Listen To Your Granny

One of the reasons our house is somewhat crowded is that we are reluctant to throw away perfectly good magazines which are just a bit old. The New Yorker in particular is a living reproach, because it comes every week and is full of good stuff which we can't necessarily consume on a timely basis.

All of this is a prelude to explain why I happened this weekend to be reading a September 2004 "Talk of the Town" piece by George Packer about what was going badly wrong in Iraq. He'd originally been a reluctant supporter of the invasion, but as the war progressed and he reported on it for the New Yorker he changed his mind. This piece was his last-minute advice to John Kerry to get tough on Bush's war, something the candidate never managed to do. Packer wrote that "the senator has allowed the public to think that the president, against all the evidence of his record, will fight the war in Iraq and the larger war against radical Islam with more success. If Kerry loses the election, this will be the reason."

And Kerry did lose the election, and that's why. Packer later released a book, "The Assassins' Gate," in which he detailed exactly what went wrong in Iraq.

On Sunday I missed attending my first meeting of Grandmothers Against the War because of a previous commitment. They sent me an instant email update about their plans, for some kind of direct action on Valentine's Day at a recruiting office somewhere as yet to be decided, which I forwarded to my oldest friends, now most of them grandmothers scattered around the country. Now that the grandmothers are getting organized, there might be some hope for taking back the Congress in the 2006 election and stopping the crazy war in Iraq.

Sometime in the last couple of years a woman with a Middle-European accent, someone we'd previously encountered as, I think, a supporter of some union organizing effort, brought the Daily Planet newsroom some banana bread because she liked an article in our paper.

"I always send my grandson some banana bread when he writes a good article," she said.

"Who's your grandson?" we asked. "Where does he write these good articles?"

Now I remember that she said her grandson was George Packer, and that he was a staff writer for the New Yorker. At that time I hadn't noticed his byline there, but I was impressed nevertheless. And we enjoyed the banana bread.

I don't know this for sure, but I just bet George Packer's grandmother knew from the start that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, long before he figured it out for himself. She seemed like that kind of woman. Young men, unfortunately, tend to have more optimism about the success of military ventures than do their grandmothers, who have seen wars before and know the outcome.

The popular press, left division, is full of pieces these days on the general theme of "us good guys need to get organized for the next election," which is now almost upon us. One smug young man who'd worked the 2004 election in Ohio for a national organization opined in The Nation that the problem was that too many amateurs tried to get into the act. He said he'd taken a call from someone who wanted his attention because she represented "GAG." What was GAG? Grandmothers Against George -- and he was supposed to waste his valuable time and money on people like that? Well, yes.

One big problem in 2004 was too much money thrown at too many self-important semi-pros who didn't really understand what was happening on the ground. Organizations like his relied entirely too much on bank calls from yuppies in California with cell phones and too little on savvy homefolks.

Eve Pell, a card-carrying grandmother and seasoned political writer, told me that she showed up in Philadelphia in 2004 to help get out the vote, having been recruited by one of these national groups. She discovered that the precinct to which she'd been assigned was already under control -- the African-American grandmothers who'd been working there for years had covered all the bases, and the turnout was terrific. The national guys hadn't understood or appreciated their work.

There are those who think that John Kerry really won Ohio, and thus the election -- that the thugs stole the vote there. It's possible that they're right. If the smug young man in Ohio had been more respectful of the Grandmothers Against George, they might have been able to help him figure out that the local Republicans had their hands in the cookie jar. Now that the Grandmothers Against the War are getting their act together, they might even be able to figure out a way to bring America's grandchildren who are in Iraq home again.

In the fall of 2002 I was able to snatch a young man of my acquaintance out of the very clutches of a dishonest recruiter, who had persuaded the boy to enlist because he was out of work, restless, and didn't follow politics enough to know that war in Iraq was looming. I was standing in then for his own grandmother, my good friend who died much too young of breast cancer, and who was a vigorous opponent of every war she ever saw. At the very least, if the Grandmothers are present at the recruiting offices, they might be able to make sure that no more young people sign up as he did without understanding the consequences.

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