A couple of weeks after Christmas, in 2003, I was packing up the Christmas decorations, wrapping up the long strands of tiny white lights. On the TV in the other room CNN was blaring, announcing the latest news in The Run-up to War, or whatever their marketing slogan was back then. What I had thought earlier in the summer—that rumors of war were just that, rumors—seemed to now be proven wrong. We were heading to war, against all reason, it seemed to me then.
Though I hadn't read the NIE—the National Intelligence Estimate, I knew two things: Saddam Hussein had had nothing to do with 9/11, and there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Hans Blix, remember, had been searching in vain for months, and despite the best of clues from U.S. intelligence, had found nothing.
But a madness had overtaken the country. The media wanted a war, a majority of Americans thought war was the only way to keep us safe, and Democratic lawmakers had been convinced the only way to be re-elected was to vote to authorize the war.
So as I took down my holiday decorations, frustration ate a hole in me. Letters to senators and congresspersons hadn't helped. Donations to MoveOn hadn't moved anybody. Marching in the streets would have been ignored. What could one woman, with a strand of Christmas lights in her hand, do?
Suddenly those Christmas lights, the representation of the light that guided shepherds to the Prince of Peace, took on new meaning. They would become my beacon, my message of peace. I quickly found tape, and a chair, and stretched the strand of lights over my big front window, until I'd fashioned a large peace sign.
When it was done, I plugged in the strand, and left them on, day and night, my own marketing slogan, my own preferred weapon of peace. I left them on through March, as the war started despite my puny attempts to stop it. They were on when my nephew, a Marine reservist, entered Baghdad a few weeks later. They were on when looters broke into museums, when starving animals in the zoo were rescued by Iraqi and Australian vets. They were on when the lights were no longer working in Iraq, the power stations having been disabled by the war.
They were on when word came that no weapons of mass destruction had been found.
They were on when tens of thousands of bodies were taken in the dark to morgues, and millions more prayed in vain for peace.
The cellophane tape eventually dried out in the summer sun, and I pulled the lights down. About that time I started working on a political campaign, for a candidate who opposed the war. My lights went back into the box with the Christmas decorations, while I hit the streets and the phones, looking for votes. I turned off CNN, focusing on the ballot box rather than the squawk box.
It's been five years since the bombs first dropped on Baghdad, and peace still hasn't come to Iraq.
I'm not a hippie protester. I'm a very middle class, middle of the road, middle-aged white woman. Putting a peace sign in my window wasn't a big deal, and didn't, most likely, change anyone's mind. But it reminded me, day after day, night after night, of that gnawing frustration I felt that day, when there was nothing else I could do but put a big peace sign in my window.