October 8. 2001
While Joni Mitchell might have once dreamed of jet planes turning into Butterflies in the sky, people in Afghanistan do not as a fleet of 40 bombers accompanied by God knows how many cruise missiles made their first blistering forte into terrorist and other strong holds.
Police cars here in Camp May prowl the water front in a show of force we’d not seen before, land sharks seeking to protect our shores from further, if not now nearly an impossible, attack now that President Bush has put the nation on its highest alert.
For nearly a month, many Americans waited for Washington to make a response, and the fact that the attack comes while we are here in Cape May is significant since we were also here during our first strip when Bush’s father decided to invade Iraq and the build up to the invasion more or less tainted my honeymoon with political flag waving.
This is one of the most conservative places on the state, a hawkish world of would-be patriots far enough for the problems of our urban home that they can afford to wave flags.
I wore my peace sign during our whole trip back in 1990, and people here clearly hated me for it, as if the one small metal object around my neck was capable of undoing the thousands of flags unfurled night and day to support Bush’s war.
This year, I brought no peace sign although my opinion of this Bush is no better than it was of the last, one war leading us into another, which will continue on from president to president until some president some day has the guts enough to say “no more.”
I simply put away the peace sign I put on after this Bush’s war-mongering speech last month because I could not in good conscience wear some a symbol of protest and still look any firefighter or police officer in the eye, knowing inside of me that the first time in my life I truly encountered honest, uncompromising heroism in the acts they performed in New York City on the day America was attacked.
I vowed to honor them by removing the peace signs I first posted, restricting my outrage against Bush to the absence of a flag on me, my home or my car.
Yet arriving here this time, I see far fewer flags than we saw during Gulf War our first year here – a strange thing considering that they have much more justification for flag waving now than they did back then.
Perhaps the sobering notion has finally settled into many of these people that we cannot fight wars from a distance, and that over the next few years, our sons and – yes our daughters – will put their lives at risk, real war, not the video game wars we have been subjected to as training exercises since Reagan took office.
Perhaps, too, the attack on the WTC made people aware of what real bombs can do to real people.
Over breakfast as George’s, I hear far less of the macho talk we heard back then, and it is pain, not patriotism I see on the faces I see along the walkway or in the mall. Many realize for the first time since the German U-Boats attacks in World War II, war has reached our shores, not sinking ships off the coast, but knocking down towers from the sky. And our troops head not to Iraq this time, but to the much more torturous and complicated mountain world of Afghanistan, which has a history of defying world powers.
Maybe people here finally get it, that war is more than just waving flags and jets don't turn to butterflies in the sky.