The River

Monday, December 15, 2003


The news broke on Sunday, and by Monday, little eight-year-old Glenn Reynolds was in a state. He couldn’t wait for recess. When it finally came, he ran up to the sandbox where two classmates were already playing.

“We captured Saddam! We captured Saddam!" Glenn shouted. "Nya, nya, nya, naya!” A few kids playing kickball nearby turned their heads toward the commotion.

Joe continued scooping sand into a bucket. “Oh jeez. Really? And you think that’s going to change anything?”

Glenn started pacing and gesturing erratically. “Hahaha. Score one for me! Woos.”

Joe leaned toward Jack, who was navigating a dump truck over a bumpy sand road. “Is he still playing this game?”

“God yes. It never ends. It’s his favorite game in the whole world – the U.S. versus Islamic fundamentalism.”

“No, I think it’s the true patriots versus the insidious liberals.”

“It’s both, really,” Jack replied, raising the back end of the dump truck.

“Aha! You're dismayed at this victory in the war. Therefore you are objectively anti-American.”

Jack shot Joe a look. “See?”

“Yep….Dude, I wish I had a dime for every time you called me that. If I was anti-American, would I go to an American public school, listen to American rock music, visit America’s national parks with my family, and play intramural football at the American YMCA? I don’t think so. Yet somehow, because I don’t support a patently illegal invasion and occupation of another country, I’m anti-American.”

Glenn squatted down on the edge of the sandbox and began talking more quietly, as if reasoning with a toddler. If bullying didn’t work, you could always quietly lead them to seeing the error of their decadent ways. “Yes, you still have the privilege of living in this country, but you most certainly are misguided. It’s the liberal media’s fault. I know you take your marching orders from Mad Magazine and those Tom Tomorrow cartoons.” He straightened up and began to pace again. It was hard to be calm when everything you believed in was threatened. “They want us to be communist! They hate America! They want Bush to fail so they can regain power and impose gay marriage and high taxes, welfare dependency, socialized health care, only criminals with guns, godless pacifism, the end of freedom.”

“Dude, a little more freedom and democracy is about the only thing on the agenda,” said Joe. “And the only thing ‘they’ and those toons hate is stupidity.” A castle was taking shape in the sand in front of him.

Jack concentrated on his dump truck. He knew talking to Glenn was pointless. “Nah,” he corrected Joe. “ ‘Hate’ is too strong a word. We can all get bellicose and small-minded. You have to realize that to have a sense of humor.”

“Jack, stop taking the high road.”

“It’s not. It’s just the road that happens to be under my feet.”

“Ten to one, Jack, he conflates Saddam with Al Qaeda and every Islamic fundamentalist terrorist nutcase on the block.”

Glenn could hardly hear their conversation, but he pressed on. “Now that we’ve captured Saddam, can’t you admit you were wrong? Can’t you admit that this is a major victory in the war on terror? Think of what would have happened if Gore was our president.”

Joe sat back on his heels. “Saddam still in power WITHOUT any significant ability to threaten. The Iraqi populace still terrorized by nearly daily bombing and needlessly harsh sanctions. A smooth transition of Clinton’s extensive anti-terrorist plans, no 9-11, imperialism continuing apace, but in a less crude and murderous fashion,” he replied matter of factly. “American-style capitalism has won. What is wrong with you people? Can’t you just enjoy it without instigating a holy war?”

Glenn’s mouth hung open. He sputtered, “This is a crusade! We must defeat the crusade! If you don’t join the army then you are aiding the enemy. You are either pro-terrorist or anti-terrorist.”

Joe stood up. The castle he’d built no longer pleased him. “Jesus H. Christ, Glenn. You are so fucking one-note. You cannot fit the world into neat little “pro” and “anti” boxes. The U.S. cannot be the sole arbiter of what is and what is not terrorism.”

Jack tossed the dump truck away and stood. “Or what is and what is not international law.” He took Joe’s elbow. “It’s the future, Joe. Just leave it.”

They started to walk towards the school building. “Thank God his mom and dad are moving to Tennessee.”

Glenn shouted after them, “Go ahead, run off. Because you know I’m right.” He gave the sand castle a vicious kick. “It’s your fault. It’s all your fault!”

The bell rang. Recess was over.

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