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Uncivil liberties.

The person at the office we call Harold the Committed suspects that I'm not keeping myself informed on the war between Iran and Iraq. He's right. Keeping yourself informed on a war has something in common with watching a football game on television: it's not much fun it you don't care who wins. If you'd just as soon see both sides lose, it's no fun at all. A pacifist friend of mine used to grow gloomy every year on the weekend of the Army-Navy football game. When we'd ask what was troubling him, he would always say, "About all you can hope for is that one side or the other suffers a defeat of humiliating proportions."

Harold the Committed suspects that I sometimes skip the entire Sunday edition of The New York Times. He's wrong about that. I'll admit that I don't read The Times a thoroughly as Harold does. He has imposed on himself a very strict regimen for getting through the entire paper on Sunday. He begins sharply at 9, and he is allowed only one half-hour break before lunch--to watch Face the Nation. The rules about finishing are strict: if he hasn't completed every section except Travel and Real Estate by 2, he is required to read the editorials all over again.

I concentrate on the wedding announcements, myself. From reading about the background of the bride and groom, I try to imagine what sort of tension there will be at the reception. Last Sunday, for instance, when I read about the nuptials of Hatcher Thatcher Baxter 3d, almost all of whose ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence, and Mary Catherine Garrity, whose father, Timothy, was described in a way that led me to believe he is a subway motorman, I couldn't help but wonder whether Tim Garrity would feel the need to knock back a few with the boys before finally facing the sort of people he thought he had raised his daughter to despise, and if so, what effect that would have on the wedding toasts.

That doesn't leave me much time for the war between Iran and Iraq, but I'm not the only one not keeping himself informed on that war. I'm convinced that a lot of people get Iran and Iraq mixed up, so they don't know who to root for. It's as if both teams were wearing red jerseys. Also, a lot of people who actually can tell Iran and Iraq apart suspect that they're fighting simply because they've both been driven around the bend by having been mixed up with each other all these years. Iran and Iraq must blame each other for the confusion. How would you feel if you decided to change your name from Mesopotamia to Iraq for the usual reasons--it fits better in headlines, it sounds less foreign--and then a country right next door that has a perfectly good name of its own, Persia, started calling itself Iran? How would you like it, on the other hand, if you changed your name to Iran for absolutely appropriate reasons--your country happens to be on the Iran River, one of the world's great salmon- and trout-fishing sreams--only to find out that an obscure country right next door has started calling itself Iraq for no earthly reason (since "iraq" is the Arabic word for door hinge)? It would be embarrassing for either one of them to change back, so about the only thing to do is to have a war.

I think I would be keeping myself better informed on it if I thought it was a war that Denmark had any chance at all of winning. I root for Denmark. If you know anything bad about Denmark, I don't want to hear it. I've never been to Denmark myself, and I avoid stories about it in the Sunday Times. I'm afraid I might find out the Denmark persecutes a Finnish minority or underpays its goalie or something, and then I'd be left with no one to root for. Except, of course, the United States of America--my home team. I was a strong rooter for the U.S.A. in World War II. I kept myself very well informed on that war, even though I was only a child. My father had told me that when the U.S.A. won that war we'd have bubble gum again. You might say I had a stake in that war. Also, as soon as the U.S.A won that war, I could quit collecting newspapers for General Eisenhower. I hated collecting newspapers for General Eisenhower. I couldn't imagine what he wanted with that many copies of The Kansas City Star. After a while, I began to envision General Eisenhower sitting over in Europe somewhere behind a sort of fortress of newspapers, chewing bubble gum.

Of course, I've kept myself informed on some wars I didn't have a stake in. Several years ago I got very interested in the war between Yemen and South Yemen. Waht intrigued me was that as far as I could tell from the maps of the battlefront, South Yemen is not south of Yemen--except for a tiny smidgen, like the tiny smidgen of Missouri that is east of Arkansas. South Yemen is mostly east of Yemen, except for some of it that's actually a little bit north. Aslo, South Yemen happens to be a lot bigger than Yemen, so by rights it should have been called Yemen and the other place should have been called West Yemen or maybe even South Yemen. That, I told Harold, was obviously the reason for the war. "I'm from Missouri, Hal the C," I said, "and I can tell you that if everyone started referring to Missouri as East Arkansas, we'd fight." Harold shook his head and said the point of the war was which Yemen was a "Soviet client" and which was an "American client." When Harold talks like that, he can make a perfectly good war sound like a brawl in the waiting room of a claims lawyer.

Apparently, The Times carried another one of those stories about clients last Sunday--or maybe another report on the war between Mesopotamia and Persia--because at the office the next day Harold the Committed asked me if I had read the Sunday Times carefully.

"You bet, Hal the C," I said.

"Well, what do you think?" he said.

"I think Garrity's going to get up and tell the Baxters that he hasn't met such a bunch of stiffs since he visited Madame Tussaud's wax museum the time he went to London on the Knights of Columbus tour," I said. In the wedding-announcement section, I usually know who to root for.
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Title Annotation:war & the news
Author:Trillin, Calvin
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 16, 1985
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