During the early part of this summer, I spent a month traveling through Greece. You should try that sometime. Nothing like it. The trip had been planned amid growing concern of warfare in the Middle East but not so much concern that we would back out. With the initial bombing of Iraq, we cancelled. “Just what the terrorists want you to do,” we were reminded. Maybe so, but the thought of being within earshot of Iraq during wartime was enough for me to put the souvlaki on hold. Besides, virtually everyone else in the United States was expressing solidarity for the cause in Iraq by doing absolutely nothing about it. Anyone who expressed views opposed to the war was branded un-American. It was a wonderful ruse.
Just about the time I felt like it was time to rev up my Ann Coulter retort, the war was “over.” Just like that. Kaput. No war. Nothing to second-guess. On May 1, 2003, President Bush announced an end to major hostilities. Thirty days later, I was swimming in the Aegean Sea.
In Greece, there are swimming places just about anywhere within a few minutes of where you live. A great distance to the sea might be a one to two hour drive. So, we swam a lot. Iraq was somewhere else, and the only thing I was second guessing at that point was the price of fresh fish in the seaside taverns.
There’s a beautiful thing about Greece—one I discovered early on—that caused me to think of more than sardines in a very short order. It’s this: Even in the most seemingly remote areas, one can find a newspaper. Not just one newspaper—as is the case in most American cities (including this one—slap yourself if you really think Salt Lake really has two distinctly different newspapers)—but newspapers from Greece and around the world. The result is that most Greeks know as much about America as most Americans. They have our radio. They have our TV. They have our newspapers. They have the world’s newspapers—and the world has a decidedly different take on events in the Middle East than we do. One thing the Greeks are not is ignorant.
It was only a matter of time before some Greeks began baiting me with questions like, “What’s up with that cowboy president of yours?” At first I found myself uttering such nonsense as “Well, we’ll find the weapons, just watch” or “It’s not about the oil, it’s about democracy.” Yeah, right. Lecturing Greeks on democracy. Move over, Sean Hannity.
One day I got into a bit with a waiter, and I gave him the party line that “Saddam Hussein is evil. He killed his own people.” You know what he said? He said that just proves how stupid America is! He reminded me that just as quickly as one can get to the sea in Greece, one can also get to a war memorial. Greece is littered with them. Lots of Greeks have died in lots of wars; such is the fate of a country at the intersection of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
The man continued and said, “That’s your problem. Saddam was killing his own people. So what? Now he’s killing yours.”
This morning I read that two more American soldiers were killed in Iraq. More of our soldiers have died since May 1 than before. Somewhere, a Greek waiter is reading a newspaper and wondering why.