March 22 —
First there was all that unnerving waiting.
Electronic highway signs in Washington foreshadowed danger:
"Heightened homeland security alert," they flashed. "Report
suspicious activity." On an aircraft carrier, sailors in broad
daylight were ordered to bed, to be awake for a busy night.
Finally came word from the commander in chief: "God bless the
troops," and America went to war against Iraq.
Americans watched edgily, but with more comfort and security than
now felt by Iraqis and the U.S. soldiers rolling through their
The week America went to war began with uncertainty and faint
hope of avoiding conflict. At the United Nations, President Bush's
diplomacy failed, so he readied the country and the world with a
48-hour deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave his land.
The prospect of peace came to an end with Bush and his top
commander saluting one another on a video uplink before the
president gave the go-ahead.
"Let's roll" had been the mantra of this administration's first
military campaign, in Afghanistan. "Let's go" were the words Bush
used to launch the first strike against the Iraqi president.
Bush had decided at 8 a.m. Wednesday 12 hours before the deadline
to go to war, and he left it to the armed forces to say when the
first missiles would be fired. Then, at 7:12 p.m., he ordered a
missile attack on a Baghdad site where Iraq's top leaders might be
Some Americans felt relief that the interminable wait had
"It's about time," said Lance Cpl. Chad Borgmann, a 23-year-old
Marine from Sidney, Neb., as he headed for an unknown location in
the Middle East.
Adults struggled to explain it all to children, but there no
diverting some young minds. "I think what we're having for lunch is
a bigger topic right now," said principal Katherine Boeve at
Mockingbird Elementary School in Omaha, Neb.
America's terror alert climbed to orange, the second highest
level. Iraq raised its alert the old-fashioned way, with air-raid
Guards with helmets stood on Wall Street. Police used mirrors on
long handles to check under cars and trucks at Los Angeles
International airport. Federal meat and poultry inspectors began
testing for chemical and biological agents. National Guard troops
patrolled nuclear power plants.
How the week unfolded:
MONDAY: Nerves already jangling, commuters in Washington, D.C.,
are held hostage when streets near the monuments were closed. The
culprit: a tobacco grower from North Carolina, claiming to have
explosives, drives a tractor into a pond to protest farm policy.
Bush tells the nation in a televised address that to avert war,
Saddam and his sons had 48 hours to leave Iraq. Otherwise, Bush
says, military action will begin "at a time of our choosing."
TUESDAY: A snow storm paralyzes Colorado and Wyoming. The
homeland defense alert code is at orange. In the House, lawmakers
discuss legislation that would create a national child kidnapping
The Federal Reserve decides to leave interest rates unchanged and
at a 41-year low. Major league baseball cancels a season opener in
WEDNESDAY: In the morning, Bush signs off on war and prepares for
his evening speech when he announces the beginning of hostilities.
On the Senate floor, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., says, "Today I weep
for my country."
The tobacco farmer surrenders after 48 hours.
The war starts not with a massive show of military might but with
attacks on specific sites to take out Iraq's leaders.
THURSDAY: In Congress, lawmakers largely set aside their
differences and call for unity in support of troops. Thousands of
anti-war protesters rally outside the White House and in cities from
Chicago to San Francisco in one of the heaviest days of
anti-government demonstrations in years.
"This is no ordinary day," said Jason Mark, a protester in San
Francisco. "America is different today."
Not all demonstrators are against the war. Alec O'Neill, 21, of
Red Hook, N.Y., stood at the edge of an anti-war protest in
Providence, R.I., wearing a T-shirt that read "I am threatened by
Iraq" on the front and "Regime change now" on the back.
TV ratings for the first evening of NCAA basketball tournament
coverage drop more than 20 percent from the year before.
FRIDAY: On spring's first day, people stop and watch silently,
some with mouths agape, at televised images of heavy bombing in
Baghdad. U.S. officials designate it as A-Day to mark the aerial
Americans learn of the first combat deaths. The war, on the other
side of the world, comes home.
SATURDAY: Explosions rock Baghdad during the day, the first air
attacks in sunlight, but they intensify at nightfall. U.S. and
British forces seize the airport outside Basra, Iraq's second
largest city, and press north toward the capital.
|The week began with President
Bush standing in the White House Cross Hall after addressing
the nation on his ultimatum to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, in
Washington, in this March 17, 2003 file photo. Bush said the
United States would unleash war against Iraq unless Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein fled his country within 48 hours. (AP
Photo/J. Scott Applewhite,
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This
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