WRITING - Joe Bob's America

I'm still dizzy. Last week I wandered down into the grey canyons of Lower Manhattan for the "We Kicked Their Butts" parade,

and it was everything I thought it would be. There were teenage girls jumping over the barricades and planting sloppy wet ones on the soldiers.

There were Army guys breaking rank and high-fiving it down the line with tourists. For about an hour the sky was almost black with from all the yuppie Wall Street trash being poured down on the conquering heroes.

(By the way, why do they call it a "ticker-tape parade" when nobody has used ticker tape for twenty years? I picked up some of the junk and looked at it. It's actually shredded computer paper. So the proper name from now on should be a "computer-printout parade.")

Even the New York City weirdos were into it. Some gay guys dressed up like majorettes and did some kind of zombie strut down the street. Three hours after the parade was SUPPOSED to be over, there were still about 200 bagpipers in kilts marching along between high school bands and "The Hispanic Society of the New York Sanitation Department."

There were 947 kinds of T-shirts, flags and souvenir posters on sale, most of them hawked by guys screaming "USA! USA! One dollar! USA! USA!"--which was especially strange, since most of the American flag salesmen seemed to be not Americans at all, but Middle Eastern Arabs!

Then they had a big hoo-haw fireworks show on the East River where Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops were playing all the Yankee Doodle standards while simulated Scud missiles were blown out of the sky by simulated Patriot missiles. I am NOT making this up.

You couldn't help but get choked up by all this stuff, especially when you saw the Navy guys wearing those white Popeye uniforms, most of em looking like they were 14 years old, acting like they were permanently dazed by all the attention. I saw one signing T-shirts like he was a movie star, and he was so blown away by the whole deal that he just kept saying "Thank you, sir" and "Yes, sir, I'm from Wheeling, West Virginia," and "Thank you, maam," and "West Virginia, yes, maam," and all this time he's talking to people loaded up with autographed souvenirs who look like they've spent the day at a theme park.

The strangest thing of all was that--before, during and after this parade--New York became a NICE place. People spoke to complete strangers. The ones that left work to attend the parade tended to remain happy the rest of the day. And you could see it in the faces of the children. Most New York children have determined or vacant or scared expressions, like THEY are soldiers on a mission. On this day, they picked up some kind of freedom in the air, and they were relaxed, friskier, they seemed like . . . well . . . like children.

And all the time I'm thinking about what happened to Kuwait, and what's been going on over the last three months, and I can't get over the strangeness of it all:

We LOST the war.

Didn't we?

Or is there something I don't understand?

Saddam Hussein started a war because he wanted Kuwait to stop pumping so much oil and driving his prices down. By the time he was driven out of the country, he had set so many oil wells on fire that Kuwait will never be able to pump that much oil again in the rest of recorded time.

The United States got involved because we wanted to protect a free country against a dictator. Last week, though, Kuwait was still throwing people in prison after trials where people had no lawyers and couldn't speak for themselves. Most of the Kuwaiti people were still refusing to go back to work, even to their cushy government jobs that are guaranteed for life. And the only people who ended up losing everything were the Egyptians, Palestinians and other foreigners who lived in Kuwait and did all the dirty work there for years. Many of them are still in refugee camps, as though the war were still going on. And, of course, the other losers were the thousands of Iraqi babies, dying in the hospitals that can't get incubators, medicine, milk or food.

In other words, Saddam Hussein got most of what he wanted. The massive oil pumping stopped. Kuwait was revealed to be a corrupt and undemocratic place, as he always said it was. The Arab-on-the-street sees the dying children and hates the United States even more than he did before. And, when the American troops left, all Hussein had to do was vacate a little piece of land that he never cared that much about in the first place.

So I don't get it.

I understand the parade. I understand the fireworks. I understand patriotism. I understand the tears when you see those guys in uniform. I teared up myself when Skitch struck up "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Shoot, I'll go to a good military parade in the most boringly peaceful year in American history.

I just don't understand what all those things have to do with this particular war.

Maybe someone can explain it to me.