Saw two people the other day, a grey-haired woman and man, standing in front of the arch at Washington Square, holding a banner: NO MORE WAR IN IRAQ. They weren't shouting anything, they were just standing there in the cold, heads high, with looks of contemplative resignation, holding the banner between them. And I felt nostalgic, almost, or sentimental; it was like being reminded of an old song from a few years ago, like hearing OutKast again or something -- oh right, yeah, I was really into that, before it got played into the ground. NO WAR IN IRAQ.
I remember that banner. We were carrying that banner, back in 2003. We schlepped our homemade signs all over town, walking down streets flooded with our friends and neighbors, including the eighty-three year old woman who lives next door, who stopped us in the hallway for ten minutes to tell us how disgusted she was with our government. "I tell you," she said, "I have seen many, many presidents. Nixon was not this bad. These people are the worst of the worst."
And everybody agreed -- all of us here in New York did, anyway. This was not the time to go into another Arab country and start killing people. Jesus! How stupid did you have to be? But all our yelling and marching and emailing and petition signing was for naught. The war started, the bombs dropped, and since it seemed that there was nothing we could do to stop it, we accepted it.
We accepted it. And every day, there were roadside bombs, and firefights, and helicopters down, and people dead. And people said, Well, we had to get rid of Saddam anyway, you didn't want Saddam there, did you? And then other people said, There were no WMDs, they wanted to invade Iraq back in 02, look at the Downing Street memo. But if you weren't watching all the Sunday morning news analysis and reading several of the world's international papers on a daily basis, you were stupid and your opinion didn't matter, so you shut up about it eventually. At least I did.
Yesterday we stopped next door to see if our neighbor, now eighty-five, needed us to get her anything in the blizzard. "Oh no, my dears," she thanked us. "You know, this isn't even the worst blizzard I've ever been through here in New York. The worst one was the winter of 1947, and Hal was just back from overseas, and Miriam was just six months old, and we were living out in Sunnyside, Queens..."
She pulled her bathrobe a little tighter, remembering the cold. "Twenty seven inches of snow. It was so cold! And you couldn't get any heat, the heating oil rations were all gone, and we didn't have a telephone at the time -- you know it was hard to get a telephone after the war, you had to wait for weeks and months. Everything was in short supply back then; you had to make do. We had six blankets on the baby, she was wrapped in layers 'til we could barely see her little face! Oh, we froze for nearly a week before we could get any oil."
This is what she remembers of old wars -- drafts and droughts, rations and deprivation. But this war, this blizzard, she is warm inside her well-heated apartment. None of us over here in the US are going without oil for this one.
So what will I tell my much younger neighbors, when I'm eighty-five years old and it snows like a motherfuck, and they come by to see if I need toilet paper or bananas -- what will I say? "You know, it snowed like this back in 2006, but we'd been at war for almost three years by then, and it didn't seem as important anymore."