The Halcyon Days of War | B.E. Hopkins

       On the last day of February—almost as soon as it had begun—the Gulf War ended.
       Holding out his mug o’ coffee, Rudy offered a toast that Thursday evening: “Here’s to much ado about nothing.” With MacGill, Cecilia, and Adam, he and Daniel had come to Denny’s to celebrate the event. Only none of them was celebrating. In fact, they were oddly devoid of energy or excitement.
“Do you realize,” Rudy noted, “that it took longer for us to put up a high school production of Romeo and Juliet than it did to push Iraq out of Kuwait?”
	“Makes it all seem a little silly, doesn’t it?” said MacGill morosely.
	“It’s not silly!” Cecilia practically yelled. “It was horrible, and I’m glad it’s over.”
	“No, me too,” said MacGill. “I mean just how fast it ended... You know, it’s like a flash in the pan. And all that we had planned...”
	After the promise of protest pins and speeches at Baker Park orchestrated by MacGill; after secret schemes for illicit “No Blood for Oil” pamphlets dittoed in the teachers’ lounge and fantasies of antiwar editorials slipped into the Glade High Tribune with the secret collusion of the SGA president; after gleeful daydreams of violating in every possible way the letter and the spirit of Dr. Bister’s interdiction of political statements at school; after spending days and weeks transfixed by live coverage of the war on CNN, the lot of them could have been accurately described as “deeply disappointed” by the war ending so soon in their young lives.
Of course, they could never admit to such a letdown. In fact, they were only dimly aware of it. For one thing, it was intermingled with and almost indistinguishable from the feeling that routinely overcame them following the wrap-up of a major stage production. After months of rehearsal full of emotionally trying nights spent stage fighting and repeating lines ad infinitum, struggling to get each scene right; after the myriad of hours away from home, locked inside the school, and the countless fast food dinners; and after suffering for the theater, whose sole returns were cast camaraderie and the new bonds forged of shared experience, they felt deflated. But for the two weeks following the close of Romeo and Juliet, however depressing it had seemed, there had been at least “the war” to get riled up about. The sudden utter lack of conflict or activity was like a vacuum.
	“It wasn’t a flash, Jack,” Cecilia said, growing ever more shrill. “It was important! With what we were doing, we could have made a difference.”
	“But that’s just it...” said MacGill acutely. “We could have. And now, in a way, we can’t.”
And there was the thing—the real problem—that none of them had perceived: while they had not wanted war, they needed it. Penny Zimmerman’s widely distributed “Talks Not Troops” pins, which they had donned for weeks during Desert Shield, had not been the badges of peace-loving hippy worshippers they had seemed but rather a provocation, a secret wish to prolong it, and a way to bring the conflict into their own homes. For inwardly they recognized that war was the best thing for them. Not only did it provide something tangible to rail against, it gave them a reason to despise and a self-righteous excuse to vilify their nation. For a few fleeting weeks, fervent hatred for home and country had gained some currency—the particular brand of rabid denial that teenagers adore had suddenly come into vogue. Their thirst to hate everything had been slaked at last! Once worked up into a healthy froth of adolescent outrage, a few among them had even rooted for the opposition, muttering the occasional “America needs a kick in the pants!” No such luck. Having bombed the bejesus out of Baghdad, America’s boys were coming home. It was over. It was really over! There would be no more public demonstrations, and they could no longer threaten their parents with the prospect of burning the American flag on the front lawn. All the bright promises for revolution were extinguished with a ceasefire. Goodbye to all that, goodbye...
	“But it’s over!” Cecilia said. “That’s what we wanted, right? That was the point!”
“I know, I know!” MacGill nodded vigorously, as though shaking off a dumb idea. “Of course, you’re right. I just— I can’t express it.”
They were silent for a moment, each looking at a different place around the restaurant, avoiding eye contact with one another as they tried to grasp it.
“The only thing wrong with the Gulf War,” Adam said, putting it together at last, “was that it ended too quickly. With any large-scale military conflict, what you really need to do is slow down—draw out the process, you know? Use more resources, expend more effort to help the economy...”
MacGill scoffed loudly, and Cecilia redoubled her indignation. “How can you even seriously say something like that?” she snapped.
“Like a fine wine,” Adam continued unimpeded, “a war deserves to be savored.” He set the last scraps of his Superbird aside and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “But that’s America for you: fast food and three-week wars. We gulp everything down without the slightest appreciation.” He forced a belch and concluded: “It was a nice war.”
        “Our first,” muttered MacGill.
        “But not our last,” Daniel added.
        It seemed such a loss—like collective premature ejaculation. And never again would they hear the voice of James Earl Jones without recalling with secret fondness the swift fall of a laser-guided smart bomb to its target during those halcyon days.
        Rudy looked at them one by one and then said, “Now there’s a handsome bit of preemptive nostalgia.”

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