Tom and I happened to be working in San Diego, when the Pacific fleet sailed for Iraq.

Friday morning, I opened the hotel room curtains to see three tugboats moving an aircraft carrier away from its moorings, out into the channel. Coast Guard and Marine helicopters buzzed overhead, while destroyers and fast cutters darted around San Diego Bay. Navy personnel in their whites lined the deck, waving goodbye.

Ships departed throughout the day. The later ships departed without much fanfare; the crew on deck were working, not showing off their white uniforms. Still, there were many farewells, lots of wives and children left on the dockside.

The haze-gray ships were frightening to witness. The smallest of them dwarfed the pleasureboats in the Marina, and there was no hint of pleasure about them. They are good for nothing but killing people, and they look as if they would be extremely good at that.

I can't imagine what it would be like, to have such a threat sailing against my homeland. The immensity of their destructive power filled me with a sense of responsibility and humility; these tremendous weapons must be used with the utmost care, and the utmost reluctance.

I've seen warships depart on training cruises before. This was different. This time, I felt as though I was looking into the gray face of death, and it shook me.

Meanwhile, crowds began arriving in San Diego for the Super Bowl, a game which would decide the champion of United States football for the 2002 season. There were acres of colorful tents, with labyrinths to channel the expected thousands of sports fans.

At the souvenier stands, Official Super Bowl caps sold for $38 each.

Corporate sponsors were everywhere, like the Campbell's Chunky Soup Caravan Truck parked at the water's edge.

My favorite attraction was a mortar, which fired footballs high in the air for fans to catch.

Meanwhile the warships moved quietly in the background, hidden by the cheerful banners and the TV satellite trucks.

I checked later. There wasn't much on TV about the fleet sailing, but the Super Bowl, more than a week away, was big news.

As the Fates would have it, the day after the fleet sailed, peace rallies would mobilize hundreds of thousands of American citizens to protest the President's poorly explained rush to war. The rallies would be suprisingly big, and they would catch the media's attention.

Sports commentators like to use war metaphors to describe games like professional football, but the two are not at all alike.

The Super Bowl is harmless fun. It's just entertainment.

It's about money, not death.

I wish the United States had a President that didn't confuse the two.

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