when you're sitting on a plane in paris, and your surfboard is being loaded onto a kuwaiti jet that says "Do Not Forget Our POWs" and a war is about to start next door, and you're booked on a big ole jet airliner to go visit paradise, then its a fine thing to take inventory of your lucky stars and stripes.
being born in The States has many advantages (the greatest of which may be the ability to leave it) but i had already left the states a couple of years back and by the time the plane got to rome Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary had hogged both the airspace and groundspace with mysterious military machinations and so the plane got delayed for two hours before we were even out of europe. now we americans generally do a good job of keeping things like war and surgery and sex neatly tucked away under the seat in front of us. its there in case of emergency, but europe, because it's more or less the middle of the world (certainly more than the US is, if one has a perspective a little broader than 100 years) isnt privvy to these conveniences. and so things like jumbo jets moving troops to Gulf War Part Two and hogging the runways and making you miss your connecting flight happens in rome more than it does in denver. this is, you might understand, one of the reasons why europeans are so keen on american politics; it affects their daily lives. in fact, it might be safe to say that american politics now affects europeans more than it affects americans. maybe i can say that american politics are designed to affect everyone more than americans.
but i digress. the plane had been waylaid in rome by three hours and so we knew we were going to miss the connecting flight in kuwait city. once we arrived in kuwait city they told us we could catch the next flight. when was that? we asked. in 24 hours they answered. oh.
kuwait city is not on the top-10 list of international tourist destinations these days. in fact, its downright constipated with american military (the population of kuwait has, i'm told, been doubled by american troops this year), so, being civilians in the middle of a military convoy they do what they always do: shut us up.
we were quickly booked into a hotel at the kuwait city airport. two people to a room, no meals (just a jelly roll and watery coffee unless we wanted to pay for something extravagent like spaghetti).
the other guests at the hotel were some few thousand US Air Force troops. this unhappy lot was busy moving crap out of planes and onto the runway and onto trucks and then another plane would come in, wash, lather, repeat. the airstrip was a big conveyor belt for the factory of war and we had nice front row seats from inside the hotel.
inside i say to you: i couldnt leave the hotel without a guard waving an AK fourtysomething in front of me. and i tried three or four times since i like a breath of fresh air now and again. but the guards werent to be reasoned with since they didnt speak english french or spanish (i doubt that, even if i spoke arabic they'd have been too reasonable) so i spent the following 24 hours in the hotel. most of the morning. i worked on a couple of songs and a few drawings. then, in the afternoon i decided that war-primed american troops were more interesting and so i headed down to the lobby to do a little investigative reporting.
i talked with (or tried to, anyway) several of the US GIs. the pat response was "I'm sorry sir. I do not know anything. I cannot talk." and then they'd look away and shut their mouths. since three of them answered word-for-word the same way the evidence of the lie was that they knew, at least, how to answer. no, none of them were happy about it. in fact i'd say that they were about as depressed a group of blokes as i've seen in years. they didn't like talking to me, they didn't like talking to each other, and they didn't like talking to the locals. they didn't like anything. after all, they were stock-boys for a war-house, unloading cargo. when they weren't unloading cargo or being pissed off at each other they silently watched harry potter and george bush on the big-screen television in the lobby of the hotel. and pouted. so much for the glories of war. after living abroad for a while i can spot an american pretty fast. they're large, pink, round, and have big jaws. i'm used to seeing them dressed up in tourist garb. but seeing these large pink round heads stuffed inside of the grey and brown desert fatigues seemed strange. it was the fact that they were all so young, as if Dubya had been out picking the fattest and most innocent of the lot to serve him.
i'm not unfamiliar with this sort of thing. my father was in the air force, i was born on a military base, and grew up in colorado springs which has the highest concentration of military installations (and churches) of any county in the US. or at least it did when i was in high school. i'm also familiar with the french foreign legion. last year, out of curiosity more than plan, i held two rather lengthy interviews with them. for some reason (a reason i now forget) i'd thought "hm, maybe working in alternately life-threatening and boring situations as a disposible unit for the long arm of antiquated colonialism would be a great way to spend some time." the romance of it would be fun, i'd learn some good skills like how to HALO dive and shoot a gun, but in the end i decided to hang on to my US passport (and identity) and not don the white kepi. being a wandering artFag is simple more FUN than being a legionnaire. but what i saw among the FFL was a hardened group of mean mutherfuckers that would bite your head off and spit out a cube of raspberry jell-o. the american soldiers seemed soft, simple, innocent and terribly confused, by comparison to these bastards that HALO dive out of the sky to rain death and democracy on gold coast rebels. the american soldiers WERE raspberry jell-o. but these days, who cares? if you can pull a trigger and fly a plane you're deadly, no fisticuffs about it.
i did manage to talk with a couple of the US GIs for about 30 minutes. he was from alabama and it was his sixth month in The Service. i dont know what loosed up his lips, but he told me that the job was pretty simple. there was a schedule of flights that were coming in every hour and that the 3200 troops there at the airport were shuttling materiel (yes, he used the word. that's a word we inherited from the french ... "materiel") that was then sent off to the deserts south of the iraqi border. he said that the process was to unload the plane then another contingent would come and move the "materiel" off to Doha or whatever camp needed it. he told me that they werent allowed to leave the hotel unless they were working or unless they were doing PT.
this made sense to me. if i had 3000 bodies that had been shipped in for my disposal to kill a local population i'd try to keep their brains shut down and isolated from local culture, too. its for this very reason i, myself, try to travel so much.
i asked him how he felt about being involved in a war. did he think it was the right thing to do?
"It doesnt matter what i think."
"not even to you?"
"No; I'm here to serve, that's it."
"serve what? what does serve mean?" i asked. i was surprised how keyed up i had gotten. i really resented being held in a shitty hotel with a bunch of US military pouts that wouldn't even give me an interesting answer to a simple question.
"Look, we're just sitting here. We're slaves. It's a huge waste."
the guy's depression was contagious. i wrote off the effort of uncovering anything interesting. relegated back to the group i had come from i smoked cigarettes in the lobby with the italians that had been on my plane to sri lanka.
the next day our plane out of kuwait was, again, late (you get one guess why) and so we hopped a special flight to bahrain where we had a 10 hour layover. i sat, again with the italians, in the bar and sucked on beer and cigarettes while we watched george bush talk about how dangerous saddam is getting (but no harry potter this time).
of course we eventually arrived in sri lanka. and of course i was glad to be out of the way of The Americans.
i'll go back to kuwait for a couple of weeks in about 2 months; may 2003.