ORLANDO, FLA. -- Maybe it's not such a small world after all these days, not even in the Magic Kingdom. Here I was, floating along dreamily yesterday in my little blue boat in Disney World's "It's a Small World" attraction, easing past mechanized dancing dolls from Germany and France, then Don Quixote and Sancho and the Venetian gondola and the Russian Cossacks -- all cute and happy and smiling. Suddenly, as the boat glided under another tunnel, we were in the Middle East.
The 9-year-old boy wearing a Davy Crockett coonskin cap in the row ahead of me twisted around left and right and placed his arms as though he were holding an imaginary rifle and looking for a target.
"Look at the snake charmer," his mom said. "Look at the pink camel!"
"Where's Saddam Hussein?" drawled the young frontiersman. "I'm gonna take out that sucker."
It was rather bizarre to spend the day in the world's leading vacation spot here while, across the world, Scuds and Patriots are flying through the night skies, little children are being fitted for gas masks and foot soldiers are moving closer to a massive desert engagement in arms.
The loudspeakers at Disney World continuously play "After the War is Over," as though it already is, or it never began, or life is as innocent as it seemed in the quiescent years between Korea and Vietnam.
Imagine this contrast: On television, CNN's Bernard Shaw is describing his harrowing automobile journey through Iraq in the midst of the war, being stopped 15 times, driving past bombed airfields, not knowing what was ahead on his way to the kingdom of Jordan. On the western rim of Orlando, Jimmy Autry, a tobacco farmer from Lillington, N.C., is maneuvering his station wagon into Happy Lot Row 87 and leading his family of five to the monorail for a ride into the kingdom of magic, just in time to encounter Pluto on Main Street.
Over there, fighter pilots scramble toward Baghdad. Here, tourists watch Mickey Mouse wobble through the air in "Plane Crazy," a high-flying comedy.
Nothing, apparently, could keep tens of thousands of vacationers from their appointments yesterday with Goofy and the gang. But even here, in an insulated world where attendants require that you smile before being allowed to walk through the turnstile, the war in the Persian Gulf has intruded.
"I had mixed emotions coming down here," said William Carlson, 44, a contractor from Milford, Conn., who flew to Orlando with his family of four the day after the war started. "All of a sudden, it seemed that taking a vacation might not be the thing to do. I had a sort of survival instinct to stay at home and protect my family. Ever since we got here, I can't stop thinking about the contrast between the horrors of war and this place. It's sort of odd, but Disney World is such a wonderful place to come to, it sort of makes me feel good that it's still here in times of trouble."
Tight security at Orlando's airport reminded him that no place is totally safe from terrorism, not even Disney World. The day he arrived, in fact, newspaper articles were depicting Disney World, the icon of American pleasure, as a potential terrorist site. Disney officials bristled at the stories and have taken no overt steps to tighten security, unless that is a SWAT team lurking behind the costumes of the Seven Dwarfs.
Every night after a full day at Epcot Center or the Magic Kingdom, Carlson has retreated to his room in the Polynesian Hotel where he watches CNN's "War in the Gulf" late into the night. He is not alone.
Jackie Smith and his friend, Veronica Ross, staying at the Contemporary Resorts hotel, said they too have spent their nights in the Magic Kingdom watching the war on television. Smith, a former Marine Corps sergeant now working as a mechanic in Raleigh, N.C., said he had second thoughts about coming to Disney World this week, but he finally decided to go ahead because it was his only week off from work.
"My first day in the Magic Kingdom, I felt funny," said Smith, who along with his friend was wearing a black Mickey Mouse sweatshirt and the ubiquitous mouse ears. "We were at Epcot Center and a fire broke out nearby and, when the smoke filtered over the center, things got real quiet. Everybody wondered whether it was terrorists.
"It was weird. But now I'm sort of used to it and not worrying anymore. I figure, hey, if your time is up and you're gonna go, you might as well go with Mickey."