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Celebration 

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A luncheon at Ditka's put on by the Chicago chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences finished with jumbled scenes from Gone With the Wind playing on five overhead TV sets. Pretend battles and a resplendent Vivien Leigh had been cannibalized to decorate this music video. As the sound was turned down, Essee Kupcinet took the floor to introduce TV news anchorman Bill Kurtis, who was moderating a panel on covering a war almost as distant as the Civil War.

Kurtis, who got as close to this last war as the rest of us--the TV screen--proposed that "tornado damage, or Scud damage, it all looks the same when you get close enough to it." Yet Kurtis wondered what was missing. He asked the panel of local reporters just back from the gulf, "Did anyone see a dead body at all? Anyone here?"

For TV reporter Jim Avila, access to events in Tel Aviv was so good, "it was like covering a war in Chicago"--a city once honored by the Wall Street Journal with the nickname "Beirut by the lake." As for souvenirs, Avila admitted, "I brought home some pieces that I thought were from Scuds. When the pieces came down, you couldn't tell if it was a Patriot or Scud, and the Israeli censors wouldn't tell me."

Afterward, the TV monitors resumed playing music videos. Louis Armstrong sang "What a Wonderful World," accompanied by clips from the movie Good Morning, Vietnam.

"Goooood Morning Iraaaaaq--It's 3:00 am," read a lurid T-shirt for sale on Michigan Avenue. Fifteen bombs were depicted heading for Baghdad, targeted with a red star. The retailing occasion for this 100 percent cotton sentiment was, by the mayor's estimate, the "grandest parade ever held in Chicago."

The May 10 Committee to Resist All Celebrations of War took up a position across from the main media base, which was encamped by the reviewing stand. Earlier, Pledge of Resistance had issued a leaflet entitled "Challenge the Parade of Lies," urging protesters to "create images that demand attention" since "it will take creativity to combat May 10th's glorification of war." Wear black and red ribbons, suggested the Revolutionary Communist Party, instead of the yellow ones symbolizing "cowardice."

"No one will be permitted to use the war in the gulf as an excuse to attack or discriminate against fellow Chicagoans," decreed the mayor's commissioner on human relations in an official letter last January headed "Chicagoans' Wartime Human Relations." "It is an act of cowardice, not patriotism." Maybe the message got through. One vendor of Saddam Hussein bull's-eye target posters had sold none of the $2.50 mementos after her first hour on the job. A bus load of sixth-graders from the suburbs, though, included one proud owner of a police firing-range poster whose silhouetted target featured Hussein's head. Only cost a dollar.

On the eve of the "Welcome Home" parade, demonstrators had gathered one more time at Federal Plaza. The turnout was small, the bullhorn sounded feeble. Most eloquent was a giant yellow ribbon splattered with bloody red paint.

The demonstrators politely played dead at a couple of locations around the Loop, then marched back to Dearborn and Adams without incident. Except when they passed Vito S. Viglione, a gospel preacher stationed at Randolph and Michigan. Resenting his righteousness--and maybe envying his superior sound system--one kid stuck his middle finger in front of Vito's face. Another prankster stole all the tracts from behind his back. Yet another, dressed up in a white shirt and necktie, rushed in to blast punk music at him, but that one tripped and his boom box dropped its load of D batteries on the ground. When asked the name of the band, the boy answered "Dead Kennedys," after first checking the middle-aged reporter's press credentials.

The little march fizzled out. Hollering at other marchers for "patriotic items," a boy acting like the class clown in homeroom piled up capture-the-flag booty picked up along the route. "If you don't want it going up in flames, thumbs up, all right?--uh, no, down." He sounded mildly dyslexic along the vertical axis. "Blaze it? Blaze it, or save it? So thumbs down means not burn it, or what?" He failed to get a clear tally. There would be no burnt offering of yellow ribbons and the red, white, and blue.

Not every window of the Sun-Times building, crowned with a yellow ribbon, sported an American flag. There was only one on the north side and seven on the southwest side. But there were 124 flags on the northwest side, and 461 facing the parade staging area across the Chicago River. The Sun-Times had had the flags printed up on cardboard squares with an announcement on the back touting the paper's new "ballpark edition." These placards appeared up and down Michigan Avenue. One parade watcher in front of the Art Institute stood squarely--if innocently--on one of these American flags. The museum's facade was grandly bedecked with correctly displayed flags.

One of the more notorious alumni of the School of the Art Institute, flag-on-the-floor artist "Dread" Scott Tyler, participated in a sidewalk press conference before the parade stepped off. A radio reporter wearing a "U.S.A. #1" button held out his microphone as Tyler challenged four-star general Colin Powell to a nationally televised debate on proper role models for African American schoolboys. A couple hours later, when the parade passed by, a marcher held aloft a large portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. Pushing a stay-in-school message, the standard-bearer sidestepped King's vehement opposition to the Vietnam war prior to his assassination.

Another speaker at the protesters' press conference was Ray Parrish, an antimilitary counselor who drew analogies between this war and Vietnam: "Returning vets will need psychological counseling, because they knew it was wrong for us to be over there. The ones that don't need the help are the ones the parade is for."

Vietnam vet Michael Schiff talked about the differences between this and other wars. "There are about 15 of our people--and that includes reporters too-- unaccounted for over in the gulf. Vietnam, it's 2,300 servicemen. Korea, 8,000." He also said 78,000 American World War II POWs were taken from German camps by the Russians to their gulags. "There are still live sightings over there," he said. Over in the barricaded press compound, he prepared to videotape the parade for VA hospital residents. His camera stood on the roof of his van--"Rolling Thunder"--decorated with graphic POW/MIA images. Harley-Davidson donated $10,000 worth of airbrushed artwork. The van has appeared as lead vehicle for numerous biker parades.

On Memorial Day last year, bikers rallied for POWs/MIAs in the Pentagon's north parking lot, which Schiff figured is "bigger than three battleships." He said 50,000 people were packed in "assholes to belly buttons--I have video footage right here in the van. I can prove it." Yet "CNN gave us only eight seconds and reported a crowd of only 5,000. Ever since Ted Turner started dating Jane Fonda, he's cut way back on covering this issue."

When an undeclared war is shorter than a sweeps week, the home viewers are deprived of opportunities to develop attachments: lead characters, plot twists, and spin-offs are irrelevant. The parade crowd on Michigan Avenue cheered the general and the troops as if they were TV celebrities. As big a thrill as seeing Oprah somewhere other than on TV. Bigger. It was welcome home from the Mother of All Superbowls. As Powell's convertible drove up to the starting line, he dismissed the questions of critics, saying "What's it matter? We won, didn't we?"

Simply winning was enough. What was won was not the point. The parade celebrated light casualties for our side, but there were moments of silence for the Illinois dead. Although Israel was cited in a banner leading the parade, Kuwaitis and Kurds were off the map. A parade without politics has no place in Chicago, yet at this one politicians made a show of not exploiting the event. With no elections in sight, this was not much of a sacrifice.

Although members of the press never wore Daley, Davis, Pincham, Gottlieb, or Byrne buttons during the last campaign, on Friday yellow ribbons flew from the antennae atop Minicam vans. Wearing buttons and ribbons, the press demonstrated how unpolitically the story of the day would play. The Tribune endorsed Bush for the presidency, but never festooned its Gothic tower with "Go, George, Go" banners.

One week before "the grandest parade ever held in Chicago," Mayor Daley helped kick off the public-service drive for something called the Points of Light Foundation. Its motto is "Do Something Good. Feel Something Real." And be all you can be.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bill Stamets.

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