Ask a New York firefighter what this war is about: “I’m not willing to wait around for a mushroom c

March 20th, 2003
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It was Steve’s accent that gave him away–about as New York City as you can get, although I couldn’t tell you whether it was from the Bronx, Queens or Lower Manhattan. We were sitting on a chairlift on a cloudy, flat-light day at Fernie, B.C. Steve, on his second day of a week-long vacation, was having a little trouble finding his way around, so my buddy, Scott, and I figured we’d better show him a few nice spots.

One thing Steve didn’t need help with was formulating his views on terrorism and Iraq. The 57-year-old, it turned out, is a firefighter. Remember the terrible price they paid on 9/11?

“We lost over 300 people that day, but we saved thousands,” said Steve, gazing into the middle distance, fittingly a bank of mist.

Steve was not in a mood to see this atrocity repeated. “It’s not a question of if, but when the terrorists are going to try another big attack on us,” he predicted. “I’m not willing to wait around for a mushroom cloud to appear over New York or any other American city.”

Steve, in other words, stands foursquare behind President George W. Bush. It’s tempting to say Steve is mystified by the reluctance of historical allies like Canada to join the coalition of the willing, or by the campaign by the French and Germans to sabotage it. But that would be wrong. Steve has moved beyond mystification. He’s no longer analyzing the motives of his country’s former allies.

“What the Europeans have to realize is that people like me just don’t care what those people think anymore,” he said. “The Europeans no longer seem to be bothered by what was done to us, if they ever really were.

“We’ve parted company. Right now, what the French and the Germans think about our plans for Iraq matters about as much to me as what the pine cone on that tree over there thinks.”

I think Steve probably wanted to say “and the Canadians,” but he was too much of a gentleman. At no point during our brief acquaintance was the stocky, silver-haired and somewhat weather-beaten Steve abusive, hostile or racist.

He displayed none of the nasty characteristics that America’s enemies–whether in the bunkers of Baghdad, the streets of London or the caucus of the federal Liberal party–ascribe to the Bush administration and its supporters.

What Steve displayed was a deep, continuing sorrow over what was done to his fellow New Yorkers on Sept. 11, 2001, and a rock-hard determination to see something done about it.

It suddenly became quite clear to me that it was because of, and for, people like Steve that Bush climbed onto that rubble pile in the aftermath of 9/11 and made his pledge through the bullhorn. And it’s because of, and for, people like Steve that Bush is pursuing his campaign against terrorism and Saddam Hussein.

The Steves of the world may be drowned out by anti-war celebs- like Jessica Lange the other night telling CNN’s Aaron Brown over and over how she :feels very strongly” that Iraq will be another Vietnam, without providing a shred of evidence. The Steves of the world may get blind-sided by New York city council’s decision to debate an anti-war resolution, just days after the architect of the 9/11 memorial was chosen.

The many in Europe and Canada who continue to ascribe cynical motives to Bush don’t get it.

You can certainly argue that Bush’s policies are wrong. But nothing in his behaviour since 9/11 suggests insincerity. In fact, it would be far easier to drive down oil prices and repair the U.S. economy by avoiding war with Iraq.

Instead, he’s risking everything to do right by people like Steve.

“There are only three kinds of countries in the world today,” said Steve just before we parted company, “Those that are willing to help–and to them I say, thank you so much, let’s get the job done–those that are our enemy, and those that are going to sit this one out. Sitting it out is OK, I guess, but what’s not OK is getting in our way.”

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