An Absolute Disgrace

Outraged New Times readers and a Fort Lauderdale office skirmish are only part of the equation

Smith never really fit in at Gehr, which has an office on Cypress Creek Road, but it wasn't until after September 11 that things got ugly. First, his co-workers began calling him "The American Taliban" because of his appearance and antiwar stance. Smith didn't think that was funny. Tension mounted in the office as Bush pushed for war in Iraq. Then the situation exploded on March 20, the day after American troops began their march toward Baghdad.

The salesmen joked on that day about the number of Iraqi children who would be killed in the war, Smith says. He claims they made mock bets with a "30-baby spread" and opined that the United States needed to kill as many Muslim youths as possible, since they would only grow up to be terrorists. "They were getting a kick out of it. I couldn't take it anymore," Smith recounts. "Pretty blatantly, I told them to shut the 'F' up. I lost my temper. Then another salesman, a Vietnam veteran who has a concealed-weapons permit, ran over to me and got in my face and told me he would like to kill me, that he would like to use a bomb on me."

Smith says he muttered something about it being a sad time for America and left the building. He returned to work the next day wearing an antiwar T-shirt and found that the office had a new rule: No more war talk. But Smith says it had become an untenable situation. He had it out with management and was fired.

Pro-war co-workers called Joseph K. Smith "The American Taliban"
Colby Katz
Pro-war co-workers called Joseph K. Smith "The American Taliban"

Gehr General Manager Danny Litvack refused to comment for this article, though he denied there were any threats or jokes about killing Iraqi children and said Smith's account was full of lies and exaggeration. A Gehr attorney is currently investigating the incident.

Whatever the truth, it seems pretty clear that an Eros-driven fellow found himself in the middle of a Thanatos stronghold, a place where death rules the day. And I'm not trying to single out Gehr here -- the drive for war is everywhere these days.

So the battle lines are being drawn at home. Many antiwar demonstrators are struggling to deal with the increasingly vicious attacks by Bush supporters. On a Broward County antiwar e-mail list that I subscribe to, the ideas have ranged from shouting down the pro-war hecklers to avoiding eye contact and remaining silent.

Whatever the activists do, the hate is going to grow. The people who tried to stop this war will be blamed for its ugliness and the deaths of our troops. And the antiwar group will itself devolve into violence. I wouldn't be surprised if some homegrown, left-wing terrorism pops up, à la the SDS of the 1960s. It will be left for historians to sort through the mess, just as they have done with Vietnam, McCarthyism, slavery, and other American debacles.

Until then, we may as well get used to Bush's new world disorder. Once the grim harvest of dead has begun, it's hell to stop.

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