by Mary Schmich
Published August 17, 2005
Some distant day, when students curl up with their history books to learn about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, they will read about the moment when the tide of public opinion turned.
That's the cliche the history book will use: "The tide of public opinion turned."
And I'm guessing that the rest of the phrase will be "around August 2005."
It's hard to detect a turning tide, even a tide that laps at your shoes.
"Is the tide coming in or going out?" a friend said not long ago as we walked along an ocean.
We stood and watched the waves. He said out, I said in. I'm not sure which one of us was right. But that's the point. The moment a tide shifts direction is so subtle it's arguable--until all of a sudden it's clear, and closed to question.
Wars, unlike oceans, don't come with official tide tables. The tug of events on opinion, and then of opinion on events, is harder to document than the force of gravity on the sea, the angle of the sun and moon, the waterline on sand.
But in the matter of Iraq, the opinion tide has backed away from support for this war/conflict/struggle/invasion/your-preferred-term here.
I've been saying this for a couple of weeks, as one of those idle, ordinary-citizen's observations, based not on facts or my own politics, but on some wisp of something in the air.
It's just a feeling. Just a feeling like the chilly nip that in late August in Chicago flutters in on a warm breeze and leaves you wondering, "Did I imagine that?"
On Sunday, the Tribune ran a piece that gave a little muscle to the feeling. The story included interviews with increasingly war-wary Americans who fleshed out the opinion polls. Fifty-four percent of Americans now say it was a mistake to invade Iraq. In March, only 46 percent said so.
August 2005. The minority has become a majority. The tide has turned.
Polls, of course, can mislead. Ask John Kerry. But there's something more than polls in the air. You can feel it--the accumulation of weariness and wariness that has turned some supporters into doubters and some doubters into full objectors.
Ask around. You'll hear it.
You've certainly heard the death count: More than 1,800 American military men and women killed. In addition, according to the Iraq Body Count project, at least 23,589 civilians, mostly Iraqis, dead.
As wartime body counts go, the U.S. number is small. But these numbers come with faces, names. There may never have been a war in which individual deaths were so publicly detailed.
On Tuesday, the Tribune's front page ran a small headline: "Army lieutenant from Waukegan killed in Iraq." Inside was a photo of David L. Giaimo. He had wide-set eyes, a full smile, dark, cropped hair. He was handsome, and 23.
Names and faces like his have helped to turn the tide.
August is typically a lazy month, so it may be hard to register that out there in the ether of public opinion, something big is going on. This is our semi-official nothing-happens month. Even the president is on vacation.
And he is on vacation with an angry woman named Cindy Sheehan camped outside his Texas ranch. She's the mother of a dead soldier. Casey, age 24. Another face and name, another tug at the tide.
A couple of days ago, I got an e-mail from a friend I've thought supported the war. Under his neutral comment, "Interesting observation," he forwarded someone else's e-mail, which began:
"Henry Kissinger quoted Mao as observing, `The established authority loses if it does not win; the insurgent wins if he does not lose.' In Iraq the insurgency won't prevail; we won't let it. But it won't lose."
This e-mailer, identified by name and as a Republican-leaning businessman, went on: "The conclusion, to me, is inescapable--We've already lost. Time to come home."
Is a forwarded e-mail proof of anything? No. But it's another glimmer of a subtle shift that will eventually be as obvious as a beached whale.