The mood inside Darrell's barbershop pretty much matched the feeling of residents in the surrounding inner-city neighborhood. Unlike opinion polls showing strong nationwide support for the war, people in and around Darrell's weren't too big on the idea of invading Iraq. But they were on the same page with the rest of the country when it came to Saddam Hussein.
Barbers and customers at Darrell's agreed that the Iraqi dictator was a tyrant and a chump who deserved to get his butt kicked.
"I don't know why Iraqi TV is complaining about that decapitation strike launched against Saddam [Hussein] on Wednesday night," said Fishbone, who was seated in Darrell's chair getting a mustache trim. "It's not as if Saddam Hussein didn't know what was coming."
"Look at it this way," he said with a hint of exasperation in his voice. "You try to kill the man's daddy. Then the man, who just so happens to be the president of the United States and a macho man from Texas, gives you 48 hours to get out of the country. Now, that strikes me as a fair warning. The way I figure it, 'fair warning' is fair play."
Jerome, known for his trash talking, broke in. "Look, man. If a dude named George W. Bush surrounded me with troops from the 101st Airborne Division, the 3rd Infantry Division, the 82nd Airborne Division, the 1st Armored Division, the 24th and 7th Infantry Divisions, 60,000 Marines, five carrier battle groups in the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf, and at least 1,000 combat-ready fighter jets and bombers, and then went on television and announced to the world that I had two days to clear the area, I'd fire back this message by the fastest means available: 'G.W., I'm already gone! Forward my mail to Bali.' "
The shop erupted in laughter.
Darrell broke in, trying to offer a reason why Saddam Hussein might have stayed around rather than move out smartly with his fingers extended and joined. "Saddam knows his country and how to get in and out of tight spots," he said. "He's been doing it for years."
"Yeah," injected Fatmouth, who was itching to have his say. "But this time, Saddam's fastest move may have been too slow." The shop cracked up again.
Bobby T., a barber and Vietnam veteran, had strong misgivings about war with Iraq. But he wore his Army fatigues and campaign hat to work that morning. Bobby T. made no effort to disguise his lack of respect for the Iraqi army.
He stopped clipping Lloyd the Ladies' Man's hair and threw out the question: "Have you heard about the new Iraqi army exercise program?"
Darrell replied, "No. What is it?"
"Each morning," Bobby T. said, "you raise your hands above your head and leave them there."
"That's pretty good," interjected Fast Frankie from his seat near the front door, "but check this out. How do you play Iraqi bingo?"
"The answer: B-1, F-16, B-52."
But if Bobby T. didn't think much of the Iraqi military, he had almost as much disdain for the experts in Washington -- think-tank experts who, along with Bush administration officials and certain Clinton Democrats in exile, have decided that the United States not only must take out Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction but also should bear the burden of rebuilding the Iraqi economy and a new Iraqi political system.
"Those elitists know all about a world miles away but couldn't care less about people here at home," Bobby T. snorted.
Then he repeated a joke told by Jay Leno: "Bush said if Iraq gets rid of Saddam Hussein, he will help the Iraqi people with food, medicine, housing, education -- anything that's needed. Isn't that amazing? He finally comes up with a domestic agenda -- and it's for Iraq. Maybe he could bring that here if it works out."
While most in the shop chuckled, Mr. Jackson, the Washington old-timer and neighborhood historian, and probably the most well-read man in the community, didn't find the Leno joke amusing. Mr. Jackson had been standing at the window gazing at the dilapidated school and public housing project across the street. When he turned around, there were tears in his eyes.
"When this war is over," Mr. Jackson said, "we are going to patrol and protect large Iraqi cities, keeping the citizens safe. . . . We've already picked out U.S. construction giants to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to build roads and bridges and schools and hospitals," he said. "I even read where we have plans to print textbooks and pay and train Iraqi teachers.
"We're going to guide them to a democratic form of government where the rights of people are recognized and guaranteed, where people have a voice and vote in their government," Mr. Jackson said.
"And who gets to pay for it?" he asked. "We do," he thundered. "We, the people of Washington, D.C., who have no vote in Congress, no voice in the Senate and no say in whether or not we go to war, are going to help bear the cost of rebuilding Iraq and giving the people of Baghdad more rights than we enjoy in the nation's capital. And we're going to do all that even as we in this city -- because of budget shortfalls -- close libraries and recreation centers, shortchange schools and struggle to keep a hospital open."
You could hear a pin drop.
"I read somewhere," Mr. Jackson said, "that the reconstruction of Iraq will require billions of dollars over several years. Estimates ranged from 50 to 150 billion dollars.
"If you trust a table produced by a group calling itself the National Priorities Project, based on our portion of individual income taxes, the District of Columbia's share of the cost of a $100 billion war and rehabilitation of Iraq comes to $225 million," he said. "Why, that's more than Montana, North and South Dakota, Vermont or Wyoming individually contribute in taxes to the U.S. Treasury," Mr. Jackson said.
At that moment a hand shot up at the rear of the shop. It belonged to L. Rodney Bull, a local entrepreneur and consultant.
"Mr. Jackson, did I hear you say the Bush administration is about to award contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to begin remaking Iraq? Do you know if they have a minority set-aside program?"
A tear rolled down Mr. Jackson's face.