the band was forged on the streets of a war-torn city. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" works beautifully as a protest song. "I won't heed the battle call/ and put my back up/ put my back up against the wall ... How long, how long must we sing this song ... " But eventually I'm afraid it might come down to people singing, "Sunday bloody Sunday" (however much I would like to hear "How long/ how long must we sing this song"). Bystanders would be on the sidewalk wondering why we're singing about 16 killed in 1973 in Ireland. Well, probably not, actually -- I'm sure many people have heard the song, but the chorus doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot out of context.

R.E.M. has offered some good songs -- "Finest Worksong" has the lines, "The time to rise has been engaged/ garble garble garble and rearrange ... What we want and what we need/ Has been confused, been confused." I know the chorus to "It's the End of the World as We Know It" works on its own, and as a whole the song has some great lines, when you can decipher them, such as "Government for hire in a combat site ... Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives, and I decline." But on the whole the lyrics have always been a problem. Will people even understand the words "birthday party cheesecake jelly bean boom," and can they have any application during a march?

Nirvana should be a shoo-in, simply for its Gen X identity. But I imagine groups of people on one side of the street singing "A denial," from "Smells Like Teen Spirit," as the other side erroneously chants, "pop your eye out." And while it makes sense in a surreal way, in that in going to war we are in denial about the whole "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" thing, I don't think anyone would really get it.

The one song that might actually work is "Hero" from the "Spider-Man" movie soundtrack. I saw the movie soon after it opened but had no connection to the song until driving in my car one day several months later. I thought someone had to have written it expressly about 9/11 from the point of view of someone on the top floors of the World Trade Center. "Someone told me/ Love will all save us/ But ... look what love gave us/ A world full of killing / and blood spilling/ that world never came/ And they say/ That a hero could save us/ I'm not going to stand here and wait/ I'll hold onto the wings of the eagles/ Watch as we all fly away." The "love" being fanatical religious love, the "heroes" that the person waits for are the emergency workers, the "eagles" representing the U.S. "And they're watching us," from the chorus, refers to watching the events unfold on the TV screens and streets, "as we all fly away" refers to those who jumped out of the towers or the towers falling.

Of course I understand the irony that almost all of these suggestions are early Gen X. During the march I attended -- where the "Hair" soundtrack was blasting -- I saw people of all ages, including the friend's daughter who currently is a senior in college. To her, Nirvana, R.E.M. and U2 are old school. So what I'm saying is, can anyone contribute some good music besides my few lame examples? Until then, I think I'll take my walkman (that only plays tapes, not CDs or MP3s) to the marches and play "Eponymous" or "War" to keep from yelling at gray-haired strangers.

-- Mary Keiran Murphy

Global intervention has to start somewhere

I was born in Canada, and have spent a large part of my time growing up in the relatively insular and secure environment that North America provides, but I am also an Irish citizen, and have spent years living there and in Saudi Arabia, as well as the U.K. and the U.S.

My perspective on the war is slightly different than those of my North American friends. Especially in the 10 to 15 years between the gradual disappearance of the specter of nuclear war and the sudden collapse of feeling of unassailability that resulted from Sept. 11, North Americans have not had to deal with the idea of conflict and terror, except as a theoretical exercise. This was despite tragedies that were occurring around the world without marking the Western consciousness, such as Rwanda and Bosnia. The major difference between this war and the Gulf War of 10 years ago is that North Americans have been wrenched back into contact with the death and conflict that is a part of life in the vast majority of the world.

My contact with terror while living in Canada was very limited, with the major event being very personal to my family. Having left Saudi Arabia months before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, we were regularly on the phone with friends when they had to grab gas masks and head to an air-raid shelter as air-raid sirens sounded for an incoming Scud missile. Yet life in North America continued as normal, with the video game war on TV the closest any of my friends had ever been to conflict. The strange thing was that it really wasn't that unusual for us. We had already been evacuated from our house in Saudi Arabia as a cloud of chlorine gas spread after terrorists had blown a hole in a petrochemical plant. Our time in Ireland was marked by the activities of the IRA, though my family was from the relatively unmarked southern reaches of the Republic.

I work in an office that was the target of an IRA attack in the early '90s; I walk hundreds of meters at Heathrow to fly to Ireland because the gates of Irish planes were separated from the rest for safety; and after the last Irish nationalist bombing in London I was stopped by the metropolitan police and had to give them my contact details in both Ireland and England, because I was an Irish male between 20 and 30, leaving London mere hours after an explosion. Every van or truck approaching the area I work in is stopped and some are searched. There are no trash cans in the London Tube because of the risk of Irish terrorists.

The only change wrought in the preamble to this war is in North American attitudes, and it is this vulnerability that has spurred protests. At least more people are aware of the world now, and potentially there will be more action to help preserve human rights around the world. The motives of some of the leaders of this campaign may be suspect (I am very anti-Bush), but with great power comes great responsibility. Saddam's history may not be exceptional in the list of current tyrants, and the oil fields may be a significant factor, but turning the other cheek is not always successful. Global intervention has to start somewhere, and there is not always an alternative to physical force. Physical force is how Saddam maintains his rule, and may be the only way to end it.

-- Andrew Honan

My husband is stationed in Kuwait

I am 26 and live in the D.C. suburbs. My husband is currently stationed in Kuwait with the Army Reserves Corp of Engineers. He has been there since about the third week of November. He left home on Nov. 1st.

We were married Oct. 1 after about six months of dating, and a year living together. The past few months of his being gone have been hard. We got a dog shortly before he left, which is wonderful and helps with the loneliness. But it is so hard to be away from him. And friends and family have been supportive, but they don't really understand, and can't be there all of the time.

I have such mixed feelings about the upcoming war with Iraq. I want to support my husband, and I try to be patriotic. But I am scared.

When I hear people ask the question, "Why now? Yes, Saddam needs to go, but why now?" I can answer that. Because we are there. We have spent so much money sending thousands of troops over. We have to use them. They are already there. They are training to go wipe him out. It is going to happen because how could it not? How could we send 100,000 troops overseas, and then say, "Never mind"?

There are so many worries. Obviously, I worry about the vaccines and all of the shots he has been given. I worry about Gulf War syndrome. Will he come home sterile from the insect repellent and chemical exposure? I worry about the psychological toll this takes on him. And me. I worry about our marriage. How will the readjustment be when he comes home? Will we still love each other like we did before he left?

I read the papers, watch CNN, and everyone talks about the political side. But you don't hear much about the personal side. The day we saw my husband off, I saw grown men crying with their wives and children. Mothers and fathers wiping away tears as they hugged their sons and daughters goodbye.

I certainly know that I am not the first wife to watch her new husband leave for possible war. But that doesn't make it any easier. I am so proud of him, and so scared for him.

-- Sarah Hartnett

The war is accelerating our relationship

All my grandparents are dead, so I have no one to talk to about the experiences in the First World War, but my father always tells me his earliest memory is looking up at the searchlights in Detroit during a nighttime air-raid drill. The one thing I know about my grandfather on my father's side is that he tried to enlist and almost made it, but they found out he was a metallurgist and held him back.

I've had ex-girlfriends with grandparents who fought. Parents of my parents' friends who refused to talk about their experiences. And when they do, they get nightmares, so they don't again. You get an idea over time that all they want to do is reinforce how it was the right thing to do; they don't want to talk about the experiences themselves. Will we ever know what kind of a psychological toll the war had on them? Probably not.

Vietnam affected my parents' generation, and it spurred a thousand books, movies, testimonials of all sorts. Growing up, one of my best friends was obsessed with Vietnam. Eric grew his beard out even at a young age, wore army fatigues, saw every Vietnam movie over and over again. He often said he was reincarnated from someone who died over there. He had dreams about Vietnam. There was something about those young, innocent men, going off to some alien landscape, doing what they were told to do and suffering, dying far from home. Cut off in their prime.

Eric was cut off in his prime, too. In his late 20s he was working the door at a nightclub when he fell to the ground. He died of a blood clot to the brain, or so I was told, two or three years later when I got in touch with old friends. It doesn't seem very real to me, to tell you the truth.

I was in college when the first Gulf War happened. It was in the middle of all that politically correct stuff. As a white male, I had no voice, and I had mixed feelings about it. But I remember clearly sitting with my roommates in the cafeteria when some woman stood up and gave an angry speech about the war, about oil, etc. She seemed so self-righteous. So smug. My roommates and I kept talking through it. We were going over whether or not they'd reinstate the draft, whether it'd escalate, what the hell we'd do in that situation.

The woman I'm dating is across the country from me. She worries about terrorists and I worry about North Korean nuclear missiles. I think it's accelerating our relationship in some ways. She talks about how all the talk of war and disaster makes her want to just be able to look over and see me there, and I share that sentiment. You just want to always know they're there, they're OK for now. You can't do that 3,000 miles away.

I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, though I've had a privileged life the rest of my life. But if things get really bad, I think I have the abilities, and frankly, I think most people do. But I think it'd be a shame.

-- Seth Lindberg

I may not come back to the U.S. now

I'm 21, a third-year student of philosophy at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. My family lives where I grew up, near Boston, and my friends in the U.S. are scattered throughout the Northeast. We're a New England family. My dreams and daydreams are set there. It's like that.

I've lived in the U.K. for nearly three years now. The transplantation was completely wrenching, but I found that I am as stubborn as they come, and determined early on that I would finish four years here. I also discovered that I love not just my house and city but America with a passion, absence making my heart grow fiery and misty at once. I'm growing fond of Scotland, but it will never be my home.

Until I realized that this war with Iraq was for real, I assumed I would return to the Northeast and build my life there. I felt this so strongly that I told my boyfriend early in first year that he shouldn't bother falling in love. But he did, and I did too. Not that there was any point, we told each other often. It's the way our relationship has developed: with a date of expiration, set at graduation.

But then it became clear that Bush really meant it, that Europe really didn't, and that the mainstream presses had stopped lying down in the road (as much as they ever had) and had started lying down on the job. America has begun to seem like a dangerous, frustrating, sad place to be, and a losing bet. Fearful, cynical, pigheaded, hopeless, petty, self-absorbed, untrustworthy, distrustful, inflexible, violent, rude, racist and reactionary. Populations and leaders both.

It breaks my heart. I've begun wondering this year, as I didn't last year, if it wouldn't be better to watch the destruction of the U.S. from over here. Britain isn't any great shakes, still, in my eyes, but I do not want to live and raise a family in the shadow of such a towering catastrophe as America is becoming. Take this war with Iraq, as a symptom. I believe that the fallout from this war will defy expectations, in both scope and severity, taking the form of civil unrest and terrorism, economic recession, political fragmentation, and a continuously widening gap between the haves and the raging have-nots.

Will America's myopia finally cause a homegrown backlash the way Maggie Thatcher's tax policy did? I don't know how many it takes to make a backlash, but I am one. Maybe one of many. I'm starting to rearrange my life so as not to include my home. I'll stay in Britain, maybe. Start thinking of this boy as the only boy.

-- Sarah Ledlie Loring

I am in New York, refusing to flee

I'm a college student in New York. I live in Brooklyn. I have a sneaky suspicion that I will remain in the metro area for the next five-plus years, hacking out my medical education. Occasionally I lie in bed with one of my cats chewing on my nose, a luxury whose rent I can barely afford, and wonder if I should be thankful or regretful that I am as stubborn as I am, refusing to flee, possibly to somewhere I may very well like better. I fear, more than anything, the moment after the "whew!" of arrival in a new, more fuzzy-feeling place. If I have to second-guess myself, I'd much rather do it in my bed in Brooklyn, sleeping somewhere between the tracks of my subway train and the flight path of La Guardia.

If I was afraid for myself, I would leave New York. I'm not, so I sit in my apartment watching "Dr. Strangelove," afraid for the world.

-- Suzun Tansil

Part 2: More war letters


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