Wednesday, January 16

When the first rumors of war started coming in about 5:30 p.m., Tom Farmer began pacing around the Washington newsroom of the Cable News Network with his left hand in his pants pocket, nervously jiggling his change.

As a supervising producer for CNN, Farmer, 30, had helped put together some walk-up stories about a world on the brink of war -- one on military readiness, another on "Bush: The Man" -- but if war came tonight those pieces would be instantly obsolete. Farmer sat down and punched the buttons of his touch-tone phone with a well-practiced middle finger, calling his correspondents at the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. They'd heard rumors too, but nobody had anything solid. It was the same in Saudi Arabia -- plenty of rumors but nothing you could go with.

Then, at about 6:30, CNN anchor Bernard Shaw was on the line from Baghdad, screaming to go on the air: "This is -- something is happening outside . . ." As he spoke, sirens howled in the background, punctuated by bursts of antiaircraft fire. Farmer had worked with Shaw, he had traveled with Shaw to the Helsinki summit last September, and now he could hear fear raising the pitch of his friend's voice a full octave. This is it, Farmer thought. We're going in.

His first inclination was to yell out the news. Instead, he started trotting, stiff-legged, through the bureau, first to the control room, then to the office of his boss, Peter Kendall, the bureau's executive news producer, then back to the phones for quick calls to his correspondents around Washington. In his office, he glanced at the three small gray Sylvania TV sets that sit on the bookshelf near his desk, tuned to the competition. CBS was having technical problems, ABC's phone line to Baghdad was down. NBC too was struggling. But Farmer didn't have time to gloat. CNN's command center in Atlanta was on the phone, yelling for maps of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. "Get the maps! Get the maps!" Atlanta hollered, but Farmer couldn't find the maps. Somebody recalled seeing wooden boxes marked "Maps" in the hallway, so Farmer and another producer ran into the hall and started clawing the tape off the boxes. When they finally ripped them open, they found . . . nothing.

Farmer ran back into the newsroom, where somebody finally remembered where the maps were. He helped pull them out and put them into place.

By 7 o'clock, the maps were on the air and from Baghdad, CNN's team -- Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett -- was giving play-by-play coverage of the air war:

"Whoa!" Holliman said. "That was a large air burst that we saw!"

"We're crouched behind a window in here," said Arnett. ". . . The antiaircraft is erupting again."

In Baghdad, it was a moment of pure terror, but in Washington, Farmer couldn't help feeling relieved -- and excited. The long-discussed, long-debated war had finally begun, and little CNN -- the underdog of TV news -- was beating the other networks.

He took 10 seconds to call his fiancee, Dawn White, who answered on the first ring. "Are you watching CNN?" he said, voice catching. "It's going down." He felt like he'd hit the top of the roller coaster and now he was heading into uncontrolled free fall.

AS SOON AS MAE GOVAN CAME HOME from work that night, she flicked on Dan Rather. Then she walked into the kitchen of her three-story row house on New Jersey Avenue NW and started making meatloaf for her husband, Philip, her daughter Wanda, and her grandaughter Angel.

Mae was nervous. She'd been nervous for days, for weeks, ever since her youngest son, Warren, 20, an Army MP, had volunteered for duty in Saudi Arabia. She'd talked to him three days earlier. He'd been moved up north, to within 40 miles of Kuwait, and he sounded a little scared. "Ma, this is the real thing," he'd told her. "It's more real than you can imagine." Since then, she'd thought of him constantly, conjuring up images of Warren in a gas mask and biochemical suit, or in the midst of battle. Such thoughts were not healthy for a woman with high blood pressure. Yesterday -- deadline day in the Persian Gulf -- she'd had her blood pressure checked, and it was 130 over 80. Today, she'd paid $2 at a walk-in clinic for another checkup, and it was 150 over 100.

She finished the meatloaf and put the pan in the oven. She was headed upstairs to change clothes when she heard Rather report that the bombing of Baghdad had begun. Up in the bedroom, where Philip was watching on another TV, she began to sob. Her husband embraced her. "It's gonna be all right," he said in his firm, deep voice. "Warren will be all right."

Philip, 59, a construction worker who retired early because of a disability, had fought in the Korean War, and lately his thoughts had returned to the mountainous terrain around Seoul. He remembered most vividly the day when an incoming artillery shell hit the company mess hall. Philip found himself wishing that he, not his youngest son, was in Saudi Arabia, but he tried to keep such grim thoughts from his wife.

"You have to keep yourself together," he told Mae as he held her tight. "The president will make the right decision."

Mae tried to take his advice, tried to compose herself. A Tupperware sales manager, she had a meeting scheduled for that night at the company's headquarters in Northeast. She didn't really want to go, but she figured it made more sense than sitting home crying. She pulled herself together, walked outside and climbed into her van. Somehow, though, she couldn't manage to drive away. She sat there at the steering wheel and cried, and then she took out Warren's letters, handwritten on lined white paper, and reread them through prisms of tears in the dim light inside the van:

December 15: I miss you all even more because I'm lonelier now. Ask my church family to write and pray for me . . .

December 18: It's getting scarier by the day . . . Now I wish I hadn't volunteered. I just hope I make it out of here alive, so I can get on with my life . . .

And his latest letter, written on December 30: If anything should happen to me over here, you'll be the first to know. But nothing will. Take care and write me soon. Your son, Warren.

She was still sitting there, reading and crying, when she was joined by her friend Carrie Garrett, one of her Tupperware dealers. Mae started to drive to the meeting, but she only made it a few blocks before she had to pull over and cry some more.

"AS SOON AS YOU KNOW IT'S TRUE," Phillis Engelbert had been telling people all day, "go to the White House."

Engelbert, 26, the coordinator of the Washington Peace Center, spent the day in her office on the third floor of the Friends Meeting House at 21st Street and Florida Avenue NW, working the phones, calling the people on her "key contact list," spreading the word. She told everybody to stay glued to CNN and then, if the war began, to head for Lafayette Park. All day, people were calling in, spreading rumors of war, but somehow she didn't really think it would happen. She figured it would be a quiet night, and she planned to catch up on some work.

But then, just before 7, she heard the news on CNN, and swore. "Now I can't catch up," she thought. "I better get down there."

Wearing jeans, a black leather jacket and a white armband, she arrived at Lafayette Park, where she had helped coordinate anti-war demonstrations every Saturday since President Bush dispatched troops to Saudi Arabia in August. She darted around the park looking for other Peace Center people -- she could recognize them by their white armbands -- to see if they could organize some kind of civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, a woman with a bullhorn led the crowd in a chant:

No blood for oil!

No blood for oil!

No blood for oil!

REP. WAYNE GILCHREST, A FRESHMAN Republican from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, left his office in the Cannon House Office Building at about 6:30 that evening and drove home in his new Plymouth Horizon.

Actually, the car wasn't really new -- it had 7,000 miles on it -- but it was new to Gilchrest. He'd bought it a few days earlier to replace his old Plymouth Horizon, which had 161,000 miles on it, and a door that didn't work from the outside, and a radio that didn't work at all. Gilchrest is one of the few members of Congress who could be classified as the kind of guy who would drive a Plymouth until it died of old age. He wasn't a career politician. "My career is living," he says. He'd done a lot of living in his 44 years: He'd been wounded in Vietnam; he'd once moved to the wilderness of Idaho with his wife and three kids to search for meaning in a simpler life; he'd taught history in a high school on the Eastern Shore; and he'd beaten incumbent Democrat Roy Dyson last November. In that campaign, Gilchrest had focused on such low-key issues as improving education and conserving the Chesapeake Bay, but when he arrived in Congress in early January, he found himself in the midst of an intense, gut-wrenching debate over whether to grant President Bush the power to make war in the Persian Gulf.

On the day before that vote, Gilchrest made his first speech on the floor of the House, a speech explaining why he would vote to grant Bush that power. "The paradox of military force and the will to use it," he told his new colleagues, "is that, in all likelihood, it will not be needed, nor will it be used."

Now, four days after the vote, as Gilchrest headed home in his new used Plymouth -- the one with a radio that actually worked -- he turned a dial on the dashboard and heard the news. There was a moment of surprise and then a feeling deep in his stomach -- not fear exactly, not dread, but something deeper, a feeling composed of memory and premonition. He drove along, imagining the bombing runs, and then he began thinking about what it must be like at that moment for the soldiers, dug in and waiting. When he was a Marine in Vietnam, he'd spent plenty of nights like that, sleepless nights of staring into the darkness, wondering what would come next. Now, he imagined soldiers in the desert, in some foxhole or bunker, surrounded by buddies yet totally alone, full of fear as they waited for whatever it was that would happen next.

WHEN PRESIDENT BUSH BEGAN HIS speech to the nation shortly after 9 p.m., Jim "J.B." Baldwin, the bartender at Hank Dietle's, a funky one-room bar in Rockville, pulled the plug on the jukebox and turned up the sound on the TV.

"Just two hours ago," Bush began, "allied air forces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. These attacks continue as I speak . . ."

Around the country, Bush's speech gathered the largest audience in American television history. In Hank Dietle's bar, the patrons listened intently until Bush mentioned that the American troops "will not be asked to fight with one hand tied behind their back" -- and then the bar exploded in cheers.

Dietle's, which rhymes with Beatles, sits across Rockville Pike from the opulent White Flint Mall, but there is probably not much overlap in the clientele. At Dietle's, pickled eggs sell for 35 cents and the pool competition is fierce enough that the management felt compelled to post a handwritten sign that reads, "Do Not Pound Balls Into the Table."

As the night wore on, Baldwin was delighted with reports of a massive American bombing and a timid Iraqi response. "Bush did the right thing," he said. "You don't want to mess around with Saddam. He's not hitting on all eight cylinders."

Baldwin, 34, wore a floppy camouflage hat, blue jeans and a T-shirt advertising Big Pecker's Bar and Grill in Ocean City. Between pulls on the draft beer tap, he kept glancing at the TV behind the bar, where CNN's "boys in Baghdad" were reporting plenty of antiaircraft fire but no sign that it was hitting any American planes. "Like my dad used to say -- he was a test pilot in the Navy -- they crept in, crapped and crept out."

C.W. Wain, 43, a Vietnam vet from Rockville, was not so optimistic. "We bit off more than we can chew, baby," he said. Wain wore a black sweat shirt and a scarf. His hair and mustache showed some silver. "I just hope the Air Force did exactly what they're supposed to do," he said. "Spare the boys some bloodshed. I was in Nam 14 months . . ."

Blood rushed to Wain's face as he spoke, and he underlined his opinions with expletives. "America's not going to pay attention until American blood is spilled on American soil, until bleeping terrorists blow up the bleeping White Flint Mall. If J.B. hadn't pulled the bleeping plug on the jukebox, nobody would have given a bleep, nobody would have paid attention . . ."

Thursday, January 17

It was after 2 in the morning when Tom Farmer finally drove out of the garage under the CNN headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue NW. When he arrived home in Arlington, Dawn White was still awake, still watching the war on television. He hugged her. "I hope we've done the right thing," he said.

He didn't sleep very long or very deeply. He was up before 6, feeling unplugged, out of the loop. Farmer had been an anchorman at a tiny TV station in Burlington, Vt., when he jumped to CNN in 1986, eager to be closer to the main action. Now he found himself in the thick of it, and he wanted to get back to the office.

At the bureau, the mood was exuberant. Last night, the whole world was watching CNN, and this morning, CNN staffers felt as if they'd whipped the big boys at the other networks on the biggest story in the world. "Everybody else has more money, more goodies," Farmer said. "This organization has to have 20-year-old magicians to make stuff happen. To see this organization go up against the networks on a big story -- the only story -- and pull off a convincing win, well, it's like the hardware store softball team beating the Cincinnati Reds four straight."

This feeling of triumph became even more exuberant when the overnight ratings came in: CNN had earned a record 19.1 share, better than the other networks. Craig Broffman, an acting assignment editor, walked into Farmer's office to sum up the prevailing mood:

"Pinocchio," he said, smiling, "you're a real boy now." AFTER A FEARFUL NIGHT OF WATCHING TV and praying for her son, Mae Govan awoke with a strange sense of relief.

"Yesterday, I was wondering what was going to happen. Today at least I know that what was going to happen is happening," she said, sitting at the smoked-glass table in the family room, her hands nervously twisting a tissue. "The way I figure, now that we attacked, we can count the clock toward getting home. If it didn't start, it can't end."

She had awoken with an idea: She wanted to get an American flag to fly in her front yard, which was partly paved over years ago but still has a few brave bushes around the concrete. She called the Veterans Administration to ask about getting a flag, but somebody there told her to look in the Yellow Pages. Now, as Morley Safer interviewed a general on her TV screen, Mae changed her plan a bit. "I gotta get a yellow ribbon," she said. On the dining table, she spotted a potted plastic plant decorated with a gold ribbon. "Is this ribbon yellow?" she asked.

In the afternoon, Mae's daughter Selena came by with some takeout fried fish. Selana Govan, 32, owns and operates a hair salon in Washington, but she had closed the place early because it didn't have a TV and she wanted to keep up with the news.

"I couldn't sleep until 3 in the morning,"' she told her mother. "I tossed and turned and then I wrote Warren a letter, saying I hoped by the time he got this, he would be back in Germany . . ."

When she'd finished the letter, she'd finally fallen asleep, only to dream about the war. In the dream, she was out in the desert, in the middle of combat, searching desperately for the safety of a manhole.

Now, Selena and Mae ate the fish and watched military families being interviewed on TV. The wives and mothers sounded brave, but Mae shook her head. "I see these families on the news," she said, "and I wonder how many of them I will see on the news again, crying."

"I don't think we should be fighting for this," Selena said. "I feel the president should have pulled out after our hostages were released . . . It's oil. That's the bottom line. I don't feel we should lose lives for oil."

Then, lest she be misunderstood, she added: "But I don't think we should be downtown protesting either."

DOWNTOWN, PHILLIS ENGELBERT WAS in her office at the Peace Center, organizing another protest.

She had come to Washington in 1989 to work as a field organizer for the National Network in Solidarity With the Nicaraguan People. But when the Nicaraguan people elected anti-Sandinista candidate Violetta Chamorro last year, the network's money dried up and Engelbert was laid off. In May, she started working "about 14 hours a day" at her $14,000 job at the Peace Center, living in a group house to help make ends meet, sometimes existing for weeks at a time on donated food that she keeps in a small refrigerator in her office. Now, on the morning after war broke out, she had hit the phone before 7 a.m. to find out how fast the Peace Center's printer could produce 10,000 leaflets advertising a rally planned for Lafayette Park only 10 hours later.

By noon, the leaflets were ready, and Engelbert was huddling with colleagues from various anti-war groups to plan a press conference featuring Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame and Molly Yard of NOW, among others. By 12:30, volunteers were carrying out stacks of leaflets and the phone was ringing constantly. At 2, Engelbert suddenly realized that she didn't have an Arab or Palestinian to speak at the rally, and she started calling around to find one. At 3:30 she went into a meeting to decide who would say what at the press conference. At 4:40, a reporter called, looking for a quote from the anti-war movement. "No, we're not discouraged," Engelbert said. "The people who are committed to peace in this country will stop the war . . ."

While she was on the phone, two young women from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda came in looking for leaflets. They stood there staring at walls covered with posters and bumper stickers from movements past and present: "Stop Nuclear Power and Weapons," "Palestine Lives," "Stop Apartheid, Boycott Shell," "Stop Contra Aid." One of the students wanted to talk to Engelbert, who was still on the phone and who referred her to volunteer Rob Schurgin.

"I want to volunteer for the Peace Center," the student said.

Schurgin gave her a couple of different sign-up lists. "Now, if you're interested in civil disobedience," he said, "sign this list and we will call you about the training."

"What's civil disobedience?" the young woman asked.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, members of Congress took to the floor to laud the commander in chief and his troops and to denounce Saddam Hussein and anti-war protesters. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) felt compelled to gloat in doggerel:

Slam, bam, thanks Saddam,

You should have took the letter.

Now take the loss, reverse the course

'Cause it ain't going to get no better.

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest felt no need to rush to the floor of the House to add his words to the torrent of rhetoric. He attended an afternoon briefing by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and then returned to his office. He still thought his vote to authorize Bush's action was the correct one, but the combat veteran was not about to follow Ackerman's lead. "People use words like horror and butchery" to describe war, he said, "and they'retrue."

Gilchrest, who was teaching history to high school students only a few months ago, was in a thoughtful mood. "In a philosophical sense, you had World War I, which was the war to end wars, and then there was World War II and Vietnam and Cambodia . . ." He paused, trying to find the right words. "You have this infinitesimal blue speck called Earth in the middle of infinity, whatever that is, and all the inhabitants of this speck are focused on one little place, they're flying planes, they're dropping bombs . . . I don't know. It's like the two guys on the cliff. If one of them would just back off . . ."

By now, it was past 6 p.m, nearly 24 hours after the fighting had begun, and on TV in Gilchrest's office, the reports were full of triumph: Saddam's PresidentialPalace was destroyed; his air force was on the run; and he hadn't been able to launch even a single one of his feared Scudmissiles.

"I think everything's pretty good," Gilchrest said. Then he got into his Plymouth and headed home.

Along the way, he heard on the radio that Scud missiles were hitting Tel Aviv. TOM FARMER HEARD THAT NEWS ON NBC.

He ran out into the control room, looking for Peter Kendall, and found a room full of pandemonium. CBS had gone live to Israel, but CNN could not get any visuals from its Jerusalem bureau. Farmer's Washington correspondents had no information. "If we put them on, we'll look stupid," Farmer said.

Correspondent Steve Emerson ran in and said he had a woman from the Israeli Defense Ministry on the phone. The call was transferred into the newsroom, and Farmer started peppering Emerson with questions to ask the woman, who spoke only Hebrew. Where did the missiles explode? Did they contain poison gas? How many people were hurt? But the woman had no answers. All she knew was what she heard on Israeli radio: The country was on Red Alert status.

Meanwhile, CNN's Atlanta headquarters was on the phone, screaming, "Tell us something!" and Farmer had nothing to tell.

"We're not ahead," he said to himself. "We're losing this one."

At least one other network had reported that the Scuds contained nerve gas. But CNN had no information.

Then CNN's Jerusalem bureau came back on the air. The place was in a panic as staffers pulled on their gas masks. Correspondent Linda Scherzer was holding a hypodermic needle and demonstrating what Israelis had been told to do in case of a gas attack.

Farmer stared at the TV set in horror. "She was on Channel 5 in Plattsburgh, New York, when I was in Burlington," he said. "We used to show up at the same city council meetings because the two towns were just across the state line. So now here I am, watching her show people what she will have to do if this is really a gas attack." IT WASN'T A GAS ATTACK. SEVEN SCUDShad landed in Israel, but none contained poison gas; seven Israelis had been injured but none seriously. At Hank Dietle's bar, the patrons watched the confusing story unfold on TV. Bartender J.B. Baldwin had the night off, but he was there anyway, sitting on the other side of the bar, drinking Rolling Rock and wearing camouflage. "I'll be in fatigues until this thing is over," he said.

Sitting nearby were Tom Haser, 32, a General Electric purchasing manager,and his friend Diane Hessling, 30, a financial analyst. Both said they supported President Bush, but Hessling, at least, was frightened by the night's developments. "If the Israelis get into it," she said, "it'll be World War III."

It was hard to discuss such topics in Dietle's that night because the jukebox was blaring and a group near the door was getting pretty rowdy.

"A lot hinges on public support," Haser said, though he believes if the war lasts a long time, public support will die out.

"I think Saddam thinks we're soft," Hessling said. "Maybe we are, but I'm glad we're that way."

Suddenly, the room got quiet. CBS was broadcasting a videotape of the previous night's battle over Baghdad. No onespoke; everyone watched the bar's two TVs as tracers and antiaircraft missiles shot up from the skyline of the city. In the background, like the soundtrack of an MTV video, was Roy Orbison singing at full throttle:

Anything you want, you got it.

Anything you need, you got it.

Anything at all, you got it,

Bayyyyyyyyy-beeeeeeeeee! Friday, January 18 fter four hours of sleep, Tom Farmer was back in the CNNbureau by 7, reading four newspapers.

The news they contained was no longer so upbeat, so optimistic, and there wasn't so much speculation about a quick end to the war. Later, President Bush would feel obliged to caution the country against undue euphoria. That morning, Farmer and executive news producer Peter Kendall would convey a similar message in a meeting with CNN's correspondents: Be more cautious.

"We've gone from 'The Iraqi Air Force has been decimated' to hearing 'We don't want to assess the current state of the Iraqi Air Force,' " Farmer said. "There are just too many questions." MAE GOVAN LIT A CIGARETTE AS SHEwatched the morning news with her husband. There was talk of ground troops moving toward Kuwait, and that frightened her. "I just feel fearful, nervous," she said.

Her husband was more positive. He figured Saddam Hussein was on the run. "I think he's devastated," Philip said. "I think they have made it chaotic for Saddam."

But they were tired of watching the news, tired of speculating about the war and its effects on their Warren. They decided to preempt the TV reports with a family videotape titled "Down Memory Lane With Phil and Mae Govan." The first images were gray and grainy: A younger, slimmer Phil Govan was playing with gap-toothed kids in front of a 1950 Pontiac. As the tape rolled, Warren Govan grew up before their eyes. He first appeared as a squalling, premature 4-pound 1-ounce infant . . . Then he was a smiling youngster in a shirt and tie, serving as an usher at the First Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church . . . Then, in a cap and gown, graduating from Jefferson Junior High . . . Then, in a tuxedo, squiring a pretty young woman to a church dance.

By that point in his life, Warren Govan had made the honor roll at Dunbar High School, taken three years of ROTC training and blossomed into a 6-1, 175-pound man, who decided, at age 18, to postpone college and join the United States Army.

Mae's face lit up as she watched taped images of her son dance past her eyes. But she unconsciously lapsed into the past tense as she narrated the movie:

"Warren was always jovial," she said.

" . . . He was such a good boy . . ."

" . . . He always loved girls . . . like his father." "THERE'S JUST NO DIRECTION!" SAID A woman in the back of the hall. "It's been totally disorganized. Nobody knowswhat's going on. You've got people just showing up at Lafayette Park, and they need more direction."

About a hundred people were gathered in the Friends Meeting House to plan a peace demonstration for January 26, but the mood was hardly peaceful. The left was mobilizing again, and the familiar sound of internecine squabbling filled the hall.

"We need to establish affinity groups," said a man from the Student Coalition Against Apartheid and Racism.

"Affinity groups and cliqueish-type structures alienate African Americans," said a woman from the Peace Center.

"I'm sick of being controlled!" grumbled a woman in the back.

By then, Phillis Engelbert was sick of all the complaints, especially when they came from people who hadn't been working 14 hours a day to organize the march. "Some of you who are unhappy with this process I haven't even seen before," she said. "I don't think you have an appreciation of how much work has been going into this effort so far. You can't propose a new structure if you don't also address how that work is going to be done."

Finally, after what seemed like hours of arid argument, the moderator, Roger Newell, tried to bring the group back to reality. "Now we're going to get to the real reason we're here: how we are going to turn out 200,000 people on the 26th."

That was Engelbert's cue. She stood up, clutching six clipboards, each one for a specific task that needed doing. "We have 30,000 leaflets that must be distributed," she told the group. "We have 2,000 posters for wheat-pasting on walls and signposts . . . We need people for peace-keeping during the march."

As she spoke, people streamed out of the meeting hall.

"I'm passing around these clipboards with sign-up sheets," Engelbert said.

By then, though, half the people were gone. THE HELICOPTER SKIMMED LOW OVERthe desert as its pilot scanned the barren, hostile terrain for signs of the imprisoned hostages. Enemy fighter planes darted toward the chopper, shooting wildly, but the helicopter pilot, Doug Kister, calmly pressed his joystick and fired back. He came through the enemy fire unscathed and then swooped down to rescue his countrymen.

The video game was called Choplifter, and Kister was a champion. Nobody at Hank Dietle's bar could touch him. Whenever a game began, the screen displayed the best scores ever recorded on the machine, and the top six carried Kister's initials. Kister, a 25-year-old computer programmer dressed in a lumberjack shirt, thought the war -- the real one -- was going pretty good. "We're kicking ass," he said. "It's a shame we have to fight at all, but it'd be bad for us to look weak."

Across the room, Barbara Kent, 38, a Navy lieutenant, sat at a table, sipping a drink. She deals with recruiting analysis in the Office of Naval Operations at the Arlington Annex, but business, she said, was bad these days. She used her hand to illustrate her point: It zoomed down toward the table like the graph of a bankruptcy or the trajectory of a crashing plane.

"There's a war on," she explained. "If you're recruited, you'll go." IN THE GOLD ROOM OF THE TIDEWATERInn in Easton, Md., 200 people at the Talbot County Chamber of Commerce's annual banquet ate filet mignon, shrimp, baked potatoes, salad, string beans and strawberry shortcake. Then they sat back and listened to their featured speaker, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest. When he was invited, he had been asked to talk about the economy, but now the war was the only topic anybody wanted to discuss.

"This is one of the finest hours, I think, for the United States of America," he said, "and we can all be proud for having done this." He spoke quietly, and even the Churchillian phrasing -- "the finesthour" -- came out without any flourish or bravado.

"We need patient optimism," Gilchrest told the crowd. "Patient optimism, and I think we'll succeed."

After the speech, there was applause and questions to answer and hands to shake, and then Gilchrest climbed into his car and drove through the quiet darkness of the district he represents in Congress. In his speech, he had alluded to his Vietnam experiences, and now, as he drove home, he talked about the night he was wounded there.

It was just past 3 in the morning and Sgt. Gilchrest's Marine platoon wasguarding a river crossing when the North Vietnamese hit them. There was gunfire in front of them, which was scary enough, but then there was gunfire behind them, which was even more frightening. "We were overrun," he recalled. "Those guys poured through us like water."

The light of dawn revealed that the platoon had taken heavy casualties, and the call went out for a helicopter. But the helicopter couldn't land because the sniper fire was too heavy. So Gilchrest and a few others went searching for the snipers. They followed the gunfire and then spotted the enemy -- about 15 of them -- taking a break, leaning against trees and smoking cigarettes. Outnumbered, Gilchrest and his men started backing off, but somebody made a noise and the North Vietnamese saw them. Reaching for a grenade, Gilchrest yelled for his men to run. He threw the grenade, then reached for another, but there was no other.

"I remember I was angry," he said as he drove. "What I did was stand up with my trusty, little lousy M-16 to spray the area and high-tail it out, but somebody was still alive, and he sprayed the area too and caught me with one of the AK-47 rounds. It went in my right arm, through my chest and out my back."

He collapsed. He couldn't breathe. He knew he had to calm down, but he couldn't, and his mind started racingalong, skimming over a life, and suddenly he was a young boy, unable to breathe because his brother had accidentally hit him in the stomach with a bat. "Breathe through your nose," his brother had said. It had worked then, and now, on the ground in Vietnam, it worked again. He took short little breaths through his nose, and then he was on a stretcher, and then

he was in a helicopter, and then in an operating room, where a doctor stuck a needle in his chest, and then he was home.

At home, he began to wonder what the war was all about. He read a lot of history and he decided that it hadn't been so simple as America vs. communism. It was complicated by the history of Vietnam and China and French colonialism, and he decided that it was a civil war that the United States had inserted itself into. "I can't believe we conducted a war like that for as long as we did," he said.

And now there was a war in Iraq, another war with a deep, complex historical background, a war he had voted to authorize. Did this one make sense?

"You know," he said, "I hate to agree with war . . ."


"I think so." Saturday, January 19 y midnight, as Friday turned to Saturday, Tom Farmer was ready to leave the CNN bureau and head home. The sun was rising in the Middle East, and there had been no new missile attacks on Israel. Farmer figured he might actually get a decent night's sleep for the first time inthree days.

But when he got home, he turned on the television and soon heard the grim news: More Scuds had hit Israel.

His first impulse was to hustle rightback to work. But he didn't. He'd be more useful in the morning, he thought, if he got some sleep tonight.

"I'm not thinking as quickly as I was before being marinated with this thing," he said later. "We're fully staffed. I'm realizing I can't be here 24 hours a day. As it is now, I just come into the house, turn left, go into the bathroom and then get into bed. We could have been burglarized for all I know -- I haven't seen the living quarters in four days." THE PHONE RANG IN THE FAMILY ROOM, and Mae Govan picked it up.

"Collect call from Saudi Arabia," the operator said. Then the line went dead.

Mae burst into tears. She started pleading into the phone: "Please, operator, please, please get him back."

A few minutes later, the call was reconnected and she could hear Warren's voice. It was early evening in easternSaudi Arabia, and he was standing "in the middle of the desert," he said, about 20 miles from his base, at an AT&T center equipped with about 100 phones. He had a few minutes to talk, he said, and Mae thought he sounded fine. He was thrilled to have taken off his biochemical protective suit for the first time in three days. He seemed in good spirits, and he'd been praying.

Mae reminded him, as she always did, to read the 91st Psalm: ". . . Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day . . . For he shall give his angels charge over thee . . ."

As they kept talking -- the call lasted 53 minutes, which cost about $65 -- Mae thought Warren started sounding a little shaky. He described how the ground vibrated when the missiles were launched, and he talked of the fire that was coming, and the casualties. "I'm going to be moving into a position where there is going to be a lot of death," he told his mother. "I hope I survive."

He didn't sound confident, so Mae used a line that Philip had coached her on: "Whose son are you, boy?" she askedforcefully.

"I'm your son," he said.

"You're a Govan," she said. "You're gonna survive!" PHILLIS ENGELBERT WAS IN THE PEACE Center office, trying to write a speech.

The District's Statehood Party was planning a rally, and Engelbert was scheduled to give a short talk at Lafayette Park. After that, the Statehood groupwould join the larger demonstration, also at Lafayette Park, where Jesse Jackson and others would speak out againstthe war.

For days, she said, she'd been hearing people say that they'd opposed going to war, but now that we were in it, we might as well win it. She didn't agree. "I don't know what it really means to 'take back Kuwait,' " she said. "I think our goal is to eliminate Iraq's military capability and change the power balance in the region. And to do that, I think we'll be in this for a long, long while. It's not too late to stop the bombing and begin negotiations. We support negotiations. We support working through international forums for nonviolent solutions."

At about 2 o'clock, she stuffed her speech into her red backpack and rode her bike downtown. When she arrived, she found 25,000 people at Lafayette Park, but the Statehood Party rally -- and thus her speech -- had been canceled.

"I guess only about 100 people showed up," she said. BACK AT THE CNN BUREAU AFTER FIVE hours sleep, Tom Farmer sat with acouple of colleagues and watched Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams deliver the daily briefing to the assembled press corps.

On Thursday, the Pentagon brass had boasted that the allied bombers had hit about 80 percent of their targets, but now such optimistic numbers had been replaced by the vaguest of reports.

"The whole tone has changed," Farmer said as the briefing ended. "That was the most pessimistic message I've heard from them since this thing began."

Just then, CNN Pentagon correspondent Wolf Blitzer appeared on the TV screen with his report on the briefing: "In their most optimistic assessment yet . . ."

That evening, Farmer's fiancee got a call from his kid brother, Tristram, who is in the Navy. Tristram said he was being sent to the gulf aboard the supercarrier U.S.S. Forrestal. He had learned from a friend that his unit was being deployed.

The friend, Tristram would tell his brother later, had heard the news from CNN. AT HANK DIETLE'S BAR, THE WARwasn't on TV anymore. It had been supplanted by the new Carol Burnett show.

C.W. Wain, the Vietnam vet who'd been so pessimistic on Wednesday night, was standing at the bar, swapping cooking secrets with another patron. But he could still be coaxed into talking about the war, and he was still worried about it. He'd heard rumors that Saddam might open the pipelines in Kuwait and send the oil spilling into the gulf to prevent an allied amphibious landing. And he was also fearful that Israel might respond to the latest Scud attacks by attacking Iraq.

"If Israel is determined to take revenge," he said glumly, "this could get real deep, man." Sunday, January 20 orning light streamed through the yellow stained-glass windows of the First Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church. Organ musicswelled, and the choir began to sing:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;

He is trampling out the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored;

Seated in the back of the church, Mae Govan sang along:

He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword;

His truth is marching on!

She'd hugged and kissed half a dozen friends as she entered the church nave. All of them asked about Warren, and she'd smiled as she told them that he'd called her yesterday. Now, as she sang, she saw familiar faces all around her: the Rev. Ernest R. Gibson, who had christened her twins, Warren and Wanda; the organist who had taught Warren in junior choir and senior choir; the deacons who had supervised all her children as they came of age during the 40 years that the family had worshipped here.

As he died to make men holy let us die to make men free!

While God is marching on!

It felt good for her to sing, to lose herself in the old, familiar hymn. And it felt particularly good to be here with her family -- her daughter Wanda, her sister, Geneva, her granddaughter Angel, as well as a host of cousins and aunts. She thought about God, and about how much she had to be thankful for, despite her fears for Warren.

The choir stood to sing -- Hold back the night, give me the strength to fight -- and Mae squeezed her eyes shut and wrapped her arms tightly around herself as her head rocked gently to the music.

The music stopped, and while the rest of the congregation sat, Mae rose and stood alone, speaking her most private thoughts to God, while the golden light that streamed through the stained-glass window illuminated the yellow ribbon pinned to her blouse. AT THE UNION TEMPLE BAPTISTChurch in Anacostia, a woman named Christine Jones stood in front of a brilliantly colored mural that portrayed a black Christ at the Last Supper, surrounded by his apostles -- Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela, among others. Her brother, she told the mostly black anti-war crowd gathered in the church, had called to tell her he was being shipped to Saudi Arabia. "And he said, 'Chris, I don't even know what I'm go-ing for.' "

"Amen," the crowd of about 200 called out.

"My husband is in the reserves," Jones continued, "and back in August, when this whole thing started, he got notice that he might have to go. Well, after I cried and cried, I decided I had to do something. It felt good to fight back."

"That's right," the crowd called back.

This rally was organized to fight back against the war. It was sponsored by NAG -- the National African-AmericanNetwork Against U.S. Intervention in the Gulf. Damu Smith, 39, a NAG organizer, sat at the front of the church awaiting his turn to speak. He did not look happy. At the Peace Center meeting on Friday night, he'd urged -- implored -- white activists to come to this meeting in order to build a multi-racial anti-war movement. The logic seemed obvious; days later, a poll would find 60 percent of D.C. blacks opposing the war. But tonight, only six whites had shown up, arriving late and scruffily dressed -- an affront to those accustomed to wearing good clothes in the house of the Lord. Phillis Engelbert had skipped the rally to stay at the Peace Center and help coordinate five teams of people who were pasting anti-war posters around town. Smith was, he said later, "extremely disappointed" in the white turnout.

But now he stood and launched into his anti-war speech. "They get us in themilitary," he said. "They say they're going to give us opportunities. And they give us the opportunity to go to Grenada and kill our own people."

"Amen, brother."

"They give us the opportunity to go to Panama and kill our own people."

"You know it!"

"They give us the opportunity to go to Vietnam and kill yellow people," Smith said. "But the Vietnamese didn't bomb churches in Alabama. The Vietnamesedidn't lynch blacks in the South."

"Tell it!"

"White racist Americans did!"


"There's a double standard," he said, "and we shouldn't go for it." WHEN BERNARD SHAW WALKED INTOthe CNN newsroom, fresh from high adventure in Baghdad and a frightening ride to safety in Jordan, he was greeted with applause. He stood in the center of a circle of colleagues, looking kind of shy and awkward, until somebody reached in and shook his hand.

News of the war was no longer rushing into the bureau in torrents; now it came in a slow trickle. Consequently, Tom Farmer spent the day planning work schedules for his reporters and helping to put together some "packages" for the news that night. There would be four: one on the highlights of the day, one on POWs, one on U.S.-Israeli relations and one on press censorship.

A little before 7, Farmer was in his office changing from his work clothes to a dress suit when Craig Broffman, the acting assignment editor, popped in.

"He's a monster for work!" Broffman screamed in mock tribute to his colleague. "He's a newsman's newsman and he doesn't want to leave!"

Actually, Farmer did want to leave. He was changing clothes so he could take Dawn White to that most peaceable of entertainments -- the ballet.

"Boom!" yelled supervising producer Tom Dunlavey, who was staring at a TV set. Instinctively, everybody in the room turned toward the tube, expecting some new horror from the gulf. But it was only the NFC championship game.

"They just creamed Joe Montana," Dunlavey said, and the room erupted in relieved laughter. Monday, January 21 t was a bright, clear, sunny day, but the air was cold, well below freezing, and Arlington National Cemetery, home of more than 200,000 of the nation's dead, was nearly deserted by the living.

"It's always nice to come here," said Wayne Gilchrest, as he wandered among the rows of white tombstones,carrying his 8-year-old daughter, Katie, on his shoulders. "You get a sense of your own mortality, but in a quiet way."

It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- a holiday for schoolchildren and federal employees, including congressmen -- and Gilchrest was playing tourist with hiskids: Kevin, 17; Joel, 15; and Katie. His plan had been to stop by the office for a minute, then show the kids around Washington, but the plan had broken down rapidly. The minute in the office had become an hour, and then the "Today" show had called, asking to tape an interview. Immediately.

"What's the mood of your people?" Douglas Kiker had asked, as the camera focused on Gilchrest.

"What has happened as a result of the events of recent weeks is that Americans are beginning to gain confidence again in themselves," Gilchrest said. The effort to stop "this lawless terrorist," he explained, had made Americans proud of the president, Congress and the military. "Patient optimism is what we have in the 1st Congressional District," he concluded. "Patient optimism."

"That's all I need," Kiker said. "Take these children out and buy them icecream sodas and expensive toys."

By then, it was almost 2. Gilchrest made one more phone call. Then one more. Finally, he took the kids and headed out, only to find that most of the places they'd wanted to visit were closed for the holiday. So they drove across the Potomac River to Arlington National Cem-etery.

As they strolled into the huge, cold city of marble, Gilchrest swung Katie up unto his shoulders. She was eating a hamburger, and some of the crumbs from the bun fell into her father's hair. She brushed them away and kept eating and kept looking around. "Daddy, are these the people who died in the Civil War?"

"Katie," he replied, "these are the people who died in all the wars."

Up ahead, Kevin marveled at the way the rows of headstones marched up and down the hills, all the way to the horizon. "You can see the graves until they disappear from sight," he said.

He was 17 years and 2 months old, old enough to serve, old enough to be in Saudi Arabia. In school, his friends were talking about what they'd do if the draft were reinstated, how they'd apply for conscientious objector status, or else just run off to Canada. Kevin said that he hadn't decided if he'd enlist right out of highschool, but he did know that he'd serve if called. "I've always thought about going into the military ever since I was a little kid," he said, "but I've also always thought about going to college. I don't know. If there was a draft, I certainly wouldn't avoid it. But I don't know. I know my dad was afraid the Vietnam War would be over before he got there."

They were at Arlington House now, looking out over Washington. "See theCapitol?" Gilchrest said to Katie. "That's where we were this morning."

They moved along, up one hill, down another, past graves and more graves.

"Are most of these bodies that are buried here bones now?" Katie asked.

"Yeah," her father said. "Most of them are bones." TWO MURALS ADORN THE TERRACERoom in the Friends Meeting House. One shows a bucolic scene with trees and a horse. The other shows Bart Simpson saying, "Be cool, Go to Sunday school." But nobody in the meeting was paying attention to either. Everyone was too busy talking about logistics for Saturday's anti-war rally, logistics that seemed nearly as complex as those involved in running the war.

"We need a generator at Third Street," said the woman from City Sound, the company hired to provide the hardware for the protest. "We have to build a stage and scaffolding."

"So what's the total?" Phillis Engelbert asked.


Engelbert made a phone call to New York to see if the price was right. It was. "What he wants to do," said the woman from City Sound, nodding toward her companion, "is drop the steel on the 24th. For the stage. Just drop the steel. At the Ellipse, we want to set up the sound on the 26th and take it down on the 27th. So you will need people to guard the sound."

Engelbert looked troubled. Now, she'd have to find volunteers willing to baby-sit sound equipment overnight during the dead of winter.

"You'll have to take charge of putting up the snow fence around the stages," said the woman from City Sound. "You'll need about 750 feet at the Ellipse and 300 feet at Third Street. You can rent this tool to put in the poles and then sledgehammers to drive the poles into the ground."

Engelbert nodded, writing everything down. "What about tents?" she asked.

"Tents are not included in the price."

"It's going to be very cold," Engelbert says. "We need a tent for the speakers and another for the press."

"You can rent those and put them up," the woman from City Sound said.

"Do you know any politically progressive companies that rent tents?" Engelbert asked.

"No." AS TOM FARMER GOT DOWN TO WORK, he learned that a source had told a CNN reporter to expect an Iraqi counterattack and that the allied forces had not been nearly as successful in damaging Sad-dam's forces as they had claimed.

Farmer was skeptical of the report. The network had already put a correspondent on the air to say that the next Iraqi missile into Israel would be carrying a payload of chemical weapons, which turned out to be false. And there had been other missteps. "There is so much information, true and untrue, comingfrom so many places, I'm starting to get vertigo," said Farmer. "I want to do some analysis to explain what information we have put out there. But feeding analysis to Atlanta is like trying to get Bush to eat broccoli."

Later in the morning, Farmer had an idea for an analysis story -- a piece on the "open-ended" nature of the war. "There is no endgame in place for the administration," he said. "We don't know what they consider victory here. Is it when the U.N. resolution is fulfilled? Is it when Saddam gets out of Kuwait? Is it redrawing the map of the Arab world? Folks haven't talked to us about that."

Farmer set up an interview with a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, then prepared the questioning with his "endgame" story in mind.

"It's hard to ask long-term questions in the shortest of short-term media -- television," Farmer explained. Then he began to think about still another project -- a piece about the history of Western intervention in the Persian Gulf. He put it on his agenda for Tuesday. ON CBS, DAN RATHER WAS SHOWING PICtures of the American pilots now held by the Iraqis. Their faces were puffed and pulpy, like they'd taken a few hardsmacks.

"When I see those POWs, it's almost like they're my own son," Mae Govan said. "And that's something I really do fear. I picture Warren being captured."

Philip Govan, usually more optimistic than his wife, winced at the sight ofthe pilots. "Saddam must have alreadytortured them," he said. "It's kindascary."

Rather introduced an item on the celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday, which reminded Mae of how angry she was about the timing of the war. "They should have remembered January 15 and not set the deadline then," she said. "They should have waited until the 22nd."

On the TV screen, American tanks fired their cannons, then moved forward, presumably toward Kuwait. "That's what Warren was talking about on the phone -- they were gonna move out," Mae said. "He didn't say exactly what his duties were going to be, but he said that whathe would be doing would be a lot ofcasualties."

Philip tried to calm her down. "MPs do not engage in combat," he said.

"You can't worry about every little thing, Ma," said Warren's sister Wanda. "You'll be a nervous wreck."

"But you're not his mama," Mae said. AT HANK DIETLE'S, BARTENDER J.B.Baldwin taped a picture of Saddam Hussein to the men's room door. Then he stepped back to admire his handiwork.

"All it needs now is a bull's-eye," he said.

Back at the bar, the TV was off, but people were talking about the POW pictures that had been shown earlier. Baldwin took a pair of long-neck Buds from the cooler and tilted them toward the bottle opener. "I'll tell you exactly what was on the other side of the camera," he said, popping the first top off. "Some guy with a .45." He popped the second. "And cue cards." He carried the Buds to a couple at the end of the bar.

"Did you hear that thunder last night?" he asked a customer. "It was about 3:30. I thought that Iraqi son of a bitch was firing at us. When that thunder rolled the second time, I jumped out of bed and pulled on my pants. I thought, 'Whoa!' I flipped on the radio and Waylon Jennings was on. I figured if something was wrong, Waylon Jennings wouldn't be on."

"Peter Jennings would," somebody said. Tuesday, January 22 he "War in the Gulf," as CNNcalled it, was turning into a way of life for Tom Farmer. Pictures of correspondents doing stand-ups in Saudi Arabia or Israel no longer brought him running to the TV monitor to turn up the sound. People around the office began referring matter-of-factly to 3 in the afternoon as the Scud Hour.

Peter Kendall got together with Farmer and Tom Dunlavey to discuss a new concern. A memo from Atlanta had asked that the editors refrain from recycling familiar war footage when piecing together taped packages for the news shows. Viewers were tired of seeing the same old Patriots blowing up the same old Scuds.

Then there was the Perez de Cuellar dilemma. U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar had requested an opportunity to deliver a message to Jordan. "Essentially, he wanted to hijack some airtime," Farmer explained later. "We kicked that around for a while: Is that proper? Are we a high-level conduit for leaders to talk to each other?"

And there were the videotapes of allied prisoners that CNN had recently received from Baghdad. Atlanta had chosen to broadcast the grim footage, but the decision was debated in the Washington bureau. The consensus there was that the POW pictures and the gory scenes from bomb damage in Tel Aviv were "the early emotional tugs in a war that until now has been portrayed as a television Nintendo game," Farmer said. "There's going to be more, and we have to figure out how to deal with it."

When the Scud Hour rolled around, Farmer was back in front of the monitor with the sound turned up. Another missile had struck Israel, and soon the phones were ringing off the hook, with correspondents and field producers trying to figure out if this attack would finally provoke the much-feared Israeli response.

As the day wore down, the producers decided to set up an interview with Perez de Cuellar, allowing him to convey his message in a news context. Meanwhile, Farmer's analysis piece on intervention in the gulf was put off for another day.

He swore he'd get to it first thing in the morning. But then, he had said that the day before. ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER MEETING FOR Phillis Engelbert. But this one was going better than Friday night's fiasco. There was a lot less squabbling and a lot more people -- about 200 -- most of them eager to work on Saturday's march.

"We have many tasks that we need people to do," Engelbert said. "I'm passing around these clipboards. Please sign up and I will have the person coordinating these tasks stand. Find that person, give them your name and phone number before you leave. Okay: Peace-keeping.Peace-keeping coordinator, please stand. Peace-keepers, you can go out into the hall to meet . . ."

About 30 people trooped out into the hallway to volunteer to help keep Saturday's peace rally peaceful.

"Media," Engelbert said. "We need at least 10 volunteers . . ."

About 10 people shuffled off to volunteer for media duty. Things were going well.

"Wheat-pasting," Engelbert said. "We need people to do wheat-pasting of posters tonight."

Wheat-pasting meant using a crude paste made of water and wheat flour to glue posters on walls and newspaper vending machines around town. It's a tough job, particularly on a night like this one, with the temperature hoveringaround 10 degrees. It's also illegal, although in a city averaging more than one murder per day, arresting wheat-pasters is not a high law-enforcement priority.

"Is there anybody interested in wheat-pasting tonight?" asked Chris McGinn, the wheat-paste coordinator.

Only one hand went up. And this lone volunteer was -- as those in the know knew -- something of a shill, trying to create the illusion of a ground swell ofeager wheat-pasters.

"Okay, Mark," Engelbert said. "Who else?"

No hands.

"We have to do Capitol Hill tonight," McGinn said. "We really have to dothis."

"It's fun," Engelbert said.

No hands.

"Come on," McGinn said. "We've got to have at least one team of four. Mark and who else?"

Slowly, grudgingly, a couple of other hardy souls volunteered. Then a few more. Soon, there were enough people for three bands of guerrilla wheat-pasters, and they headed out into the frigid night carrying paint rollers and buckets of gooey homemade glue. "IT'S GETTING WEIRD," SAID MARYCarter-Grahame.

She was at Hank Dietle's bar, playing pool with her friend Ann Marie Taylor and nursing a draft beer. The place was quiet, just a few foursomes in the booths and a couple of stragglers at the bar. On TV, "Lonesome Dove" had replaced the war news and Robert Duvall was raising his rifle, squinting down the sight and blowing away a scuzball rapist named Blue Duck. Carter-Grahame feared that nailing Saddam wouldn't be that easy.

The war, she predicted, would be "a long drawn-out affair." In fact, she had already begun stocking up on supplies of flour, coffee and other necessities,although her husband thought she wascrazy to do it.

"Normally, I'm a very optimistic person," she said, "but I don't have a good feeling about this."

She stopped for a moment. The jukebox was playing Jimmy Buffett: "Wasting away again in Margaritaville . . ."

"When I was a kid," she said, "I used to dream about walking around the streets and everything was a shambles."'

Did she dream such dreams these days?

"No," she said. "But I do dream of the war. And I'm a spy." IT WAS NEARLY MIDNIGHT AND THE TV news was still droning in the background when Mae Govan cleared a space at the family room table and sat down for her nightly ritual of writing to Warren,whose picture stared down at her from the wood-paneled wall. She took out a piece of pink stationery decorated with blue flowers and the words "Rejoice in Today."

Actually, the day had not given her much cause for rejoicing. In fact, it was her worst day since the war began. After days and nights of watching the news and worrying, the tension was making herstomach hurt and she was tired and depressed, a mood that was only worsened by the news that another Scud missile had hit Tel Aviv, causing three deaths and dozens of injuries.

"The first day, I felt like it was gonna be over real soon," she said. "By Friday, I knew it was gonna go on, but I kept myself busy . . . But now the walls are kinda closing in on me. I probably shouldn't watch the news, but I can't help it . . ."

Of course, she wasn't going to put any of that information in her letter to Warren. "No way," she said. "I'm not going to put anything bad in. He needs a positive mind. Needs to keep thinking positive. Only good things." Wednesday, January 23 y the time Tom Farmer got into CNN, there was already a problem.

Overnight, Peter Arnett, the CNN correspondent who'd chosen to stay in Baghdad, had phoned in a report, based on Iraqi sources, that allied planes had bombed a "baby milk" factory. When Farmer arrived at about 8 a.m., people were standing around debating whether the report was truth or disinformation. Farmer watched a piece of videotape from the CNN files, allegedly shot before the war, of the inside of that factory. In it, a man could be seen in a white jumpsuit with black letters on the back that read "Baby Milk Factory."

"That's a little too convenient," said Farmer. "It's written in English and they let our cameras in there before the bombing started." Nevertheless, CNN put it on the air.

There was a U.S. military briefingscheduled for 9 a.m. in Saudi Arabia, and Farmer inquired whether CNN's correspondents had been alerted to ask about the alleged formula factory. They had. At the briefing, a military spokesman said that the building was a factory used for the production of biological weapons protected by the Iraqi military.

"So this building either has a baby-coddling function or a demonic function," Farmer said. "You get to choose your truth."

At noon, the "baby milk" problempopped up again. Marlin Fitzwater, the president's press secretary, denounced CNN for airing Iraqi "propaganda."

That made Bill Headline angry. Headline, CNN's aptly named Washington bureau chief, stormed out of his office and made a rare journey into the newsroom, looking distinctly unhappy. "Marlin is going too far," he said.

Peter Kendall, the executive news producer, agreed, noting that Arnett clearly attributed the "baby milk" claim to the Iraqis.

"We try to review everything thatcomes in carefully," he said. "Military censorship is a problem, both American censorship and Iraqi censorship. But at some point we've got to get the information out. We're doing the best we can given the limitations." EATING A PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY sandwich and watching the local news on an ancient black-and-white TV, PhillisEngelbert got mad at the media.

On the tube, a pro-war demonstrator was waving the American flag and praising the president. "This is a typical local story about American flag-wavers, even though today's poll showed that a majority of people in Washington oppose the war," she said angrily. "That -- and the feeds from the Pentagon -- are mostly what the media covers."

Dan Rather came on the screen, introducing the latest war news: A Patriot missile had intercepted a Scud over Israel. And at the Pentagon, Dick Cheney, the secretary of defense, and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave an assessment of the war's first week. It was, Cheney said, going "very well."

Engelbert finished her peanut butter sandwich and started scribbing notes to herself on a "While You Were Out" pad. "Real Story," she wrote. "Remember the lies of Vietnam and Panama in terms of casualties."

On TV, Israelis were gawking at buildings blown up in the previous day's Scud attack. "It's tragic that people have been killed in Israel," Engelbert said. "But where is the similar story about what is happening with the Palestinians -- the territories have been sealed off, communications have been cut off, they haven't been issued gas masks . . ."

On the screen, refugees who had fled Iraq were talking about the horror of life out there where the allied bombs were falling. Suddenly the sound on the aged TV started fading away.

Engelbert fiddled with the knobs and coaxed the sound back. The refugees were suggesting that Saddam Hussein's government was deliberately underestimating casualties for fear that the Iraqi citizenry might demand peace.

Meanwhile, the phone rang constantly. Engelbert took the receiver from a volunteer and started answering questions about Saturday's march. She talked about such prosaic matters as buttons and buses, but her eyes -- dark-circled from lack of sleep -- never left the TV, where the ghostly black-and-white images of war flickered across the screen. WHILE MAE GOVAN WATCHED THE SAME CBS news report, two figures in combat boots and camouflage uniforms stomped through her family room.

One was her nephew, Etienne, 12, and the other was her granddaughter Angel, 10. Members of the Young Marines, a group that drills every Wednesday evening at the Marine Barracks in Southwest Washington, they were due there soon, and Mae was scurrying around trying to find their bus tokens.

"Now, where's those bus tokens?Where'd I put 'em?" she asked, scowling. "I'm forgetting things so bad these days."

She wasn't feeling well. She'd had her blood pressure tested again and it was still at 150 over 100. "When my pressure goes up," she said, "I feel kinda dizzy, a little faint."

And the news didn't help. On TV, Cheney and Powell were predicting that the war wouldn't be quick or easy. "They're admitting it's gonna be a long war," she said. "I guess I'm ready for it now. It's discouraging . . . but I guess I'm used to it."

A week of worry and unceasing anxiety was visible in the lines of her face. She knew that the tension was bad for her health, but that knowledge didn't ease the tension any. "It would be terrible for Warren to come home," she said, "and have to bury his parent."

She got a call from one of her Tupperware dealers, and then, after she hung up, she saw soldiers on TV reading their mail. She leaned forward and peered intently at the tube. Then she shook her head sadly. "I always think I'm gonna see him," she said. "I thought I saw him last week. And again last night, marching. But it wasn't him."

When the news ended, it was time to get up and make dinner. She glanced at her watch and then sat there silently for a moment.

"Warren is asleep now, over there," she said. AT HANK DIETLE'S, THE TV SCREENSwere blank. The Eagles sang "Take It Easy" as the after-work crowd settled in.

The war, said Ken Miller, who works in the telephone business, "is getting a little deeper, a little hairier every day."

If Saddam had a tactical nuke, said Miller's friend Doug Moran, "he wouldn't hesitate to drop it on Tel Aviv."

A ground war would be tough, said construction estimator Francis Martin, because "we're fighting against battle-hardened, desert-hardened troops. But I think we'll win."

Craig Cohill, who works in the accounting department of a Rockville construction company, was a little bummed out. Earlier in the day, Cohill, 22, had discovered that he couldn't take the courses he wanted at Montgomery College. And he wasn't sure about his status if the military draft came back.

"If my country wants me to go, I'll go," he said. "I'm not sure why." WAYNE GILCHREST WATCHED CNN'Scoverage of the Pentagon briefing just long enough to hear Dick Cheney say, "We do not know how long it will last." Then he turned the sound down low and moved on to other activities, including a staff meeting -- the first staff meeting of his congressional career, which was now precisely 20 days old.

"Do you feel like a congressman yet?" one of his aides asked.

He smiled. "I don't know what a congressman feels like."

Gilchrest had come to realize that there wasn't much he, a lowly freshman, could do about the war. "I don't fire the missiles, I don't direct the troops, I'm not in the White House," he said. "I'll be called on from time to time, but in the meantime, I have other things to take care of."

He did not stay in his office to watch the war on the evening news. Instead,he headed home just before 6, hitchinga ride in the car of one of his aides.Another aide sat with him in the back seat, briefing him on some issues he'd be taking on: pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, oyster disease, a subdivision with septic problems.

"Did I bring you up to date on the transit study?" the aide asked as they neared the Bay Bridge.

"No," Gilchrest said.

The aide talked on. Gilchrest listened for a while, but then his mind began to wander. He looked out the window. It was a clear night. The sky was dotted with hundreds of stars and the blinking red light of a moving plane. For a moment, he thought of the sky over the desert and the missile streaks he had seen on TV. He thought of the captured pilots and wondered what their families were going through. Then he thought of his own family. It was almost 7. They were probably eating dinner.

Suddenly, he couldn't wait to get home. He'd had the same feeling exactly a week earlier. Then, he had been eager to turn on the television and watch the beginning of the war. Tonight, what he wanted to do was finish a story he had begun tellinghis daughter a few weeks ago, duringpeacetime, a story about two little boys on a ship with huge white sails -- a fairy tale.