Reading the news today that US forces are bombing Tripoli brought on a quirky memory, almost completely unrelated to today’s events.
Last time the US bombed Tripoli, in 1986, I was on a study abroad year in Benares, India. I had chosen to live in Vijayanagaram Bhavan, the headquarters of the College Year in India program, so knew about all the students’ comings and goings. I also kept an eye on what was going in the world (a habit picked up from my dad the newshound). I owned a shortwave radio, and used it to listen to the Voice of America, BBC World Service, and Radio Moscow (whose announcers all sounded as if they had been raised in Nebraska).
I wrote up daily news summaries and posted them on the center’s bulletin board for my fellow students, a service they seemed to appreciate. So it was I who informed them about the US attack, which was not well received by the world community, nor by many Americans. There were fears of retaliatory attacks on American citizens worldwide. I heaved a sigh and got on with my life – been there, been threatened with death by the Islamic Jihad. We also imagined, I don’t know how realistically, the possibility of full-scale war, complete with Vietnam-style conscription of US youth.
A few days later, an American showed up at the Bhavan with a list of student names he wanted to check. His wife was a consular officer with the US Embassy in Delhi, so it was her duty to keep track of US citizens in the region in case there should be a need to whisk us all to safety. I was pleased that, having put my life in danger, my government was at least proposing to get me out of it again, and was happy to give the man the information he needed. Meanwhile, my classmates were at the other end of the verandah, muttering among themselves about the stranger and what his business might be.
As the man and I were finishing, one of the students – J, a painfully politically correct young man – came bustling up.
“Sir,” he said officiously, “I would like to lodge a complaint about the actions of the US government in Libya – ” He didn’t get to finish.
The man looked him straight in the eye and barked: “I am here to inform you that all US males over the age of 18 are being drafted into the army, and you have two days to report to the nearest recruiting center!”
J’s jaw dropped, he turned white as a sheet, and for once had nothing to say.
The man smiled sweetly, and went about his business.