By Dan Kim
Author’s note: This fantastical post is the brainchild of a friend who joked about me reading a story to my daughter, but instead wanted me to read him a bedtime story about the Iran-Iraq War. After a few lines, the friend and ASO planted the seed, like, why not turn one of the most senseless conflicts of the late 20th century into a children’s book? I’ve read SO SO much absolute dreck in terms of little-kid literature the last 9 years, that I could mimic the language and rhythm in my sleep. If you like this, I take all credit; if not, I’ll know whom to blame.
Once upon a time, in a not-so-magical neighborhood far away called the Arabian Gulf, Saddam lived next door to a rich boy named Emir and a perpetually angry boy named Ruhollah. One day, Saddam and Ruhollah had a disagreement over who could play in the Shatt-al-Arab part of their neighborhood’s playground.
Saddam had friends named Jacques and Ivan, but once they realized that Saddam wanted to pick a fight with Ruhollah, Jacques switched schools but still helped Saddam with a side project in Osirak. Ivan analyzed what he called the correlation of forces, and when he found no geopolitical advantage in being as close with Saddam, Ivan decided to play with different friends on Kabul Street. Poor Saddam, his best friends deserted him when he needed them the most.
Ruhollah was an angry boy who didn’t like anyone in the neighborhood and wanted to fight everyone. Ruhollah wondered why he didn’t have more friends, besides some little kids two streets over in Beirut. Ruhollah said, “I don’t need any friends, I can use what I already have in the house, and do this all on my own.” Ruhollah was very proud of his self-sufficiency.
Emir and his buddy Faisal were the rich kids on the block. Nobody liked them, but they were so rich that everyone still wanted to be their friend. They were also very generous with neighborhood boys who wanted to be their friend. Faisal helped Saddam buy shiny new toys like Exocets and Mirage F1s. Emir didn’t want anyone to know, but he paid protection money to both Ruhollah and Saddam so they wouldn’t pick on him.
One day, Saddam had had enough of Ruhollah’s taunts, and started a fight. Emir threw money at both of them and hid in his basement. Faisal watched from a distance, not wanting to overtly support either side until he knew who would win. Saddam and Ruhollah’s fight seemed to last forever. Neither one seemed to get tired, no matter how many toys got smashed. This lasted well past recess into fifth period.
Jacques finally left the neighborhood for good when an older boy named Menachem smashed Jacques’ sand castle in Osirak. Ruhollah, when he wasn’t fighting Saddam, was trying to get his Beirut buddies to poke a boy named Ronnie three towns over. Ronnie got annoyed, but one day, Ruhollah went too far and sank some of Emir’s boats in the pond. Ronnie was a good friend to Faisal, and since Faisal was such a good friend to Emir, Ronnie felt like he had to stick up for Emir.
Ronnie punched Ruhollah a lot harder than Ruhollah expected, even while Ronnie’s helpers were fixing or replacing Ruhollah’s toys behind Saddam’s back. Saddam wanted to get in on this, and tried to start a side fight with Ronnie, but Ronnie was so big that Saddam was too afraid to take it further. Meanwhile, both Ruhollah and Saddam were running out of toys to throw at each other. It had been a long, long fight over every corner of the playground including Al-Faw, Karbala, Suleimaniyah, and the marshes. Both boys were very tired. Faisal and Emir made them stop fighting, shake hands, and go home.
Saddam was still very angry, even after Hashemi moved into Ruhollah’s house. Saddam hadn’t wanted to stop fighting, but Emir and Faisal had given him a lot of money to stop. Eventually, a boy named George moved into Ronnie’s house. George had lots of friends. George’s best friends were Maggie and Faisal.
Because he couldn’t stay away from a fight, one day, Saddam sucker punched Emir when George wasn’t looking. Saddam also tried to steal Emir’s lunch money. Maggie grabbed George and made sure George wouldn’t go all wobbly. George wanted to punch the boy who had punched his friend Emir, but didn’t know how until Maggie showed him. Maggie was a tough girl who was used to fighting bullies, and had recently beat up a boy named Leopoldo so badly that Leopoldo had to move away.
George called on all the friends he’d met before he moved into Ronnie’s house. There were so many! Hafez, Hosni, Hussein – even Jacques moved back to the neighborhood to deal with the bully he’d once helped. Ivan’s doddering dad Gorby tried to stop everyone from fighting, but George and Maggie wanted to deal with mean old Saddam once and for all. Menachem wanted to break more sand castles like he had in Osirak, but George made sure Menachem stayed out of the scrap for now.
All the kids on George’s side gave Saddam until sundown to leave Emir’s house. Saddam didn’t like to listen to anyone, not least the older kids like Maggie or George. Well, they showed him once the sun set. They beat Saddam up, but not too badly, just enough to convince him to leave Emir’s house – but not so badly that Billy and Little George wouldn’t have to deal with his antics later on.
Eventually, everyone except John (who had moved into Maggie’s house) and George left the neighborhood. Hashemi sent a thank you note to Saddam for all the airplanes, and paid Ivan for even more. Faisal and Emir felt that a tiny bit of gold on the Kuwait Liberation Medal, and maybe a few contracts to George to protect their houses, would be enough to keep the neighborhood at peace. Everyone cheered George’s favorite bully Norman, but many of the kids who used to play with Norman wondered how he’d gotten that far in the first place. John and Fred, who weren’t bullies but did more to beat up Saddam than Norman, were almost forgotten.
A long time later, Saddam would feel an itch to fight again, and Little George would want to finish what Big George started, but that’s another story…
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About the Author: Dan Kim is a former infantryman who did all sorts of stuff in the pre-9/11 Army that you won’t read about in books. He can be found on Twitter at @DanielMKim and writing at Appa for Two.
About the Editor: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.