Dec 3, 2005

Look How Far We’ve Come

Update:  I  wrote this when Barack Obama wasn’t even a Senator, when “only” 2500 of our men and women had been killed in Iraq.  Never mind Afghanistan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and on and on. Plus ca change, plus ca reste la meme.


Sixteen years ago, editor Anne Harpham sent reporter Vickie Ong to interview me about my 11 year old son being stuck in Saudi Arabia because Iraq had invaded Kuwait. He was visiting his father who was working at ARAMCO in Dhahran, and initially, they were oblivious about Kuwait. I was terrified. CNN was just ten years old and was still a legitimate 24 hour news network. I knew plenty about the invasion of Kuwait, and the U.S. drumbeats for war in the Gulf. My son and his father knew nothing.

When he arrived in Saudi Arabia, “the Saudis” had taken Ian’s passport (for safe keeping?) as they had taken his father’s, and when Iraq invaded Kuwait they weren’t giving them back. Because his Dad was a physician, they would not be among the first to leave the country.

In the meantime, we were calling them hourly to tell them what we had seen on the news. It wasn’t long before word spread around their compound, someone got BBC radio and they were in touch. At the summer school bus stop each day, another new friend was gone. Ian reported to me that their families had left. He couldn’t understand why he wasn’t leaving.

The headline of Vickie’s story said “Island Mother Wants Son Out of Arabia.” I was quoted as saying that the Mid-East crisis was my crisis, too. Looking back, as we have watched close to 2500 of our soldiers killed, reporters and other citizens beheaded, tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens dead, that comment seems at once self indulgent and prophetic.

For me in 1990, hours turned into days, days into weeks. Ian still wasn’t home. CNN developed the first sonic identity for a war and there was no getting away from it. As the U.S. prepared to invade Kuwait, those who lived on the ARAMCO compound asked the powers that be to put up air raid signals. They put them up, but didn’t turn them on, because “they didn’t want anyone to be afraid.” Ian started making up escape solutions and told me that people were being outfitted for gas masks and trained with scuba tanks in their bathtubs so they could breathe in the event of an attack.

Today I hear kids who are in college in Lebanon, not much younger than Ian is now, trying to sound brave as they talk to news people about “their plans” to leave. Their plans are just like Ian’s were: in the hands of somebody else. The bombs are much closer than they were to Ian, and their families back home are terrified.

Ian made it home before The Gulf War actually started. At school, one of his first assignments was to make a poster of his hopes and dreams. He was afraid of “big angry crowds and scary people.” For the coming year, he wanted “Straight As” and “Saddam Hussein Dead.” He didn’t get either. And since then, the Mid-East crisis has become everyone’s crisis.

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Gloria. Circa 1955.

Gloria. Circa 2012.

Other than working for the American Red Cross in Korea for two years, Gloria Garvey has lived in Hawai`i since 1971. Her opinion and other writing has appeared in: The American Philatelist. Honolulu Weekly, The Honolulu Advertiser, The Honolulu Star Bulletin, The Star Advertiser, Hawai`i Reporter, Pacific Business News, Island Scene, The Design Management Journal.

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