Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Iraq War II: The days before the attack

I had a rather strange experience in the days before the invasion of Iraq, in late February 2003.

People marched and held signs as they walked through Vero Beach.

People marched and held signs as they walked through Vero Beach.

As a copy editor for the Vero Beach Press-Journal, my regular work didn’t involve writing and reporting, just editing and layout, but I thought it might be a good idea to pitch story ideas to the editors.

One I had heard about was that there was going to be a protest against the pending war in Iraq.

Like many people, I had supported the idea of invading Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. It was true that by early 2003 the memory of the attacks was fading under the pressure of more immediate demands, but that always happens. Still, 9/11 was a real presence in everyone’s lives then, and the sudden shift to Iraq reinvigorated the war fever that had defined American life. Afghanistan, by contrast, was nearly forgotten.

I remembered my time in the service, part of which was during the Iranian hostage crisis, and how eager my squadron was for war and combat with Iran. Before your buddies get blown away, the prospect of combat seems to imbue you with a sense of purpose and invigorates you. You never think you’ll come home dead or missing body parts. You’ll come home with nice, colorful ribbons over your left breast pocket, and to the accolades of millions of grateful people.

War with Iran didn’t happen, and we were disappointed in the Marines, but I’m sure there were many people who were relieved.

People marched and held signs as they walked through Vero Beach. It was peaceful.

People marched and held signs as they walked through Vero Beach. It was peaceful.

At the war protest, there were those who were counterprotesting, contending – wrongly, as it turned out – that Iraq’s regime had weapons of mass destruction and needed to be destroyed. Like them I had watched then-Secretary of State Colin Powell lay out the case for war in the United Nations. All the evidence seemed solid.

There is a tendency in this country to equate support of policy with support of the troops, and that not supporting the policy is a way of spitting in the troops’ faces. Nothing can be farther from the truth, but those who wanted the war in Iraq were eager to discredit opponents.

In Vero Beach, a city with many retired military and of a pretty conservative bent, the voices for war outshouted those who raised concerns. Some of those opposed to war in Iraq were in favor of continuing the war in Afghanistan and finding Osama bin Laden, and felt that Iraq would distract from the mission at hand. Others feared that the administration might then make a case, after Iraq was conquered, to take the war into Iran.

Others were just against war in general, and wanted us to stop in Afghanistan, too.

Worries about being spied on were some of the concerns expressed that day.

Worries about being spied on were some of the concerns expressed that day.

The paper’s editor said I could go and encouraged me to write a story, but said it probably wouldn’t run in the paper. With war fever running high, he said opposing views were not being considered.

At the park that day, I wandered around and heard the speeches and looked at the displays. I talked to a few people, identifying myself as being with the paper, and if people didn’t want to talk to me, I was OK with that. I was in reporter mode, and had no views one way or the other on the war.

One person I talked to was a woman who had brought her 10-year-old son. “I’m a conservative Republican,” she told me. “My husband didn’t want me to come today. He favors the war.”

So why was she there?

“I’m worried. I don’t want my son going to war when he’s older,” she said. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

People also questioned why the war was being pushed so hard.

People also questioned why the war was being pushed so hard.

For once, she said, she agreed with the liberals in the park.

I emailed the woman some of the photos I shot that day. The story about the protest never appeared in the paper.

Thanks to the wonders of digital photography, I have a bunch of pictures I shot that day. They are shown here.

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March 20, 2013 - Posted by | Living in the modern age, The news business | , , , , , , , ,

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