By Millie Grenough
I lock my doors, buckle up, and turn on my radio to catch the news. It's 6 p.m. and I'm driving home from work in the inner-city of New Haven, Connecticut.
". . . we'll kick his ass."
I turn left off Orchard Street. Drug dealing, street loitering in the next stretch. Don't want to be caught at a red light. I'm alone and it's dark.
The radio continues, ". . . no holds barred. We'll go in all the way, do the job fast, and come out winners."
The language punches my stomach. I've been with clients, mostly women, since 8 a.m.; five of the women were sexually abused as children.
The radio, the voices continue, then there are sounds of male laughter, and applause. What is this anyway . . . high school locker-room talk? - or one drug posse talking about wiping out another posse?
". . . there's no question that we'll run them out of Kuwait. The only question is if after that we'll go on to carpet Baghdad . . ." More male shouts of approval, and clapping.
My God. I turn off the radio, and drive home in silence.
Yep. The president of my country is about to "kick the ass" of another head of state . . . and his military leaders (my military leaders) are cheered as they talk about bombing a city that has tens of thousands of people in it.
I turn left again at Hillhouse High School, drive the few more blocks to our house. My husband's due home in a half-hour, my sixteen-year-old son is doing the easy part of his homework in front of the television, my seventeen-year-old son is off to a rehearsal for his concert tomorrow night. Everything seems pretty normal: the guys are all healthy, doing their usual things, the furnace and electricity are working, there is food in the refrigerator, and there have been no break-ins in the last four weeks. I sort through the mail, find no personal letters in the proliferation of catalogs and appeals.
In the kitchen quiet, I ask myself, "What is going on underneath all this 'Hitler-and-oil' talk?"
Do we always need an enemy, somebody different so we can feel special? Growing up in the working-class West End of Louisville, Kentucky, my family prided itself on having no prejudices, but we sure hated rich people. My all-girls high school basketball team's rival was from the wealthy part of town, so we easily changed their name from Sacred Heart Academy to Snob Hill Academy: It's easier to outshoot and outguard a bunch of girls when we have them boxed in as snotty, rich girls . . . when I lived in South America, the Peruvians scorned the Bolivians; when I worked in Spain, I heard northern Europeans affirm their superiority by saying that Europe (and, therefore, civilized living) ended at the Pyrenees; Spain and all the rest belonged to Africa. Spain in turn looked down on Portugal, the Portuguese belittled the Moroccans, and the Moroccans did God knows what to whom . . . I came back to Connecticut and taught in public high schools: Black students couldn't hear me - I was white and not hip. White acquaintances thought I was financially and emotionally unsound for living in a racially-mixed neighborhood.
Later on down the line as I personally got to know Sacred Heart girls, and Bolivians, Spaniards, Portuguese, and Blacks, I found out that I liked some of them and didn't like others. They are all people, living beings like me. They all were babies at one time, had parents, homes, people, and places they loved.
I'm writing this on Christmas Day 1990. I woke up early this morning with "kick his ass," and "do the job fast," New Haven streets and Baghdad carpets knocking around in my mind. Then right after that came the quote, "We have met the enemy, and they are us." So who said that anyhow? Churchill? MacArthur? Pogo?
My country of birth, in my own lifetime, has demonized Indians, Blacks, Germans, Japanese, Jews, Poles, Chinese, Italians, Vietnamese, Puerto Ricans, and Communists. Now it's the Arabs.
I am terrified that my country may not truly understand the horror caused by war and the manufacturing of arms until we experience it in our own land, until our own cities are bombed.
Please, fellow Americans, let's wake up.
Millie Grenough lives in Connecticut.