I saw my son's still-damp footprint upon the bathroom tile . . . Later, in the twilight, he slept in my arms as I watched the evening news. The broadcaster described the blockade against Saddam Hussein that was gathering itself like a jelling thunderhead; even so, I tried not to dwell upon Iraq. We were on vacation, driving through Ireland and a countryside which wearies the eyes. We traveled with no particular agenda. Down a secluded road we stumbled upon the country's only factory--little more than a garage, actually--devoted to the production of hand-painted, toy, lead soldiers. We purchased a set of the troops from the battle of Waterloo where Napoleon was defeated by Wellington, a man born in Ireland.

But you could not wander far enough to escape the events of the Middle East.

It was revealing to observe the foreign media coverage of Iraq and even enlightening to witness American commentary without one's own flag slapping in the background.

On Saturday, September 29, the English papers, quoting Congressional and Pentagon sources as well as a report jointly prepared by the CIA and its British equivalent, MI6, predicted war would erupt after America's November elections. In other words, President Bush will give the orders to start the killing once Republican officeholders are safe from the parents whose children will be returned to them in body bags for the sake of Exxon.

One week later, the International Herald Tribune carried American columnist Michael Kinsley under the headline: War Is Hell But The Fight Can Be Grand. Arguing against those "isolationists" who oppose this adventure in the desert, Kinsley speaks up for the possibilities in the Gulf: " . . . Americans want to live in history. They want their lives to have meaning beyond having lived, prospered amid family and friends, and died at a ripe age . . . "

Unfortunately, Michael Kinsley is just a little too old and perhaps a little too weedy to actually live in the history of Kuwait personally, so he must content himself with volunteering your children.

Of course there are values worthy of picking up arms over; I am not a pacifist.

But while oilman George Bush was putting in Kennebunkport, I wondered what the hell our troops were doing digging trenches in Saudi Arabia.

Are we there for justice? Then when will American leaders guarantee that Palestinians have a homeland, too?

Are we there to preserve peace? Then where were we when Iraq and Iran fought for eight years, slaughtering one million people?

Do we care about the hostages in Iraq, yet tolerate those missing for years in Lebanon?

If Saddam Hussein is a madman today, what was he when he murdered his own countrymen, the Kurds, using poison gases assembled with components shipped to Baghdad by our allies? During the genocide, President Reagan blocked even the mildest economic sanctions against Hussein.

Bush is not deploying Americans for moral purposes. We march for oil. Of course, this is the same reason Hussein marched.

The English papers were aboil with oaths about the bloody Iraqi wogs. Beneath an astonishing turn-of-the- century photograph that depicted British officers being carried ashore upon the backs of Kuwaitis lest the proper lords get their fine leather boots wet, a writer explained how the sheikdom was stolen fair and square for the Queen Mother.

In the Sunday Correspondent of September 30 appeared an article on British ambassador Michael Weston's ordeal as a captive in Kuwait. While intended to present a picture of the man as a heroic standard-bearer for Protestantism in the face of the infidels, the story was dotty enough to have flown on Monty Python's Flying Circus.

" . . . Mr. Weston and Mr. Banks are said to be suffering badly from heat rash and sores. Without electricity or candles, they have to go to bed and rise with the sun, a disruption of sleeping patterns that has disoriented both . . . "

"Plaudits for Mr. Weston from colleagues read like a head boy's report card: `steady and unflappable,' `a good man to be stuck in a hole with,' `clear-minded and competent.'"

"As Sir Reginald Hibbert, his ambassador in Paris, put it: `He's not excitable, a good steady type. Sensible but not brilliant.' . . . "

"The failure of his marriage is the only blot on an otherwise faultless diplomatic career. Mr. Weston was sent back from Cairo after an affair with a member of staff, to whom he is now married. . . . "

"While not trained to make valiant last stands in embassy buildings, Foreign Office employees seem to have a knack for doing exactly that. In 1963, our man in Indonesia, Andrew Gilchrist, faced up to a mob attacking the embassy gates by having his military attache give them a blast on the bagpipes. The mob promptly burned the embassy to the ground. Mr. Gilchrist was knighted."

"Now retired and living in Scotland, Sir Andrew feels considerable sympathy for Mr. Weston's plight: `There's no justification for imposing martyrdom on the man, but it's up to him to decide whether to stay or go. Sometimes, you just have to grin and bear it. I don't advise him to start playing the bagpipes though.' . . . "

When I'd read all the English newspapers, I switched on the cable and discovered a dispatch from South America where, amid pomp and loud martial music, two warships were steaming out of a harbor on their way to the blockade. With enormous satisfaction and a straight face, the Argentine ambassador explained that the navy made it possible for his country to shed its Third World image and to take its rightful place beside the important nations in this grand undertaking in the gulf.

The last time the Exocet Ensigns of the Argentine navy sought this sort of glory it was over the Falkland Islands where the English interrupted the medals ceremony.

The television crew then jumped to Buenos Aires, where thousands of angry mothers demonstrated against the admirals at the Malvides Memorial to the dead.

No such massive demonstrations against the oil war have taken place in the United States.

Despite the protest, it is understood in Argentina that it is the military where status and power reside. In Ireland the country does not bother to publicize its warrior generals, a celebration, in any case, that could be commemorated upon an air-mail stamp even smaller than a postal cover devoted to Irish cuisine.

The great Wellington himself only merits a dingy obelisk in Dublin, a questionable honor for a man who rejected any identification as an Irishman, pointing out that because one had been born in a stable did not make one a horse.

Instead of war memorials, Dublin is flooded with a poster dedicated to twelve Irish writers, legends of the tongue like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. One of the dozen so honored was Sean O'Casey, author of the immortal The Plough and the Stars.

While I was in Ireland, O'Casey's play Juno and the Paycock was revived for a run to coincide with the Dublin Theatre Festival. In the closing act, Juno's son has been killed by his own mates in Ireland's never-ending death dance. Her neighbor's boy is dead, too. She turns to the audience.

" . . . Maybe I didn't feel sorry enough for Mrs. Tancred when her poor son was found as Johnny's been found now --because he was a Die-hard! Ah, why didn't I remember that then he wasn't a Die-hard or a Stater, but only a poor dead son! It's well I remember all that she said--an' it's my turn to say it now: What was the pain I suffered, Johnny, bringin' you into the world to carry you to your cradle, to the pains I'll suffer carryin' you out o' the world to bring you to your grave! Mother o' God, Mother o' God, have pity on us all! Blessed Virgin, where were you when me darlin' son was riddled with bullets, when me darlin' son was riddled with bullets? Sacred Heart o' Jesus, take away our hearts o' stone, and give us hearts o' flesh! Take away this murdherin' hate, an' give us Thine own eternal love! "

In the theatre, to my left, to my right, behind me, mothers wiped away tears from their eyes.

Juno's daughter Mary is pregnant and deserted by the father. And Juno herself has decided to leave her drunken, layabout husband. As the two women prepare to go, Mary worries out loud about bringing a child into the world without a pa.

"Come, Mary, an' we'll never come back here agen. Let your father furrage for himself now; I've done all I could an' it was all no use--he'll be hopeless till the end of his days. I've got a little room in me sisther's where we'll stop till your throuble is over, an' then we'll work together for the sake of the baby."

"My poor little child that'll have no father!"
"It'll have what's far betther--it'll have two mothers."
. . . And maybe Juno is right. It surely wasn't my wife who bought my son the lead soldiers.

Bush is not deploying Americans for moral purposes. We march for oil. Of course, this is the same reason Hussein marched.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey