Today, April 18, is the 25th anniversary of the death of The Houston Post, the newspaper for which I worked from 1979 until its demise (except for a short period during which I worked for USA TODAY). I worked as a general-assignment reporter, political writer, foreign correspondent, Washington correspondent and columnist and editorial writer. I enjoyed every one of those jobs, but the job as columnist gave me the most satisfaction. I’ve often been asked which of my some 400 columns written over close to five years I’m most proud. I have never really offered a response because I wrote so many columns I thought were good (and I wrote a lot of shitty columns too!) but I’ve now decided that this column is my best, and my favorite. Here’s why: When George Bush decided to attack Iraq on January 16, 1991 (about three months after I’d started writing a column), I had already written my column for the next day, and had turned it in to my editors. A few minutes later, the news came across the wire that the war had started. It was around 5 p.m. and my deadline was around 6. I decided that the situation was so grave that I could not possibly go with the column I had written (I don’t remember what it was about); I had to write a new one, about the situation in the Middle East. So I went to my editor and requested that I be given back the column. He reluctantly agreed, reminding me of my deadline. I went back to my desk not really knowing if I could write a column in less than two hours. But I started, and the following words just flowed through my fingers into the computer. In less than an hour, I had turned this new column over to the editor, and it appeared in the next morning’s paper with almost no changes, under the headline, “Where has all the sanity gone?”
SO NOW WE are at war.
As I write this, it is too early to tell how this semi-declared war is Going.
Are the good guys winning?
We’ve been told we should never even doubt that.
Are some of our soldiers dying?
Are some of them already lying in pain and anguish in the desert or on some military hospital ship off the coast of Saudi Arabia?
Are innocent Iraqi men, women and children dying by the hundreds as our planes and missiles deliver their lethal payloads?
We’ve been told to expect as much.
Are Iraqi missiles and planes loaded with poison gas on biological bombs making their way through the darkness to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?
We’ve been warned that too is a possibility.
How long will it be before the flag-draped coffins start arriving at American air bases, from there to be transported to cities and towns across the country for military burials?
Not long, I’m sure.
How many grieving widows, mothers and fathers, children, siblings and other loved ones will gather around those caskets to bit them farewell.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, if some of the more dire predictions prove true.
How many times will we hear the expression, “he died for his country” uttered by pastors and other eulogists, and how many times will the grieving survivors be comforted by that?
YES, THIS IS war.
This is what we as a country, through our elected representative, decided we wanted, even if we set aside our national charter, the Constitution, in doing so.
We, the people gave one man, George Bush, the power and the authority to kill and maim people – to bring another human, Saddam Hussein, to his knees.
And we gave George Bush the power and authority to subject our uniformed men and women to the same fates of death and destruction,
It doesn’t sound nice, but that is what war is: human beings resorting to killing and maiming each other because they failed – or refused – to use their reasoning faculties.
“War begins,” the headline of the first wire service story read.
A more accurate headline would have been, “Sanity ends,” for war is surely not just an absence of peace – as we’ve been told – war is an absence of sanity.
There is little comfort to those who must suffer the consequences that one side was saner than the other, that one side was right and the other was wrong, that one leader was a madman while the other was a statesman.
There is no comfort in war.
“The liberation of Kuwait has begun,” were the first words from the White House.
No doubt there will be a successful conclusion to this liberation, but what about the liberation of mankind from the horrors of war? When is that going to begin?
When is the United Nations going to set a deadline for our liberation from insanity?
IT IS A strange experience, being a witness to this tragic turn of historical events. I have never experience this before, since Vietnam pretty much sneaked up on us.
I am scared, and I am angry.
As I look across the newsroom, the faces of my colleagues are somber, and even the feeble attempts at humor seemed laced with dread.
This is all new to us, and some of us haven’t quite figured out how to react, as I’m certain most of you haven’t.
Yet it’s news and we must do our jobs. The adrenalin will flow, the pulses will quicken as we rush to meet this first deadline for bringing you the first installment of the news of this latest failure of mankind.
We’ll do the job, as you will too. But you and I will go home at night to our warm beds and our loved ones.
In the Middle East, even at his dawning hour of the war, there are some people – Americans, Arabs and others – who will never go home.
Welcome to our war.