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Multimedia slide show with capsule previews of upcoming films

Standardized Testing 101

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Deadly Weapons in Dangerous Hands

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Iraq: After Saddam

Continuing coverage of the conflict in Iraq


Monday, April 14, 2003
War feelings don't fit neatly on T-shirts





and Gannett News Service
Learn about Tomahawk
cruise missiles
Beyond smart bombs: High-tech weapons explained
Meet U.S. commanders directing the war
Learn about Iraq's most powerful men
Case against Saddam
Suiting up for chemical war
Saddam's rise to power
Key U.S. diplomatic players

Of all the great words penned about war, there may be no greater crystallization of man's mind-set than the poem written by an Arizonan while watching the opening of this country's 1991 military campaign against Iraq.

It read, in its entirety: "Kick their (expletive) and take their gas."

The verse was penned by John Anton, who owns a T-shirt company in Tempe. "A few of us were sitting around having some beers," he says, describing his inspiration. A few minutes later, literary lightning struck again.

Another T-shirt was born. "I'd walk a mile to smoke a camel," went the caption. Above it was a cartoon of a man in flowing robes atop a camel, encircled entirely within the crosshairs of a rifle scope.

Anton sent a few to an oldies radio station, and the morning disk jockey mentioned the shirts on the air. Before long, there were lines outside the warehouse of Anton Sport, waiting to buy. By the end of Operation Desert Storm, Anton ended up selling about 10,000 shirts. One for $12. Two for $20.

This year, Anton still runs a T-shirt company. But he hasn't printed up any Operation Iraqi Freedom apparel.

Not that Anton wanted to do any more "Kick their (expletive)"-type shirts. "I'm a little more professional now," he says.

But he expected that there would be demand for some sort of "Support Our Troops"-type of shirt. "This time, nothing," he says. "We're just shocked."

There have been Web sites selling T-shirts that mock Iraq's information minister, the one who kept denying U.S. troops' presence in Baghdad, and who kept predicting the demise of the infidels. But that's more pop culture than patriotism.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the national mood was galvanized. People flew flags outside their homes, attached them to their car antennas to whip in the wind. And Anton sold several thousand shirts emblazoned with the U.S. flag.

"Osama bin Laden stuff flew off the shelves," he says. "We could do anti-that guy all day long."

But, now, the public mood isn't easily captured in a slogan.

It's not like the nation isn't behind the troops, or against the liberation of Iraq. It's just the emotions aren't so easy. At least for most people.

On the day the big statue of Saddam Hussein came down, KFYI-AM host Bruce Jacobs made it very simple: "We knew all along this was a moral mission, a just mission, a necessary mission," he said on the air. "If you're an American today, you can feel like very few (other) days because this country has done something great and it's just a day to be proud."

Krysten Sinema, a Phoenix woman who led protests against the war nearly every day, didn't feel the pride. "People are without water, without electricity," she says. "They're still starving and many of them are homeless."

The war, as quick as it was, still left thousands of dead, including enemy combatants who were ordered to fight. "We should feel compassion for them, too," Sinema says.

Between those extremes, between war-monger and peacenik, are most Americans.

The layered thoughts don't easily boil down to something that could be squeezed onto a T-shirt.

"Hurrah. The conflict in Iraq didn't turn out nearly as bad as my government and my fears led me to believe."

Doesn't even rhyme.


Back to top
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© 2003, Gannett News Service