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Sitting behind the “Resolute” desk in the Oval Office, George W. Bush addressed the nation on television in a speech laden with theological language and declared that his “work of peace” in Iraq had begun. He said that U.S. forces had fired about three dozen cruise missiles at “targets of opportunity” in Baghdad. President Bush warned Americans that his work of peace might be difficult and that it would require the sacrifice of many lives. Just before his speech began, Bush gave a little shake of his fist and said: “Feel good.” A coalition of nations, including Bulgaria, Mongolia, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands, joined the United States and Britain in what was christened Operation Iraqi Freedom, though most members of the “coalition” were unable to commit actual troops. Poland did manage to spare 200 soldiers. Jacques Chirac, the president of France, denounced the invasion. “This military action cannot be justified in any way,” said President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Gerhard Schroeder of Germany observed that the president’s decision meant “certain death to thousands of innocent men, women, and children.” Pope John Paul II said that the invasion of Iraq “threatened the destiny of humanity.” The United States Congress quickly voted to endorse the president’s declaration of war. Television viewers in America were entranced by the spectacle of large explosions and exciting footage of tanks racing across Iraq’s southern desert. Within a few days, however, coverage was increasingly dominated by battle scenes as Iraqi forces began to offer significant resistance to the American advance toward Baghdad. American networks offered few images of dead civilians, refugees, or young Iraqichildren with burned faces. Iraqi television broadcast images of several dead American soldiers lying in pools of blood and five American soldiers who were apparently captured near Nasiriya after a maintenance unit took a wrong turn. Trenches full of oil were burning in Baghdad, and several oil wells were reportedly on fire in southern Iraq. A British Tornado fighter-bomber was shot down by an American Patriot missile battery in Kuwait, killing both crew members. An American soldier named Sgt. Asan Akbar was the prime suspect in a grenade attack against American forces in Kuwait that killed one and wounded 15 others. A tobacco farmer from North Carolina shut down much of central Washington, D.C., for two days after he parked his tractor in the middle of an ornamental pond on the National Mall and threatened to blow himself up.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said that the U.S. Constitution merely “sets minimums” for civil rights and that “most of the rights that you enjoy go way beyond what the Constitution requires.” The next day Scalia received the Citadel of Free Speech Award; as a condition for his acceptance of the award he demanded that broadcast media be banned from the ceremony. The European Union discovered electronic listening devices in the offices of five member nations in Brussels; the offices of the French, German, British, Austrian, and Spanish delegations all contained bugs. Suspicion naturally fell on the United States, given the recent leak of a National Security Agency memo that outlined a surveillance “surge” against United Nations Security Council members. It was revealed that Richard Perle, the chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board who for years has argued in favor of a war with Iraq, has been hired by Global Crossing to lobby the Defense Department to approve its sale to a Hong Kong billionaire; last week Perle took part in a Goldman Sachs conference call on war-related investment opportunities. The call was entitled “Implications of an Imminent War: Iraq Now.North Korea Next?” Lawyers for Global Crossing, which will pay Perle $725,000, said that they had hired him because he has access to top officials. The largest military trade show in the Middle East, the International Defense Exhibition, opened in Abu Dhabi. The Bush Administration requested bids from American companies to participate in the rebuilding of Iraq; Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, was among the companies that were invited. Foreign companies and organizations have been excluded from the bidding process. The Senate rejected a measure that would have permitted oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “People who vote against this today are voting against me,” said Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “I will not forget it.” The Justice Department demanded that the tobacco industry forfeit $289 billion in profits that it claimed were made through fraudulent marketing. Philip Morris, now a subsidiary of Altria, a company with a remarkably benign name, was convicted of fraud for marketing “light” cigarettes as a less harmful alternative to full-tar cigarettes even though the company knew that they are more harmful. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts recalled 40,000 Woody dolls because of a choking hazard. The BBC apologized to the White House for broadcasting images of President Bush getting his hair styled and his makeup applied just before he unveiled Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Many hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated against the war in cities all over the world. Protests in San Francisco were particularly lively. One group of protesters vomited on the sidewalk in front of a federal building after drinking large quantities of red, white, and blue milk; others pulled out mats and practiced yoga in front of the police. A federal park ranger tried to run over protesters in his truck and then attempted to run down a reporter. One protester apparently committed suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. Police were repeatedly videotaped attacking demonstrators with clubs and pepper spray. Protesters were also observed beating police officers. Fifteen law firms in Bellingham, Washington, posted signs in their windows reading “Closed in honor of those now being killed in Iraq.” Small pro-war demonstrations were held around the country as well. Vandenberg Air Force Base in California let it be known that deadly force might be used against peace activists who attempt to infiltrate the base. Israeli schoolchildren took their gas masks to school. Congress debated next year’s budget, which contains nothing to pay for the war in Iraq but does call for more tax cuts for the wealthy, guaranteeing record deficits for at least the next decade. Three Senate Republicans voted with Democrats to cut $100 billion from the tax cuts to help pay for the war. CIA analysts continued to complain to reporters that the Bush Administration was distorting intelligence reports on Iraq to bolster its war policy; analysts were particularly embarrassed when President Bush publicly claimed that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger. The claim was based on forged documents. Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered the final recommendations and findings of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to President Thabo Mbeki, bringing the commission’s work to an end. The archbishop gave the president a big hug. South African authorities charged 23 right-wing Afrikaners with plotting to assassinate Nelson Mandela. Czech officials published a list of 75,000 former agents of the Communist secret police. The Irish were closely following a trial concerning police corruption in County Donegal; prosecutors say that police manufactured and planted explosives so that they could discover the bombs and claim a victory over the IRA. A Russian court demanded proof that the Federal Security Service, which was caught planting explosives in an apartment building in 1999, shortly after a series of apartment bombings that were blamed on Chechen rebels, planted the bombs as a training exercise. Two vials of ricin, a deadly poison made from castor beans, were found in a locker at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris. Authorities in Malaysia discovered four tons of ammonium nitrate that they said were intended for use in a bombing attack on American and Israeli embassies. Islamic militants disguised in Indian army uniforms executed 24 Hindus in Kashmir after ordering them to line up next to their homes. The victims included two young girls aged four and two. Scientists found that turmeric prevents alcohol-related liver disease in rats. Sextuplets were born in Pittsburgh. A state representative in New Mexico proposed the establishment of Extraterrestrial Culture Day, a day “to celebrate and honor all past, present, and future extraterrestrial visitors in ways to enhance relationships among all the citizens of the cosmos, known and unknown.”
More from Roger D. Hodge:
Chances that a deep breath inhaled today will contain a molecule from Julius Caesar’s dying breath:
Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences, by John Allen Paulos, Hill and Wang (N.Y.C.)
The earth once had three moons; the two lost moons may have crashed into the surviving moon, or been sucked into the sun, or flung out of the solar system to drift through deep space.
In Florida, an 87-year-old World War II veteran flying touch-and-go drills in a Cessna collided with an airborne skydiver. “There was a ‘woof’ sound,” said a witness, “like falling on your face into your pillow.”
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“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”