War letters

This week I received the following e-mail from Joyce Donoho, the Chico woman who, before the Iraq war, was teaching at an American school in Kuwait City. A few weeks before the war erupted, she was evacuated from the city and came back to Chico, where we interviewed her for a story. Last week she returned to Kuwait, from where she sent us the following e-mail.

“Everything seems so normal here, you’d hardly know a war was going on 50 miles away. I’ve been back for two days and haven’t heard a single siren or fighter planes. There is, however, a very strong police and Kuwaiti national-guard presence. There are checkpoints on the major roads, and I’ve had to show my civil ID card three times already to get through—and I’ve only been on the roads three times! The students have shared the fears they went through with the first few days of the war and frequent air raid sirens. They laugh at CNN coverage, especially when they saw Wolf Blitzer throw on his gas mask but not even bother to wear a protective suit. People here don’t trust CNN coverage and watch Kuwait or Dubai national TV instead. When I was in California, I was chatting online with a student, and she was telling me what was happening half an hour before it was reported on CNN. If you notice, CNN often has to use some footage from Dubai TV on their newscasts because they don’t have the same access. The Arab media also has a different slant on the war coverage. For example, an article in the paper yesterday focused on the close historical and cultural bond between Iraqis and Kuwaitis. I believe the point of this is to help put off anti-Kuwait backlash for supporting U.S. troops in the war as well as true concern for Iraqis.

“The Kuwaitis are very worried about being attacked by other Arabs for allowing the U.S. to launch the assault from Kuwait. In Egypt and Lebanon there have been cases of Kuwaitis being beaten. Now Kuwaitis are afraid to travel to other Arab states. I guess Americans aren’t the only ones worried about being target practice for fanatics. I have noticed that many of the Canadian teachers came back with big, bright ‘I am Canadian’ T-shirts. Do they realize most terrorists wouldn’t take time to read a T-shirt before shooting? I have to admire their attempt at safety, though. I want to reassure all of you that I am being careful and keeping a low profile. Instead of walking to the grocery store today, I got a ride from neighbors (wonderful Canadians!). The students are wonderful and make teaching fun. We laugh at the war humor that abounds, such as ‘the U.S. is going to divide Iraq into three zones: regular, unleaded, and premium.’ Even though they hate Saddam and distrust him, they are very concerned with U.S. motives. They ask me if it is for the oil, Israel, or world dominance? It is amazing how hard it is to dance around those questions! I tend to steer the conversation to geopolitics, strategic location, humanitarian concerns and the economy to avoid the question directly. Whatever diplomatic skills I picked up over the years are sure coming into use now! I will keep you posted if anything exciting happens or I hear good war stories from students. In the meantime, try to avoid believing everything you see on TV.”I also received an e-mail from John Norris of Sierra Vista, Ariz., who objected to my column last week documenting the military service of our local political representatives. (None of them has served, and by coincidence and the fact we live in a conservative part of the state they are all Republicans.) Norris wrote, “We are visiting here in Chico, and I picked up a copy of your little paper. I realize that since we are in California we should expect such liberal anti-administration articles. Bet you are all disappointed that the current polls show Bush is very popular and the right decisions are being made. Question! Why do the protesters appear to be people with not much to do and too much time on their hands? Guess that’s just what California is all about. Call some Democrats/liberals and see what unit they served in in Vietnam.”

I e-mailed Norris back, thanking him for the thoughtful message. And I told him that California Gov. Gray Davis was an Army captain who served in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star. Not only that, I told him, our very own Bob Mulholland, adviser to the state Democratic Party, also served in Vietnam and was awarded the Purple Heart!