Friday, August 10, 2007


In the Winter of 2003, we were living primarily in our country house in Pennsylvania. Maisie was a newborn and Nicola was recovering from child birth. It felt good to get out of the city. I was holing up in one of the bedrooms and doing a lot of writing. I wrote a script called All For One that may get revisited some day. I had a good chunk of Original Glory finished. I think I wrote All For One in an attempt to stall finishing OG. While all this was going on, we were gearing up for the invasion of Iraq. I followed it intently, knowing that all the coverage of Hans Blix, the UN weapons inspector, was a cat and mouse game just like Blix accused Saddam of playing. It didn't matter if the inspections turned up any WMD, it was a predetermined fact that we were going to war with Iraq. It was imminent prior to 9/11 and even to W.'s election. I have always believed that sometime in the late 90s, George H.W. and George W. were playing golf or sitting on the porch in Maine having a father-son chat. Maybe Jeb was there, too. I see some cut crystal highball glasses in their hands. I hear a promise to daddy that W. will take Saddam down.
That scene played in my head over and over that winter. I was furious. We were going to invade Iraq no matter what. The tension generated by the media was a bunch of baloney. There was no tension about the reports on the efforts of Blix and his inspectors, nor by the lack of international support, nor of the discovery that Al Qaeda had few ties to Iraq. None of it mattered. What was giving me a lot of grief was the outpouring of ignorance dressed up as patriotism, especially in the little towns near our country house. I was pretty tense that we had a President that was intent on going to war in spite of any opposition, protocol, law or common sense. That we had no plan for Iraq after Saddam was eliminated. That the Iraq Republican Guard was being reported as an elite army capable of providing resistance to our armed forces. It was all a bunch of lies and so many people were believing them. Public discourse was reduced to Support Our Troops.
In the summer of '91 I was riding through Sonoma on my motorcycle. The girl that was with me and I decided to spend a couple of days up there before we went back to San Francisco. We needed some basics as we had originally intended to be back the same day, so went to one of those variety drug stores that used to be in every small town before the invasion of WalMart. There was an entire aisle of hats, shirts and other patriotic swag proclaiming the pride of the USA in support of The Gulf War. Everything was discounted at least fifty percent. We picked some stuff out and went to the counter. I mockingly expressed outrage to the checkout clerk that patriotism was on sale. She earnestly replied that her family supports America no matter if we're at war or not and that she too was sickened by the close-out pricing of all the "America: First Best Always" merchandise.
Many of you may not be aware that Signore Direttore is a war veteran. I served in The Gulf War and prior to that I was deployed in the longest war of the 20th century, The Cold War. In 1985, as my high school chums went off to Vassar, Stanford, Berkeley and other prestige places of higher learning, I enlisted in the Army. I qualified for a special two-year enlistment and an assignment to Germany. I wanted the Germany thing in writing but the recruiting sergeant assured me that few young soldiers want to see the world, most just want a steady job and to be stationed near their hometown. I couldn't think of anything more depressing. Anyway, the downside of the two-year gig was I had to do a combat or combat support job and I had to sign up for eight years of IRR, Independent Ready Reserve. Which is a fancy way of saying after serving on active duty for two years, they could call me up anytime for the next six years. So do the math -- 90 - 87 = 3. Yep, summer of '90, guys on IRR were getting called to go to Kuwait. Summer of '90, I was riding my motorcycle around the wide deserted streets of San Francisco in the middle of the night frying on acid looking up the pretty sky. Or I was on X, singing along to DeeLite's How Could You Dance With Another? trying to find a pay phone to call my other girlfriend. I was very far removed from being a soldier. Nevertheless, I went to the recruiting office to see what I could work out. Luckily there was an opening for a 31K (my Army MOS - Combat Signaler) at the 7th PsyOps group stationed at the Presidio right there in San Francisco. "They going to Iraq?" "Not likely." "I'm in." And that was that, I was assigned and nobody could call me off the IRR for assignment to an infantry unit. I reenlisted as an Active Reserve and went back to the chaos of my not so normal life of working in nightclubs and taking Peyote at seven in the morning. No one from the 7th PsyOps ever called me. A year or so later I called them to make sure I wasn't AWOL or something, but they just took me off the roster. Almost as good a war record as one of my great grandfathers. Richard Corl, a private in some regiment of the NY Infantry, served in the Civil War. I have copies of the muster reports of his unit -- AWOL, Deserted, Failed to Report. Oh, the proud military history of my clan. Which goes way back, as my father's side of the family came to the colonies in the mid-seventeenth century. One of my grandfathers fought in the Revolutionary War as a private. He wasn't decorated, but at least he showed up.
I'm reading a book called Generation Kill about the Marine's First Recon Battalion spearheading the invasion of Iraq. It's going to be a mini-series on HBO soon. I wonder how true to the book it's going to be, because these poor bastards were put in the position to commit one war crime after another. I'm outraged and appalled at the lack of discretion employed by the US military. Once they got to Baghdad, it got worse. They encountered people dying of dehydration and had no water to give them. They had to ignore women and children wounded by US bombs. The city of Baghdad is about the size of the greater Chicago area. From the start there was no plan in place to occupy it in an effective manner. I really like the book, but I'm so sick of reading it. It's just one tragedy after another that the Marines have to move on from only to encounter yet another.
This morning in the NY Times I read about the middle class leaving Iraq, only to lose all of their savings trying to survive in places like Jordan and Syria because they can't get work permits, medical treatment or schooling for their children. In some cases they are paying significant amounts of their savings as ransom to the Islamic fundamentalists that have kidnapped their husbands or children. Of the nine thousand plus Iraqis granted emigration to the US this year, less than two hundred have been able to make it out of the Middle East. We couldn't even take care of the people that have educations and could help rebuild the country if that was ever a possibility. So much for bringing democracy to Iraq.

Go Operation Iraqi Freedom!

1 comment:

Sokrates said...

I hadn't known about your Gulf War service, Neal. Wow.

My mother's family is like your father's in that it has deep roots in this country (by white-folk standards, anyway). I have ancestors who served on both sides of the Civil War, and I'm pretty sure that someone came over on the Mayflower. Anyway, it appears that Greeks have a thing for hooking up with these Old America types.

"Generation Kill" sounds fascinating, if depressing.

Anyhow, life is good in La-La Land. Gonna get headshots on the 22nd. I told the photographer that I'm trying to go for edgy roles, as opposed to the "safe" parts that stage directors would always give me without thinking twice (the bums). I think I'm wise to pursue film at this point, as the film directors I've worked with (including some Corl guy in Portland) have been able to see me as more than just a utility.

Great post.