April 6, 2017 – A non-writing post tonight, brought on by the U.S. airstrikes on Syria in response to the gas attack against civilians by the Assad regime. Watching the reports brought me back fourteen years ago almost to the month, when my newspaper sent me off to Israel, reasoning that if the United States attacked Iraq, Saddam Hussein might in turn launch strikes against Israel.
My job was to sit in Tel Aviv and wait for missiles to hit, trusting that they wouldn’t land on, you know, me. In retrospect, it looks crazy to me, too.
Nevertheless, I packed up my flak jacket, helmet, gas mask and protective suit – after two years of post-9/11 coverage in various conflict zones, I’d acquired all of those things – and moved up my flight by a day because a blizzard was bearing down on Denver, threatening massive flight cancellations.
The storm ensured I didn’t miss the war. If memory serves, my editor called just a few hours after I’d landed to tell me that the war had started. It was somewhere around 4 a.m. I rushed out into the streets and saw — nothing.
No missiles arcing toward me. No sirens. No people dashing about in a panic. No people at all, in fact; just dark, deserted streets without a soul to interview for the story my editor was expecting. In Denver, after all, the clock was ticking toward deadline and the editors – their lives complicated a blizzard of historic proportions in addition to the small matter of war – were tense.
I finally wandered over to a market where, thank heavens, vendors were setting up their vegetable stalls. Here’s what I remember: a tiny black-and-white TV flickering in one of the stalls. An old movie. “What are you watching?” I asked the vendor.
“The Thief of Baghdad.
It made a nice detail for the story I eventually managed to cobble together about from shreds of nearly nothing, a key skill.
If I remember correctly, Iraq never did lob missiles at Israel. I’d go back to that market later (see photo) for my shopping, and later still, long after I’d returned home, would learn it had been hit by a suicide bomber, killing three people.
My editors had a low tolerance for stories about nothing, so off I went to Iraq, where I had occasion to don the helmet and flak jacket, but never, Al-ḥamdu lillāh, the gas mask or protective suit. But that’s a story for another day.
Filed Under: war