It's 10 years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. And why would my new satire collection -- Suburgatory -- heavy on take-downs of affluent suburban obsessions - feature any mention at all about war? (See the piece below if you want to skip what inspired it. Lord knows I blow them off all the time.) In my experience in three overwhelmingly white, well-off suburbs across two states since 2004, war is hardly an obsession. Star Wars, yes. Mommy wars, maybe. Real wars? NO. So why is it in there? The reason has a name, Akiko, a true patriot who's not even American.
I remember well the start of "Operation Enduring Freedom". At that time, I was a CNN head writer in New York. Sure did "endure," didn't it?
Three years after that, I was a suddenly suburban, hopelessly out-of-place stay-at-home mom desperate for lost stimulation when I met Akiko on a playground. I felt like a foreigner in suburbia, but she is a real foreigner and a genuine rarity in that comfortable town: now a reluctant veteran of both American wars.
Akiko was very pregnant back then while chasing another boy just my son's age. Her English was terrible, but her Japanese manners, of course, impeccable. "You come my house?" she said. Lonely beyond imagining, I was thrilled. And thankful that my unstoppable, off-color talk would go completely unnoticed by my new friend. (That talk was welcome in a newsroom, not a playground.)
But as we headed to her house, she didn't steer me to the nearby McMansion farm. I found myself in a dark second-floor apartment next to a bowling alley with a man's picture on the fridge: "Oh, that my husband. He in Fallujah Iraq. Fallujah is..." I immediately thought, I bet she has to explain Fallujah to the oblivious all the time.
So Akiko soon gave birth with a husband seven thousand miles away. This spring, he shipped off for another year- this time to Afghanistan. He's in his mid-forties. Akiko works many hours a week with her 82-year-old indomitable mother-in-law (who cries several times a day) watching three little grandkids. The youngest now clings to Akiko for fear she'll leave; the middle one started having potty accidents at age 5; and the oldest started having emotional swings. Akiko flagged her husband's departure to the kids' schools. The response from one was, (paraphasing from Akiko): "we've had this happen once - a child's uncle was deployed."
After that came a concerned phone call from the school (again, paraphasing): "Is anything going on at home we should know about, besides the war?"
When I heard this, I wished I was there to grab the phone and say, "Isn't watching your dad going off to war twice by the age of 6 enough to explain any and all of his issues?"
This brings me to Suburgatory. (Whoa, jarring, huh? Bear with me.) It was a book proposal that got picked up last year, and a sitcom of the same name is now on ABC. They took a different direction. When I found a publisher this summer, I had the creative luxury to go very hard on satirizing the ignorance as I see it among some of the world's most fortunate.
So as we mark 10 years in Afghanistan, (and how many Americans will?), here's my attack on the luckiest of us (that includes me) - thoroughly bubble-wrapped from wars that others like Akiko, those deployed, and the civilians hurt or killed over the last decade, have endured. (Readers, I wish I could have used an ignoramus dad, and not singled out a mom, but as a stay-at-home mom myself, it was the only voice I could believably channel.)
Suburgatory, USA -- An area mom is unaware of two American wars fought over the last ten years.
"Huh? What are you talking about?" asked Carol Stewart. "I can't talk for long, I've got Tommy's soccer pickup, have to swing back, pick up Sarah, then all of us to the store. Jesus, that sounds like absolute hell, doesn't it?"
This reporter explained that 9/11 had led to a "war on terror" that still has U.S. servicemen and women in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Had she heard of 9/11? "Now that is extremely insulting. I actually saw it happen. Live. They pre-empted Regis and Kelly for it. So just back off with the 'hey-ignorant-Mommy' crap." Arriving at the soccer field, she said, "Get in the van, Tommy. No. Enough ice cream. No. Now."
Is she aware that the U.S. went on to fight two wars after that?
"Here's what I know. I know that we went into Afghanistan, found the smoking gun mushroom cloud WMDs, thank God, did that amazing rescue of that adorable blond soldier girl--poor little thing. Then Seal Team Six got al-Qaeda's top guys--Saddam, bin Laden, Qaddafi. Then George W. Bush did that whole thing on the boat with the big 'We Won!' sign, and Axles of Evil were finished. See? I know a little something about something besides Mommying."
She retrieved Sarah from her playdate. "Thanks for having her! Did she behave nicely?" Heading to the store, this reporter told her major combat did not end with the "Mission Accomplished" sign, and in fact had gone on for years.
"I haven't seen Ken Burns do it. You're telling me that you - some nobody suburban reporter - knows more than Ken Burns? And if there were really two wars, wouldn't I know someone who had gone? Hell-ooo! Wouldn't every house have a flag out?"
Not necessarily. Since the military attracts often lower- or middle-class recruits, those who have no connection to those groups would be almost fully insulated. "So I guess you're saying, 'Where've I been?' Oh, I know, just raising the future of America."
Did she want to know how many American servicemen and women and civilians were killed in the two wars?
"You know what?" she said, exasperated, with all three of her kids yelling and throwing things across the minivan. "I've got my own army to worry about. Sorry. Priorities."
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