Bagdad (The US) April 2: According to the local pastor, Bagdad is America at its best.
“To call it a God-fearing place would be more than fair,” said Pastor Darrell McGaughey, of the Bagdad Baptist church, adding that the Kentucky town is hard-working, down-to-earth and “dry”.
It is also a long way from the front line in the Gulf or the peace protests in big American cities.
This sleepy Kentucky community remains untouched by war.
Unlike in its near-namesake, where the war’s impact is seen in cruise missiles and smart bombs, in Bagdad it has boosted demand for T-shirts emblazoned with the town’s name and letters for collectors of exotic postmarks.
The occasional fire, put out by volunteers travelling to the scene in garishly coloured lime-green engines, is what passes for a major emergency.
“Somehow I don’t think we’re big enough to be on Saddam Hussein’s hit list,” said Ken Franks as he put in a shift as a part-timer in the fire station. The most momentous event in Bagdad’s history to date, not one readily advertised by the locals, was Colonel George Custer’s arrival to impose order when the Ku Klux Klan went on the rampage in the 1870s.
Now the accident of its name, believed to be derived from a mentally handicapped boy’s habit of repeating “bag, dad” to his father while working at the feed mill, has put the town of 500 people on the map again.
A far cry from the deserts and berms around Baghdad, the landscape is of whitewashed houses with rocking chairs on the porch and basketball hoops, satellite dishes and pick-up trucks in the yard.
Deer hunting and rabbiting are popular pastimes and one truck parked outside the fire station had a caged beagle in the back.
Only the occasional sign on a lawn identifying the property’s owners as “Another Family Supporting President Bush And Our Troops” hints at the loyalties of a nation at war.
As in the rest of Middle America, support for the war shows no sign of abating, despite the mounting casualties and the limited progress of the last few days.
In this Bagdad politics do not generate much passion and the main talking point is the influx of well-off newcomers moving to the area to take advantage of the peace and quiet and the scenery.
“This is Southern Baptist territory," said George Busey, standing outside the local church, one of five in the area.
“You can’t get much further away from Islam.”
No one from Bagdad is serving in the military in Iraq and no one from it is known ever to have gone to Baghdad — or vice versa. But that has not stopped local people pondering what sort of place their near-namesake is.
“According to what I can see, Baghdad, Iraq, is a very large town and looks real good,” said Garnett Newton, Bagdad’s 72-year-old “unofficial mayor”.
“It looks pleasant enough. But evidently it’s not.”
Alone among the townspeople, Mr Newton admitted to past doubts about the wisdom of sending the military to Iraq. “I didn’t know whether we needed to go all that way and whether it was worth taking a bunch of fellows there,” he said.
But what did he know' “You live and learn and then you die and forget it all,” he reflected.
Now that the fighting has begun, he, like everyone else in Bagdad, was backing American troops all the way to Baghdad.