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Leaving Lebanon 

Crank Call

Published July 26, 2006 at 4:00 p.m.

Fiddle-dee-dee. War, war, war; this war talk's spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream."

I'm assuming some of you out there remember these words, Scarlett O'Hara's opening line in the screen adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. I'm assuming, too, that some of you remember Gone With the Wind was about the Civil War -- which definitely isn't happening right now in Iraq, despite a report from the United Nations last week confirming that an average of 100 Iraqis are dying there every day. That's not "civil war" but "sectarian violence." It's a big distinction, and one that our government insists on. And, of course, there's no "civil war" in Lebanon, either. That's just war, pure and simple -- unfortunate for the Lebanese, obviously, but, hey, if they don't like it, they should get out of the way.

Anyhow, Scarlett O'Hara's "Fiddle-dee-dee" came to mind last week when I read the reports about American citizens stranded in Lebanon at the start of the Israeli blitzkrieg, their "vacations and business trips" ruined "with sickening speed," according to The Los Angeles Times, "their frustration and anger mounting because the U.S. government [hadn't] gotten them out faster." There they were, innocent Americans, "waiting around Beirut with bags packed and fingers crossed," cursing the U.S. embassy's "busy phone lines," "the lack of information" and the "gnawing uncertainty over when and whether they'd get to go home."

Really, you can't imagine what these poor people had to endure while Beirut was reduced to rubble and more than half a million Lebanese, who can't go anywhere, were fleeing for their lives.

"I heard it might take a week, two weeks," said Pamela Pattie, one of the unhappy strandees, who doubtless heard the same thing when Iraq was invaded in 2003. Ms. Pattie is described as "a 65-year-old professor," so she was smart enough to ask, "Why in the world aren't we getting it together?"

Others were less inquisitive: They'd heard that "other nations have packed people into rented tour buses and driven them over the mountains to Syria," but the U.S. government advises Americans not to go to Syria, and therefore, well, it just got worse and worse. Americans who were "already fatigued and nervous after days of explosions" were actually "told to wait for telephone calls"! They were also told they couldn't board an airplane or a rescue ship unless they signed a contract "agreeing to repay the U.S. government for the price of their evacuation." This rule was later rescinded in the interest, I suppose, of good consumer relations. Even so, a Rutgers University student in Beirut confessed that she was "freaked out that our government is treating us this way." Knowing her government, she declined to give her name to the press "for fear she would be taken off the passenger list in retribution for criticizing the evacuation effort."

"Are we a Third World country or what?" she wondered, while the first batch of Americans who managed to get to Cyprus on a chartered ferry, after a 10-hour trip in stifling heat, discovered to their horror that they were obliged to stay at the International State Fair complex in Nicosia, "two huge halls with 1152 orange camp beds," "barrack-like" accommodations and only "basic facilities." One "tearful" woman complained to the LAT, "I was hungry and when I tried to get food at four in the morning they stopped me . . . We have to put up with more of this!"

Welcome to the Third World, tearful woman. It's a bitch, especially when bombs are going off. Chris Mahrouk, 22, a Lebanese-American who had traveled to visit his parents in Beirut, decided not to stay when all hell broke loose. "I'm born in America," he explained, "and I think differently." His parents lived in Lebanon through the war of 1975-1990, he said, "so they're pretty used to it. But for me, I've never seen a bomb blow up or any damage like that."

Fiddle-dee-dee! A few more bombs blowing up might give Chris an education he could use. "I guess our attitudes are colored," said a woman from Chicago with slightly more experience, "but [Lebanon] is not a place you want to spend any amount of time. I was asking, 'Why the hell is no one in Washington doing anything about this?'"

Good question. Here's the answer: No one in Washington is doing anything about this because "this" is exactly what they want -- total devastation in the Middle East and as many crazed Arabs as they can show on TV to bolster their "war on terror." Alone among civilized nations, the United States refuses calls for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon -- even the Israelis have agreed in principle to an international peace-keeping force. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice jaunts off for "talks" with "moderate" Arab nations, saying there's no point in a cease-fire "if the terrorist threat from Hezbollah is not addressed." And the way to "address" Hezbollah, plainly, is to bomb the hell out of Lebanon.

As for Rice's boss, George W. Bush, he's too busy vetoing stem-cell legislation to pay attention to the Middle East and, Christian that he is, he thinks Syria should press Hezbollah to "stop doing this shit." But it's too bad about that stem-cell veto. As my mother says, "Bush missed his chance. He could have had a frozen embryo implanted in his head and grown a new brain."

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Peter Kurth

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