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SPECIAL REPORT: WITNESS TO WAR :...

BAGHDAD

The same British cameraman who noticed all the Baghdadis at the races now witnessed an extraordinary thing. From his window on the fifth floor of Baghdad’s luxurious Rashid Hotel, he became the first known civilian to watch a cruise missile speeding down the street of an enemy capital.

The air war had begun.

It was well after 2 a.m. on Jan. 17, and the terror was almost unimaginable.

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First came deafening, staccato explosions that shot orange plumes into the night sky like vertical flamethrowers. Next, piercing antiaircraft fire, a wrenching and never-ending chain saw ripping through the blackness with red, green and white tracers, like Christmas lights amid the fires of hell. Finally, the lights of Baghdad went out, neighborhood by neighborhood, and the winter air filled with the sound that was to be the city’s grace note for weeks to come--the gut-tearing wail of the air raid sirens.

So it went, night after terror-filled night, as air strikes systematically and surgically sent Saddam Hussein and the many instruments of his regime back in time, decade by decade. The endless rain of missiles and laser-guided bombs demolished power plants, factories, military camps, oil refineries and storage depots.

It shocked the people of Baghdad into reality.

“We never thought it would come to this,” one merchant told a Westerner after the first several nights of bombardment. “It’s madness. Madness. Kuwait isn’t worth this--not to us or to you. How long can this go on before the world finds its sanity again?”

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Longer, as it turned out, than any Baghdadi could have imagined.

Night after night, the missiles and planes returned, again and again, hunting the modern targets of Saddam’s powerful police state. As the night strikes increased, though, so did their margin of error. The remarkable, surgical accuracy of the first few nights of U.S. missile attacks soon gave way to what the Americans called “collateral damage.” To the Iraqis, that was a euphemism for terrible anguish: ancestral homes in ruins, entire families dead.

“You can’t imagine what it’s like when the sirens scream,” said an Egyptian refugee who fled Baghdad after the first few weeks of bombing. “The people run to the shelters, but the shelters are already full. If you can’t get in, you curl up near the entrance, just thinking you’re safer there. And the next day, you hear, ‘So and so family is dead,’ or ‘The such and such building is gone now.’ ”

Soon, Baghdad was little more than an open sewer. Garbage and human waste rotted in the streets for the first time in anyone’s memory, a byproduct of the loss of power for Baghdad’s 252 sewage-treatment plants. No one had been able to shower or bathe for weeks. With no power to drive pumping stations, Baghdad’s 3,700 miles of modern, underground water pipes were all but dry, and so were the taps in every house. Worse, flush toilets broke down. Gastroenteritis and other diarrheal diseases spread rapidly.

It was against this reeking, desperate human backdrop that the United States and its allies inadvertently gave Saddam what he and his advisers instantly thought would be a public-relations bonanza -- an image so powerful it would break the coalition and end the aerial assault. It came just after 4 a.m. on Feb. 13. Two laser-guided bombs from a U.S. aircraft blasted their way into a building packed with civilians in suburban Amariyah. The first bomb smashed the entrance shut and trapped more than 400 men, women and children inside. The second punched through the roof and created an underground incineration chamber that burned and vaporized hundreds as they slept.

Dozens of Western television cameras and journalists--by now permitted back into Baghdad with their sophisticated, portable satellite dishes--were on the scene within hours. And the images of charred pieces of what once were people beamed instantly around the world. A man whose entire family of 12 was torched beyond recognition wailed with genuine hysteria: “My God! My God! All of them are dead. Why? Why? Why are you killing all the Iraqi children?” Even the journalists were sickened. Several retched, some cried. A sign visible from the ground labeled the building as a civilian shelter, and Saddam’s information machine assumed that, finally, President Bush had made his first, perhaps fatal, error.

But in the end, it mattered little that hardly a single Western journalist in Baghdad that day believed Bush and his spokesmen when they insisted the Amariyah facility was a military command-and-control bunker. Certainly, no Iraqis believed the United States when it said Saddam deliberately stuffed civilians into the bunker to embarrass the coalition.

Again, Saddam had underestimated not only allied resolve but also how sincere the allied cause was perceived to be. The air war went on, and Baghdadis solemnly beat their chests, shouted “Death to Bush!” as they buried their dead, and then fell silent amid the continuing wail of sirens.

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From then on, few Baghdadis went to shelters anymore. Clearly, it was safer at home. The sirens and missiles and bombs became just another part of their miserable lives, and, astonishingly, children began to emerge from their homes, flying kites and playing football and pretending all was well.

KUWAIT CITY

Banker Tarik Mazidi heard it first on the radio. He was up at 4 a.m., listening with his brother. The British Broadcasting Corp. had reports of American air strikes against Baghdad.

His friend, Othman Othman, was sleeping. “I got a phone call from Tarik,” Othman recalls, “saying, ‘Five rockets are hitting over Baghdad. Get to your basement! Hurry up!’

“I feel quiet, so quiet. I don’t hear anything. I wake up my mother and my sisters and tell them, ‘Wake up, wake up, the war started.’ ”

He remembers it all clearly. And it still makes him excited.

Suddenly, all over this city in captivity, Othman recalls, all 47 varieties of hell broke loose. Virtually every antiaircraft battery opened fire, sending a stream of rockets and tracer rounds streaming into the sky, turning the darkness a dull red and causing an unearthly sound.

“The Iraqis were telling each other the war started--not by phones, not by CB, but by bullets,” Othman says.

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For many of the next several days, Kuwaiti families stayed in basement shelters, sure that an invasion of liberation was imminent. But it wasn’t. And as the air war dragged on, fear set in.

“We kept thinking today, tomorrow, he’s going to withdraw. When Saddam realizes they are serious about this, he’s going to have to. But a day passes, another day, a day, another day, a week passes, a month. Then we say, ‘Wait a minute, don’t tell me 28 countries aren’t going to beat this guy,’ ” says Walid Abdul, a bank employee. To him, it still seemed an incredible thought.

Actually, little of the air war was visited on Kuwait city. Shelling from the big guns of the battleships Wisconsin and Missouri pounded some fast-food restaurants and a marina. Occasionally, a boom and a plume of smoke would indicate that some target on the outskirts of the city had been hit. Frequently, Kuwaitis could hear the dull thud of B-52 strikes against Iraqi troops near the Iraqi city of Basra and see plumes of fire rising into the air from the north.

Suddenly, the booms from the heaviest bombing started coming from the south, and Kuwaitis could hear an incredible barrage being unleashed against Iraqi forces along the Saudi border. Still, Saddam Hussein did not withdraw.

“I heard the quantity of bombs was equivalent to the nuclear bomb at Hiroshima,” Othman says. “I asked Tarik, ‘How can he resist? What kind of human being is he?’ And he told me he doesn’t care about his army, he doesn’t care about his people.”

The Iraqis holding Kuwait city hostage became even more vicious, arresting people randomly on the streets and accusing them of representing the Kuwaiti resistance, or simply taking people into custody with no explanation at all. People were rounded up in the mosques, in their homes, at the point of a bazooka--several thousand over three days.

Two Iraqi soldiers in Rumaithia halted a man driving in a car, forced him into the trunk, then drove off in the car. Cars became hot property. A merchant family had a Mercedes tanker truck with no wheels parked next to their home. Iraqi soldiers showed up with wheels to fit it, hot-wired the vehicle and drove it off.

“I was praying to God the ground war would start so it would occupy the savages,” says one Kuwaiti.

As days passed, conditions in Kuwait city deteriorated even more. Sometime around Feb. 19, phones were cut entirely. But many were still able to receive CNN broadcasts through Bahrain and Dubai TV. There was always talk of a ground attack. Kuwaitis were hopeful that rescue was imminent at last.

On the other hand, they heard news analysts express concern about violent house-to-house fighting, or the possibility that Iraq might unleash chemical or biological weapons on Kuwait city.

With the phones not working, Othman and Mazidi strung rope between their two houses with bells on either end.

One would pull on the rope if he needed to talk to the other.

WASHINGTON

There was little sense here of a city at war. Security was tightened at government buildings--tours of the White House and Pentagon were eliminated; a street alongside the State Department was closed and became a parking lot for delivery trucks; police officers at Washington airports began picking up and disposing of stray baggage.

Yet, for the most part, life continued much as before. Except for one thing: television. Suddenly, television sets were everywhere. People put them on their desks in government offices. Work simply halted when Lt. Gen. Thomas W. Kelly’s daily 3:30 p.m. Pentagon briefing aired live. In the offices of some senior government officials, CNN’s theme music became a background hum.

At the White House, even President Bush took to carrying a hand-held TV set around the grounds with him when he went for a walk.

And one other thing: There seemed to be a temporary suspension of politics.

Washington, deeply, sometimes bitterly divided over the war before it started, united with remarkable solidarity once allied air attacks began. After the weeks and months of planning and worrying, a strange calm fell over the White House. Now that the cause of keeping the war from starting was moot, the demonstrators who had gathered for days to beat drums and chant for peace had largely melted away.

Inside, early reports of overwhelming success by American and allied pilots buoyed spirits of men and women who had spent half a year working long into the night.

On the second day of the aerial bombardment, Jan. 18, many of Bush’s top aides figured they would leave the office early.

“It had been one of the slowest days of the crisis,” one senior White House official remembers. “I was kind of packing up and telling my wife I was coming home for dinner.

“ ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner! This guy you don’t recognize anymore.’

“And suddenly the story flashed on the news.”

Iraq had fired Scud missiles at Israel. And they had hit. The White House official recalls his stress: “It was like those car commercials--from zero to 60 in six seconds.”

Bush’s national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, had been sitting in his big office in a corner of the West Wing of the White House, going over the day’s events with his deputy, Robert M. Gates. Suddenly, Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater appeared: Reports of the Scud attack were on TV.

A few minutes later, Secretary of State James A. Baker III and his deputy, Lawrence S. Eagleburger, arrived at Scowcroft’s office. So did Vice President Dan Quayle and Scowcroft’s top Middle East aide, Richard Haass.

“We had felt we were doing so well,” recalls one of those present. And then, “suddenly, you know, it was one of these nightmare scenarios.”

Scowcroft got on the phone to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who was in contact with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens. Baker put in a call to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Already, there were reports that Israeli warplanes were scrambling.

“This was the real wild card,” one participant recalls. If Israel attacked Iraq, its planes would have to cross the territory of either Jordan, Syria or Saudi Arabia. Would any of them allow the overflight? If they shot back, what would Israel do? And what might happen then?

Bush was at dinner in the White House with Environmental Protection Agency chief William K. Reilly. The President maintained an image of calm.

Arens made clear the Israeli military’s desire to strike back--to maintain its image as a force feared throughout the Arab world. But the Americans made equally clear that Israel would not be given the codes, known as IFF signals, which allow warplane pilots to distinguish friend from foe.

Without those codes, Eagleburger told associates, the Israeli planes would enter the war zone like pedestrians trying to cross a major highway at rush hour. Still, officials feared, Israel could elect to play hardball, telling the United States that its planes were heading east and daring Washington to interfere.

After more than three hours of intense diplomacy, Shamir told Baker that Israel had decided to hold off, at least for now.

The next day, Bush held a news conference and, in a public message to the Israeli government, announced “the darndest search-and-destroy mission that’s ever been undertaken” to find the offending Iraqi Scud launchers.

The Scud problem would prove far harder than American officials had anticipated. U.S. intelligence analysts had badly underestimated the number of Scud launchers Iraq possessed. And military planners had badly underestimated the difficulty of finding and destroying them.

There were early reports that American planes had quickly knocked out most of the Iraqi launchers. The reports were wrong.

So, at the same time, Bush decided to begin a massive airlift to send to Israel Patriot antimissile batteries and U.S. soldiers to operate them. Bush also dispatched Eagleburger and Paul D. Wolfowitz, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for policy, to Jerusalem to meet with Shamir and his colleagues.

The Patriots, the presence of American troops in Israel for the first time and the evident high-level concern about Israelis’ safety soothed feelings and relieved Israel’s worry that it was being left to face the Iraqi threat alone.

“When we started out,” one senior U.S. official recalls, “there was a little bit of a feeling (among Israelis) that ‘damn it, the whole world wants to pretend we don’t exist, wants to pretend we have no security problems--wants us to just shut up and go away and get hit with Scuds at the same time.’ ”

Gradually, however, the Israelis became convinced that the United States was doing its best to destroy the Scuds.

And U.S. officials, in turn, became confident enough of Israel’s restraint to be willing to share with the Israelis satellite photography that pinpointed potential Scud sites, illustrating how the Air Force planned to attack them.

ISRAEL

The first time it went off, the air-raid siren made no sense. Why was this bull moose violating the silence of Jerusalem at 3 a.m.?

Radio announcers were flustered themselves as they told listeners to stay calm. What had happened to the legendary Israeli cool? Some of their voices were muffled.

Poison gas? No. Gas masks.

Ah, yes, the gas mask. It came in what looked like a cardboard lunch box. Time to rip open the box and try the thing on. There was no reason--no reason at all--for fingers to shake as they struggled with the box and its slippery rubber straps. No, of course not. There wouldn’t be any nerve gas slipping under the door at that very moment, would there?

But horrors--the mask actually needed some assembling--a matter of a minute, maybe, for the mechanically inclined. But for the ham-handed, it seemed like half an hour of fumbling.

Finally, it was on! A welcome sense of security. But also, a strong tickle of the absurdity of it all. Could this really be happening? Were 4 million people in insect faces really spending this night staring at each other through plastic eyeholes? And there was a sense of betrayal. Hadn’t American bombers wiped out the Scud sites in western Iraq the day before? According to those glowing first-day reports, this war should be almost over by now. But the sirens were still whining.

Minutes later, just as the urge to remove the ridiculous mask triumphed over caution, definite word came of missile hits on Tel Aviv, and then the orders came to get there and report what had happened.

Was it a chemical attack? Or did the Scuds have conventional warheads?

The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, one of the country’s most traveled routes, was empty. The only other car for 35 miles was a government Volvo. It offered a moment of comfort--until its occupants came into view: four people wearing head-to-toe chemical protection gear. Spacemen, peering in contemptuous disbelief at this Ford racing toward Tel Aviv with two bare-headed maniacs inside.

In Tel Aviv, too, the streets were deserted--as silent as post-nuclear landscapes in science fiction.

A policeman was helpful. He gave detailed directions to an area of the slummy Ezra section of the city. Soon, broken glass was crunching under the tires, and dazed people could be seen wandering the narrow streets--without gas masks, even in hand.

They were eager to give guided tours of their cracked and crumbled homes--as if showing the damage to outsiders would help convince themselves that it was real.

Five excited children took turns pointing out the gaps in the walls and the broken glass in all of the rooms of their bungalow. Their father joked and laughed continually--the house could be repaired, he said. He was overjoyed that they were all alive and unhurt. A young girl stopped sweeping up glass in the kitchen for a moment to offer guests a soft drink. And the youngest boy volunteered to show where the missile had landed.

The crater, near the neighborhood bakery, was bathed by now in floodlights and ringed by men in uniforms and chemical defense suits. It was near the center of a vacant lot. Two sappers crawled around the bottom of the pit, apparently still examining the remains of the missile.

This was the first Scud attack, but it would hardly be the last. None of the Scuds were fitted with chemical warheads. And most often, when the Iraqi missiles came, they overshot or undershot or landed in the one uninhabited building or vacant lot for blocks around.

From then on, Israel sent spotter planes and F-16 jets aloft to watch for Iraqi bombers. Despite the heavy focus on missiles, it was Iraq’s fleet of two dozen SU-24 jets that worried Israelis the most. While it was never certain that the Iraqis could make chemical warheads fit on their Scuds, it was thought that they could mount them on bombs.

When Iraq moved its bomber fleet to Iran for safekeeping, Defense Minister Arens pronounced the chemical threat “greatly diminished.” But Israel’s air fleet kept streaking across the country anyway.

On the ground, the armies of Jordan and Israel eyed each other warily across the Jordan River. The Jordan Valley, usually alive with herds of goats, was suddenly a backdrop for tanks, jeeps and military trucks speeding up and down the parallel two-lane roads on either side of the river.

Leaders of Israel and Jordan traded threats.

But despite all the feinting and jabbing, Israelis and Jordanians took care to reassure each other that no shots would be fired. At night, Israeli soldiers noticed that Jordanian troops ostentatiously lit cigarettes in a breach of security meant to signal they were not on a war footing.

A series of hastily arranged solidarity visits by foreigners were both welcomed and scorned by Israelis. Even Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the sex counselor, arrived from the United States.

Sex, she said, is no good in a gas mask.

Instant celebrities were born. Army spokesman Nachman Shai, whose avuncular advice over the radio during air raids (“Now, drink some water . . . ") soothed nerves nationwide, became the darling of women, the idol of kids and the envy of men.

Anonymous U.S. service personnel who staffed the Patriot batteries appeared in ads for beer. A few mothers named their newborns “Patriot.”

Palestinians cheered the Scuds as they ripped into the atmosphere. Women clucked and squealed, and men ruminated on how this was just deserts for the killing of so many Palestinians, the destruction of so many Palestinian homes, the taking of Palestinian land and on and on in a delirious litany.

Then, when some of the Scuds landed in the West Bank--at least four did, in remote areas--it was the Israelis who gloated.

In all, 39 Scuds hit the country, killing at least two Israelis, wounding more than 200 and causing damage estimated at $200 million.

Compared to the destruction and terror that rained down on Kuwait and Iraq, that was minor-league damage--the Middle East equivalent of a fender-bender.

But Israel’s role as dart board for Saddam Hussein’s capricious missiles caused a different kind of damage that some say may be more long-lasting. It dented the Israeli nation’s self-confidence in many and unexpected ways.

First, Israelis fleeing their coastal towns, grimacing behind gas masks, cowering in rooms sealed with plastic as protection against chemical vapors, undermined the idea of Israel as a safe and powerful haven for its inhabitants.

Second, by relying on the United States to crush its most powerful Arab adversary and to supply Patriot antimissile batteries to keep the Scuds away, Israel was shown to be dependent on its outside benefactor as never before.

Israel had been hit by an Arab state deep in its home ground.

SAUDI ARABIA

Saddam Hussein shot Scuds at Saudi Arabia, too. And sometimes they hit. As in Tel Aviv, gas masks became ubiquitous in Al Khubar. The sprawling city is next to Dhahran, home to a major military air base and the international airport.

One night in late January, a Patriot missile destroyed an incoming Scud, and the debris from the Patriot landed in a residential area. Within an hour, the scene had been transformed into a mini-shrine. More than a dozen Saudis gathered around, kneeling first to pray and then whooping with joy.

A few days later, the casing from another Patriot was put on display in the Dhahran International Hotel lobby. Saudis flocked in to be photographed alongside it and to scribble their praise on it with pens.

A wealthy banker, Adnan, who asked to be identified only by his first name, began hosting lavish Scud parties at 3 a.m. for friends in his palatial home. As long as air raid sirens were disturbing everyone’s sleep, he figured to make the best of it. One night, a Westerner was invited to Adnan’s home. Inside was a table for 20, laden with chicken, rice, lamb and stuffed eggplant. A lively group of Saudis chatted amiably. Outside, air raid sirens told of yet another Scud attack.

Iraqi inaccuracy meant that the odds of getting hit were slim. Nevertheless, 28 Americans died when their barracks was struck near Dhahran by pieces from a Scud that had been intercepted by a Patriot. One of the pieces, sadly, was the warhead.

Moreover, Scuds were not the only danger.

One night in early February, a group of Western journalists ate dinner in a restaurant in Riyadh’s Hyatt Hotel. Suddenly, a Frenchman in the group dived across the dinner table, sending dishes and glasses in all directions and knocking over a little girl at the next table. When the commotion ended, it turned out that the child had been playing with a machine gun slung over the shoulder of her father, a Saudi colonel. The gun muzzle had been turned toward the table of journalists--and the child had her finger inside the trigger guard.

As the war progressed, the Saudis grew more confident and open about their role in the war. Shedding their innate privacy, they grew eager to show what they were doing.

They celebrated openly Jan. 24 when a Saudi pilot shot down two Iraqi F-1 Mirage jets over the Persian Gulf just south of the Kuwaiti border. The Saudi military quickly organized a group of favored reporters and hauled them to an airfield to interview the 30-year-old pilot who was identified only as Capt. Ayedh. In halting but quite passable English, he described his encounter with the enemy planes and how he had shot them down as they were believed to be headed toward Saudi oil fields. Saudi Arabia had its first war hero. At times the Saudis seemed even more hawkish than the Americans. A Saudi official grimaced one day as a CNN broadcast showed anti-war protests in the United States.

“I don’t think they have the will,” he said, worriedly.

THE HOME FRONT

How long until the pow?

Donna Langlois’ younger son, Michael, a high school wrestler in Coral Springs, Fla., had a meet scheduled on the evening of Jan. 16. With her older son, Marc, the corporal in the Persian Gulf, weighing on her mind, she joined the crowd in the bleachers.

Michael walked onto the mat for his match. The referee was about to blow the whistle.

Suddenly, there was a shout from above. Someone had been listening to a radio through headphones. He called out, “Hey, Michael!”

Michael and Donna looked.

“Hey, Michael,” he repeated. “Your brother just bombed Baghdad.”

People figured this time it would be different. When Chuck Steele took some shrapnel in the head back during Vietnam, his hometown paper in Van Wert, Ohio, put it on the front page. But who cared? Apart from the family, only two consoling phone calls were made to his mother. Now, with bombing in the Gulf, 10 or 15 strangers were calling Chuck’s wife every day.

Steele, his daughter and his son-in-law all had been activated for duty.

“People just phoned to say they were thinking of us,” Kathy Steele said, “and praying for us, too.”

The Vietnam War still haunted America, but for most people the lingering ghosts were not so much lit with napalm or shaded with defeat. They were leaden images of returning soldiers who were thanked too little and scorned too much.

Joyce Blevins’ son was aboard a Navy ship in the Gulf. She didn’t want him there. Forget for a moment that he might die. “War is never the answer,” she said. “Besides, I don’t know why the United States can’t learn to mind its own business.”

Still, she attended every one of the weekly support rallies in downtown Springfield, Ohio. The soldiers deserved at least that much, she reasoned. “They’re not going to come home this time and have anybody spit at them or call them names.”

She was embarrassed when a local TV station taped her reaction as a high school trumpeter played the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Joyce Blevins, the anti-war mother, had broken into tears.

On deadline day, tens of thousands marched against the war in Washington and San Francisco. Thousands more rallied in Los Angeles and New York.

For a while, the crowds grew even larger.

Theater was a hallmark of the dissent: Protesters climbed into body bags. They poured oil and blood on the steps of federal buildings. At a New York rally, a protester wearing a George Bush mask was dutifully followed by ersatz TV executives wearing dunce caps marked ABC, CBS and NBC.

In Los Angeles, anti-war activist Nancy Tuttle stood next to Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, in his wheelchair. She held aloft a portrait of her son, Chris, a fresh-faced, 19-year-old soldier in Saudi Arabia. This is what we’re risking, the portrait said.

A young man about Chris Tuttle’s age laughed at the scene. “Hey, buddy,” he sneered at Kovic, “the ‘60s are over.”

Nancy Tuttle thought about it afterward, sitting in a booth at a deli in West Los Angeles. Her eyes were puffy from lack of sleep. She had been worried since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait back in August, and now she was exhausted, running on nervous energy.

Try to understand, she said. She is a single mother, and Chris is her only son. Two years earlier, an Army recruiter approached him on the volleyball court of Venice High School. Chris is a patriotic kid, but he joined mostly to get money for college and to save for a car. All his classmates had cars, and he was envious.

The only reason she signed his release, Nancy Tuttle said, was that Chris vowed to join up anyway when he turned 18. Besides, the Army didn’t seem so risky, what with the Cold War finished and democracy breaking out all over.

“The thing I feared most has happened to my child,” she said. She had hardly touched her tuna melt.

Her anger boiled into sarcasm, a diatribe laced with nervous laughter.

What kind of America is it, she wanted to know, that treats war like some kind of damn football game? And the Super Bowl! It was so sickening, people waving flags like the pennants of their favorite team and the President beamed up on the scoreboard like Big Brother.

“I want to know, do I get to view the sacrifice on TV, folks? It’s my kid. It’s a football game for sure. Do the mothers get to watch their children sacrificed?”

She handed over some of his letters. “Howdy from Saudi!” Chris wrote, but then he told of low morale, filthy latrines, bizarre scenes.

Hi. Let me start off by telling you about the strangest thing. Last week, I saw a guy shoot a camel with a LAW (Light Anti-tank Weapon). It just exploded. They asked him why he did it . He said he wanted to see what one looked like on the inside. They sent him in for a mental evaluation . And, yesterday, someone fired three shots inside the parking area where I live. This place looked like an anthill with everyone dashing & diving. I think this guy was trying to get sent home .

Another letter was decorated with a peace symbol. In another, he thanked his Mom for a copy of Ron Kovic’s book, “Born on the Fourth of July.” And he encouraged her to keep up her anti-war crusade.

Nancy Tuttle’s eyes were fond with pride. “He’s so true to his heart, dammit.”

The movement was expected to multiply in size. Quite possibly, America itself was no sanctuary; Iraqi fanatics made good terrorists. Airports refused to allow curbside check-in. The New York Stock Exchange canceled fast-food deliveries. Police in camouflage patrolled the roof at the Super Bowl.

There was a run on gas masks. In East Meadow, N.Y., Howard Chennells, 34, said he did not need to be told twice about chemical warfare. “I stocked bottled water,” he said, “and made sure I had canned food and towels to wrap around our faces.”

A minister reported that he and others had shared a nightmare. “I saw myself surrounded by multiple thousands of dying and dead people holding onto each other and crying and screaming,” the Rev. Jack Gloverland told his flock at the Unity Church in Boulder, Colo.

Around the country, parents tried to reassure children.

Ann Kenis, a lawyer in Valparaiso, Ind., said her 4-year-old was certain that Saddam Hussein lived by the neighborhood grocery.

“He wouldn’t go near it, so we tried to show him on a map where we were and where Iraq was,” she said, “but that didn’t do much good.”

Then one day, the fear abruptly lifted. Ben Kenis had somehow gotten the word. He ran home shouting, “We’re winning the war!”

And that is pretty much what happened nationwide. Suddenly people realized it was going to be all right.

Yankee know-how seemed to know how; the smart bombs were particularly nimble. And this was a surprise to many who thought that little in the modern arsenal would work as planned.

Danny Hoke, 31, a recent law school graduate in Sugar Land, Tex., thought most GIs were high-school dropouts and ne’er-do-wells, and that high-tech firepower was a lot of expensive duds.

What he saw on TV changed his mind. “The weapons are pretty sophisticated,” he concluded, “and the military was more competent than I ever gave them credit for.”

Pollsters say Americans are traditionally reluctant to go to war, but, after the first shots, they can be counted on to rally around the flag. This time, they had an early romp to cheer as well. There was no body count, just a sortie count.

In most homes, the war caused nary an inconvenience--just diversion. Even the Dow Jones average considered it a tonic. “There was an instant confidence that we were going to win, and that confidence just grew,” said John Collie, a Chicago stock broker.

The bandwagon was festooned with yellow ribbons. American flags sold at a pace unseen in more than 30 years since Old Glory added two stars for Alaska and Hawaii. People donned flag T-shirts, flag neckties, flag undershorts. A best-selling item at Bloomingdale’s was a $500 leather bomber jacket with a flag on the back.

In dozens of cities, people arranged themselves in fields and vacant lots, forming human flags or patriotic slogans. Christie Muroch, a Dallas woman known for her Easter displays, placed a model of a Patriot missile in her yard. Parodies of Iraqi dress were popular costumes at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Children exchanged Operation Desert Storm trading cards.

At Bistro Vino in Houston, a popular new entree was Snapper Schwarzkopf. It was a fish dish carefully prepared with ingredients from all the nations in the coalition.

The anti-war movement lacked the required nourishment of bad news. Allied casualties remained astonishingly low. There were POWs on TV. But the Iraqis shot down comparatively few American planes.

When the “smart bomb” from a U.S. jet killed the Iraqi civilians, protesters preached the immorality of war. But, outpaced and outmaneuvered by events, their movement never exploded. It seemed to implode instead. Many activists seemed disenchanted. The killing, they pointed out, kept right on.

It was mainly the killing of Iraqis, and this was not a pleasant fact.

Moreover, Americans weren’t safe yet, either. And they worried: The ground war was still to come. By one account in the movement, the U.S. military had ordered 45,000 body bags.

The ground war, they kept saying, was yet to come.


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