I wanted to see the War on Iraq from the front lines or as close as I could get. I wanted a handle on the ground truth. Since no publisher would foot the bill to send me over there I paid my own way to the Gulf. At the end of March I flew to the UAE then drove to Qatar. My first objective was Doha. In my pocket was the freelancer's best and truest friend in the field next to a Kalash -- a valid press card. If it wasn't enough my credentials as an author and reporter could be checked out by calls to my editors, if necessary.
I knew from the start that getting into Iraq was a longshot. Nearly four hundred miles of Saudi territory lay between my position in Doha and Kuwait and about another hundred miles lay beyond that to the southeastern Iraqi border. Getting past the Saudis might have been arranged, but surmounting bureaucratic and economic barriers was a still more formidable prospect. CENTCOM had the final word on embedded and "independent" journalists, and I wasn't officially part of the press corps in Doha; no newspaper, magazine or other media organization had sent me over, and I was never that good at making friends, especially in a hurry. I didn't make any friends in Doha. My funds and my time would run out after two weeks, give or take.
As ground forces moved on Baghdad I caught an NYC-bound flight with a stopover in Paris. There was a lot on my mind and a few bucks left in my travel fund. I switched my ticket for a flight departing the next day and took the bus from Charles DeGaulle International to the Gare St. Lazare. From there I could get to my old haunts in the vicinity of the Place de Clichy. On my way from the airport I knew it was the right move. I had a lot on my mind, and needed some decompression time before setting foot in the Apple again, and somehow Paris was appropriate for another reason; it helped put what was happening now into some kind of perspective. Yanks and Brits had fought to liberate Paris in 1944. Between 1940 and then it had been part of "unoccupied France." American involvement in the war against nazism and fascism was at first unpopular at home. Then had come Pearl Harbor. Some have spoken about America's "going mad" in pushing for this war. I think "getting mad" is more accurate. The same way the country got mad at another sneak attack that roused it to anger in 1941. Regardless of the rightness or wrongness of our present actions, one thing is clear: those who struck at this country, and those who abetted them, should have expected this reaction. But they apparently had short memories. Well, maybe they'll think twice next time. For their sake I hope they do.
I walked around Paris for most of my day in the city, revisiting old places, wasting time, not giving a damn. I knew how to blend in with the locals, and I knew sections to stay out of in the current wave of anti-Americanism sweeping France. I have no doubt the French will love us again, and we'll love them back, but for the moment an American in Paris was well advised to lay low. I caught a late flight the following night and returned to where it had all started. I'd had my closure, even if I didn't get to play Robert Mitchum as crusading war correspondent or Hemingway at the black ass crossroads. I wasn't sorry I'd gone. I'd needed to do this since one particularly clear and sunny Tuesday in September when I watched something happen right in front of me that I still have trouble believing.