Regard duty

"President Bush sends his regards."
— Unnamed U.S. soldier to Saddam Hussein, as quoted in The New York Times, Dec. 16.

(The scene is Saddam's spider hole, at the moment of his capture. Two American soldiers stand over the hole, training their weapons on the disheveled dictator. He raises his hands in surrender.)

Saddam: I am Saddam Hussein. I am the president of Iraq. I want to negotiate.

(Awkward silence.)

Soldier No. 1 (to Soldier No. 2): Heads up, Jonesy. It's time to say your line.

(More silence.)

Soldier No. 1: Say your line, Jonesy.

Soldier No. 2: Humna, humna ...

Soldier No. 1: Come on, man! This is important! Top brass wants you to get it just right. Let's get on the stick here.

Soldier No. 2: Um ... "President Bush sent some cigars!"

Soldier No. 1: That's not it.

Soldier No. 2: It's not?

Soldier No. 1: No.

Soldier No. 2: Oh. (Pause.) I think I forgot it.

Soldier No. 1: You forgot it?!

Soldier No. 2: I've had a lot on my mind.

(Saddam, confused, looks from one soldier to the other.)

Soldier No. 1: You can't just forget it, Jonesy. This is a major moment we're part of. Remember how many times they made us rehearse it? Now tell this two-bit thug what America wants him to hear.

Soldier No. 2: "President Bush dents his guitars!"

Soldier No. 1: Hooo, boy.

Soldier No. 2: Am I getting close?

Soldier No. 1: Not even. Listen, buddy, you knew going into this mission that it was going to be complicated. Remember what the general told us? If we happened to stumble across Saddam, he said, we wouldn't just be responsible for taking him into custody. We'd have to carry a message -- a message that conveyed our government's cool-headed resolve while making sure to mention the commander-in-chief by name. And that message was what?

Soldier No. 2 (to Saddam): "President Bush fences with 'tards!"

Soldier No. 1: Oh man oh man oh man.

(As the two soldiers argue, they turn their head slightly from Saddam. He eyes their weapons, perhaps pondering a break. But he does nothing.)

Soldier No. 2 (to Soldier No. 1): Stop badgering me. You know I suffer from performance anxiety.

Soldier No. 1: You're going to suffer from grenade anxiety if you don't cut the crap and say your line like we're supposed to.

Soldier No. 2: I'm sorry. I've gone totally blank.

Soldier No. 1: Well, that's just great. I'm standing at the crossroads of the War on Terror and I'm stuck outside a spider hole with Marcel Marceau. Look, Jonesy, this isn't just a direct order we have to follow. It's a chance at ...

Soldier No. 2: "President Bush, he gives you SARS!"

Soldier No. 1: Shut up. What I was saying is, it's a chance at immortality. What we say here will probably become one of the great quotes in military history. It could be right up there with "I have not yet begun to fight" and "We had to destroy the village to save it." Doesn't that do anything to you?

Soldier No. 2: "Pepsodent, brush remove steak tartare!"

Soldier No. 1: I'm not even sure what that means. Look, if nothing I've been saying has gotten through to you, then forget it. Forget the direct order. Forget the military-history jazz. But think of your children. And think of their children. When they grow up, they're going to look back on this moment as a defining point in the early 21st century. Whatever you say next is going to be a gift to those kids, and millions like them. The gift of truth. It's going to cut right to the heart of what it meant to be an American in 2003. Now, what's it going to be?

(Soldier No. 2 thinks a moment. Suddenly, his eyes light up with understanding. He smiles slightly, then clears his throat. Saddam looks at him quizzically.)

Soldier No. 2 (confidently): "President Gore sends his regards!"

Soldier No. 1: Works for me. Let's get this sandworm out of here.

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