It was the tone of voice, more than the message content, that was a little unsettling.
The caller was so enraged he could barely speak, as he left the venomous message on my answering machine, in the kind of voice that makes you want to make sure the doors are locked.
We were away and offline for the weekend, but returned to find a letter to the editor from me had been printed in the Memorial Day edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I wrote it after the JS editorialized on the war last week and invited reader comments. I expected it would be one of many on the issue, but that wasn't the case. It was a simple letter:
Withdraw from Iraq
What is it that George Bush and John McCain fear about setting a timeline and getting U.S. troops out of Iraq – that we will have blood on our hands?
We already do. Four thousand Americans dead, 30,000 more wounded. Countless thousands of lives permanently shattered. Perhaps a million Iraqis dead; we don't even try to count. Four million others forced to flee their homes.
There will be no "victory" in Iraq. Withdrawing our troops will be a victory for sanity and rational behavior and a defeat for aggression justified by lies.
Yes, we need a timeline for getting out of Iraq – and the shorter the better.
Hardly anything to get worked up about, even if you disagree. Or that's what I thought until I listened to the message from the anonymous caller.
I started to transcribe it, but accidentally erased part of it. (I was half-thinking I should save it so the police could use the voice scan in case I turn up dead.) This doesn’t even do it justice, but gives you the flavor. It was actually worse:
Hey, Billy boy, stupid editorial. The troops will stay there until the fucking job is done. You fucking cowards, you liberal cowards should get on your knees and thank George Bush for saving your cowardly asses. You should crawl back under your fucking rock. John McCain is easily going to beat Hussein Obama’s ass. You are a coward and a loser.
It is hard to understand that kind of anger, even rage. I think John McCain is dead wrong on Iraq, but I don't hate him. I don't even hate George Bush or Dick Cheney or Condoleeza Rice, who caused the deaths I wrote about.
I don't want to kill them, or even beat them up. I just want them to go away.
After the poison message, the answering machine kept running. This from what sounded like a younger man:
Hi, I read your letter to the editor and I just want to say wonderful, wonderful. Thank you so much for doing that. I couldn’t agree more.
He even left his name.
In my book, that more than makes it even.