Family Holidays

Guide to planning seasonal celebrations

Voters' Voices

Jobs, the economy and the 2004 presidential election

Holiday Movie Preview 2004

Multimedia slide show with capsule previews of upcoming films

Standardized Testing 101

A primer for parents

Deadly Weapons in Dangerous Hands

Special report about weapons of mass destruction

Losing Ground

Special report: Wetlands' demise ripples across nation

Iraq: After Saddam

Continuing coverage of the conflict in Iraq

Wednesday, April 16, 2003
War at the dining table or elephant in the room?

and Gannett News Service
Learn about Tomahawk
cruise missiles
Beyond smart bombs: High-tech weapons explained
Meet U.S. commanders directing the war
Learn about Iraq's most powerful men
Case against Saddam
Suiting up for chemical war
Saddam's rise to power
Key U.S. diplomatic players

A few weeks ago at a dinner party in Des Moines, someone put the war on the table next to the rice dish, and the room quickly heated up.

There is no need to rehash all the arguments. You already know their gist: Iraqi liberation or occupation? American arrogance or obligation? Each round of wine brought on a freer round of generalizations, bolstered by different manipulations of history.

Mostly it was civil, with the occasional cry of foul.

But the next day a guest called the host to apologize for the arguing style of a partner. The couple, you see, is divided on this.

So many of us - friends, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters - are on divided on this.

War is personal, even for those who aren't fighting it. And, like politics, it's polarizing. Vietnam may have been the gold standard for the parallel war of opinion at home, but the split then was mostly generational.

Now it's unpredictable. Opinion doesn't necessarily break down along traditional liberal or conservative lines. You assume you know where people stand until you hear them come out on the other side. There are also differences among immigrants from that region.

Even in an era of mixed political marriages, the Iraq war has divided couples to a degree I can't remember. One of the most poig- nant letters I've received came from a woman whose husband was dispatched to be near Iraq with his National Guard unit. She was vehemently opposed to the war. "I just cannot believe that 70 percent . . . of Americans think this war is justified," she wrote. "I have not talked to one person in the past several weeks that feels this is a just and moral action for our government to pursue."

Most people have found one of three ways to get through the divide: by avoiding people who disagree with them, by speaking their piece at social gatherings or by holding their views in check. To get into it is risky, but not talking about it leaves an elephant standing in the middle of the living room that no one acknowledges.

And there's a fourth way: by trying to intimidate the opposition.

Some Muslims in the nation's capital have said they don't speak at all now for fear of being labeled unpatriotic.

Apparently that's happening here, too.

As I was writing this, I got a call from Danielle Wirth, who teaches women's studies at Iowa State. She reported that people who are perceived to be of Arab descent have been targeted and heckled around Ames by men she described as "bubbas," emboldened by the military muscle-flexing. (Maybe they're the spiritual soulmates of the looters in Iraq.)

I've heard from some of their ilk. An Andrew Johnson, a self-described former Marine, wrote to take issue with my stance on the war, and in particular my suspicion that oil was a factor in why we went in. "You are pathetic," he wrote. "You actually won a contest on a radio station for most-hated person in Iowa. You actually beat out a rapist for this title. Now I know why."

I get paid to take some abuse, and he gave me more raw material. Still, I thought that was hitting below the belt a bit, especially since he indicated that I won that title even before the war. But since the war began, I'm not so sure I know where the belt line is. Many other writers, upset by my stance, have told me where to go. Mostly that's been to India, but Florida, New York and Baghdad have all been mentioned. And those are just the good places.

Emotions are high, and emotions are not always rational. Still, I don't understand how people who are championing America for its freedoms could stop reading the newspaper over a columnist's point of view, or smashing CDs over a singer's. Are they saying they'd prefer a government-controlled press or a dictatorship where opposing views were banned?

Nor can I understand how someone opposed to war could tell an anti-war gathering he wanted to see "a million Mogadishus" come out of Iraq. That battle left 18 American troops dead and 84 wounded. The words came from a Columbia University professor, no less.

A military victory doesn't end the disagreements, just as an execution doesn't end the death-penalty debate. Both sides are still saying I told you so. It's either: See, we liberated Iraq quickly with a minimum of casualties. Or it's: See, there never were chemical weapons or links to Sept. 11, and look at the chaos and the power vacuum we brought in.

Still, I'll take the dinner-party arguments, messy and difficult as they can be, understanding that we have the luxury of debating this from a distance rather than in the line of fire or of collateral damage.

I'm thinking it's a good thing if we can air our disagreements civilly and still be friends in the morning.

No, scratch that. Not just good. The only way to get through this.

Democracy lives (if we let it).

Back to top
General: Iraqi troops improve
The top U.S. general in Iraq said Wednesday that once Iraqi government forces take the lead in the war, the insurgency can be defeated and the American troop level reduced.

| USA TODAY | Wednesday, January 26, 2005 | 11:40 pm

Parties waging a polite battle to control Najaf
In this city, the holiest in Iraq to the country's Shiite Muslim majority, political rhetoric is heating up. But unlike in some places in Iraq, the debate here isn't focused on religion or historic ethnic divisions, and there's little violence.

| USA TODAY | Tuesday, January 25, 2005 | 11:34 pm

In Iraq, the question is: To vote or not to vote
A recent survey by the International Republican Institute found that 80% of Iraqis say they will probably vote this weekend. But unrelenting insurgent violence, the specter of post-election sectarian strife and confusion over complex ballots threaten to snuff out democracy before it can take hold.

| USA TODAY | Tuesday, January 25, 2005 | 11:17 pm

Politics popular in Shiite areas
In Basra and other parts of heavily Shiite southern Iraq, people are embracing politics.

| | Thursday, January 20, 2005 | 11:51 pm

Lengthy ballots, ad blitzes contribute to confusion
Less than two weeks before Election Day, many Iraqi voters still are unsure about some basics, such as: Who are they electing?

| | Wednesday, January 19, 2005 | 11:44 pm

Sunni leaders urge talks with insurgents to end 'stalemate'
Moderate Sunni leaders are urging the United States and Iraqi governments to change course and seek a cease-fire and negotiations with insurgents.

| | Tuesday, January 18, 2005 | 11:46 pm

Female Iraqi candidates risk lives
Members of Congress who traveled to the Middle East over the weekend got a harrowing lesson on the high price of democracy.

| | Wednesday, January 12, 2005 | 10:57 pm

U.S.: Elections will be credible
The Bush administration will consider the results of Iraq's elections credible even if most Sunni Muslims minority don't vote on Jan. 30.

| | Wednesday, January 12, 2005 | 10:57 pm

2 Iraq cities, separated by politics, await election
Sadr City and Fallujah illustrate both the hopes and risks of Iraq's march toward democracy.

| | Tuesday, January 11, 2005 | 10:58 pm

Polling places planned in Iraq's problem areas
The Iraqi Election Commission plans to set up polling stations in problem areas in Iraq despite insurgent attacks.

| | Monday, January 10, 2005 | 11:03 pm

Court-martial begins for Abu Ghraib figure
The court-martial of Army reservist Spc. Charles Graner, the man portrayed as the ringleader in the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal in Iraq, is set to begin Friday at Fort Hood in Texas.

| | Thursday, January 6, 2005 | 11:47 pm

Iraqi expatriates fear being left out of elections
Iraqi-American groups say disorganization and overly stringent requirements are plaguing an ambitious effort to allow expatriates worldwide to vote in Iraq's Jan. 30 elections.

| | Thursday, January 6, 2005 | 10:48 pm

Allawi: Elections will go on
Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi on Wednesday rejected growing calls for postponement of the national elections set for Jan. 30.

| | Wednesday, January 5, 2005 | 11:15 pm

Fallujans reluctant to return
So far, Fallujans are not lining up to return to what's left of their devastated city.

| | Wednesday, January 5, 2005 | 11:13 pm

Congress expects $100 billion war request
Congress expects the White House to request as much as $100 billion this year for war and related costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, congressional officials say.

| USA TODAY | Monday, January 3, 2005 | 11:30 pm

More contracts steered to Iraqi firms
The U.S. government is shifting more reconstruction contracts toward Iraqi companies as violence makes it harder for American contractors to work.

| | Monday, January 3, 2005 | 11:00 pm

Iraqi election candidates crave coverage
As Iraq moves toward elections scheduled for Jan. 30, the media campaign is intensifying.

| | Sunday, January 2, 2005 | 10:57 pm

Gas shortage fuels resentment in Iraq
Buying gasoline in Iraq is a serious undertaking. Determined motorists get up before their dawn prayers to join 2-mile-long lines. Sometimes they don't get to fill their tanks until evening. A black market is thriving.

| USA TODAY | Wednesday, December 29, 2004 | 11:47 pm

Soldiers saw giant tent as inviting target for insurgents
Soldiers at the Forward Operating Base Marez near Mosul, Iraq base had long complained of feeling defenseless in the fabric-covered hall, which lately has been the target of mortar and rocket attacks almost daily.

| USA TODAY | Wednesday, December 22, 2004 | 11:42 pm

U.S. contractor pulls out of Iraq rebuilding project
A Virginia company this week became the first large contractor to withdraw from the multibillion-dollar Iraq reconstruction drive, saying work there was too dangerous and costly.

| USA TODAY | Wednesday, December 22, 2004 | 11:35 pm

Mosul attack showcases insurgents' intelligence
The implications of the audacious suicide attack in the center of a heavily guarded U.S. military base in Mosul go beyond a failure of base security.

| | Wednesday, December 22, 2004 | 11:11 pm

Mosul blast hits U.S. hard
A massive lunchtime explosion struck a flimsy mess tent filled with soldiers Tuesday at a military base near Mosul. It was one of the deadliest attacks yet against Americans in Iraq. Mlitary spokesmen in Baghdad and at the Pentagon said 19 U.S. soldiers were killed.

| USA TODAY | Tuesday, December 21, 2004 | 11:45 pm

Soldiers who led invasion must return
Continuing insurgent attacks have forced the United States to boost its force in Iraq toward 150,000, its highest level yet.

| | Sunday, December 19, 2004 | 11:08 pm

Chaplain, others look to lift Christmas spirit in war zone
Across Iraq, military chaplains will enter makeshift chapels on the morning of Dec. 25 and pray for peace on earth in a land where peace continues to be in short supply.

| Gordon Trowbridge | Marine Corps Times | Sunday, December 19, 2004 | 6:41 pm

Troops can't beat deals at PX
Flush with hazardous-duty pay and tax-free earnings, U.S. troops in combat zones often have more money to spend than things to buy. That's where the PX, or post exchange, comes in, providing a taste of home if only for the time it takes to eat a bag of Doritos.

| C. Mark Brinkley | Army Times | Thursday, December 16, 2004 | 11:22 pm

Army spending billions on new armored vehicles
The Army said Wednesday that it is spending $4.1 billion to armor all military wheeled vehicles in Iraq by June.

| | Wednesday, December 15, 2004 | 11:23 pm

Air Force boosts number of supply flights
Roads have become too dangerous for American convoys, the top Air Force general said Tuesday.

| | Tuesday, December 14, 2004 | 11:32 pm

Army Guard now says its Iraq troops figure was inaccurate
The Army National Guard said Monday it had given USA TODAY an inaccurate count of the total number of Guard troops in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003, but still could not provide a precise count.

| Dave Moniz | USA TODAY | Tuesday, December 14, 2004 | 10:29 am

Fair vote possible in Anbar, top Marine says

The U.S. military believes Iraq's rebellious Anbar province can be brought into national elections scheduled for January.

| Gordon Trowbridge | Army Times | Sunday, December 12, 2004 | 11:05 pm

U.S. military preparing restive Iraqi province for elections
The top U.S. officer in Iraq's rebellious Anbar province believes the region can be settled and brought into national elections scheduled for Jan. 30. Anbar, a hotbed of insurgent unrest, stretches from west of Baghdad to the Syrian border and poses perhaps the toughest challenge to the U.S. mission in Iraq.

| Gordon Trowbridge | Army Times | Friday, December 10, 2004 | 9:09 pm

© 2003, Gannett News Service