Another Gulf War Falls Flat in Rural America

My village of about 650 year-round residents votes overwhelmingly Republican. Most of us are affluent or at least comfortable. And every morning a few dozen of us take turns sitting at the two old, worn oak tables in the town’s bakery to talk about the news of our homes, our neighborhoods and the world.

On Wednesday morning, nobody was convinced by George Bush’s State of the Union speech that we ought to go to war. Together, all we could do was ask questions.

“We haven’t made much progress,” one retired teacher complains. “We keep setting up regimes that we end up having to take down. Why haven’t we learned more?”

I speak up. “I think we have learned a lot as a nation, which is why the antiwar sentiment is so strong, which is why we’re having this conversation today. Nobody can be gung-ho about war ever again. None of us is as blindly patriotic as we used to be.”

We talk about it. The media has taken us around the world, so that we worry about Iraqis and other distant peoples. Fifty years ago, we didn’t see into enemy homes. Now we do.

And the best war movies have shown us exactly what war looks like, the blood and the guts. We trust them more than images from Desert Storm, an antiseptic collage of press briefings and missiles flashing across the night skies.

Too many will die

Many of us don’t buy “Our way or the highway” anymore.

In our diversity we have grown to be less self-righteous.

As one conservative clergyman asks at the bakery table, “Why are we allowed to have weapons of mass destruction but nobody else is?”

The death of young men and women, noble and brave as they might be, sickens us now in a way I don’t think we let it years ago.

An apple farmer wonders, “How many people do you suppose would die if we go to war?”

“Too many!” somebody shouts. “Even one is too many!”

“Oh,” someone guesses, “maybe 25,000.”

The farmer’s eyes widen. “That’s a lot,” he says.

“But,” someone else interjects, “isn’t 1,000 a lot?” We sit for a moment in silence, imagining losing our whole town, all 650 of us, plus a few hundred from the town down the road.

Ask the president

And for what? Security as a nation? “Wouldn’t war,” one woman asks, “make us feel less secure and more vulnerable to revenge?”

What’s the alternative, though? Is anyone negotiating? Can you negotiate with evil? But is he as evil as we’re led to think? If so, let’s kill him off! But everyone winces at the idea of assassinating anyone whom we decide, as a nation, is a menace.

Behind the counter, refilling coffee cups, the bakery’s owner listens. He told me a few days ago that he never knew his dad, who was killed in World War II when Jerry was only 4. Jerry told me: “The president should send his daughters to war.”

At our table, someone says, “We should invite George to join us,” as we tend to invite any newcomer who walks through the door. We laugh. George, the president, is not far away, talking about Medicare and prescription drugs in a big auditorium in Grand Rapids.

Better, perhaps, for him to visit the hometown bakeries of America, the bowling alleys, the neighborhood bars, and take questions from the people and try, if he can, to answer us.

Susan Ager appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, only in the Detroit Free Press. Contact her at 313-222-6862 or

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