March 18, 2003

I’ll Take Mine Straight Up and Neat

And so it begins. No, not The War—but the non-stop news “analysis.” MSNBC has a countdown clock on our television screens at all times, counting down the hours and minutes before Saddam and his progeny have to exit Iraq. Retired colonels and generals stand with long-stemmed pointers on large topographical maps, waiting to be called into service. Three-D icons of air, artillery, and ground support ring the country.

When it starts, we will bestow expert status on these on-air soldiers as we hang on their every word. “The media have collectively conveyed the impression that this thing will be over in 2-1/2 hours, give or take a few promo spots,” writes Howard Kurtz in today’s Washington Post. I am hoping so, if only to limit the examination and dissection of every little detail.

These scenes are reminiscent of WWII war films. Military personnel in tailored uniforms are cued by earphone-wearing coworkers connected to the front. As updates are received they move miniature troops and tanks around the battleground map. And yet, this isn’t a movie.

Is the gravity expressed by these talking heads real or simply something they’ve decided we want to hear. It’s the Stone Phillips tip-o-the-head effect. By turning his head, just ever so slightly as Phillips delivers “difficult” news, he mirrors our own somber emotions. You find yourself nodding in agreement with his implied assessment. I distrust that suggested credibility.

• • •

I got up this morning at 5:15, as I always do on weekdays. I stumbled into the kitchen to put on a pot of water and prepare my oatmeal. I rise earlier than I need to just to have some quiet time before the cacophonous rush to get my 5 year old daughter and I off to school and work.

My six year old suddenly appeared at the kitchen door. She was shocked it was still dark out. “It’s way too early for you to be up,” I told her. “But daddy, I got a good night’s sleep and I’m wide awake.” It was true.

The solitude of the morning provided a wonderful opening. I asked her if she had heard about the possibility of war and if she knew what that meant. She nodded, but I wondered how this gets filtered through a six year old’s mind. I was totally oblivious to the tensions of the Cold War at her age.

I got out her world globe and showed her where Iraq was and where we were. She wanted to know where Disney World was, just for comparison. For the third time this year I reminded her she was safe and that mommy and daddy would protect her. And I wondered just how many fathers in other parts of the world were telling their children the same thing that morning.

My daughter discovered soft drinks this weekend. Up until now, she’s found the bubbly sweet drinks unpalatable. But suddenly she wanted more. For right now, her truth is a little fizzy with just a bit of sugar. Mine is straight up and neat.

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