[MANFRED takes some of the water into the palm of his hand, and flings it in the air, muttering the adjuration. After a pause, the WITCH OF THE ALPS rises beneath the arch of the sunbow of the torrent.]
These are the faces of the new Afghan army, an army President Obama had hoped would begin taking responsibility for securing parts of the country by the end of last year. That excessively optimistic date had been quietly shifted to this past July, with the more volatile corners of Afghanistan having to wait until 2014. The longer wait is painful not only for the United States but also for all NATO members, where public support for the nearly ten-year war has flagged as precipitously as the Taliban has resurged. Adding to the public relations challenge, 2010 marked not only the deadliest year for U.S. troops in the Afghan war, with this year on course to break that record; it also gave the war the ignoble distinction of being the longest in U.S. history, surpassing Vietnam.
By late afternoon, the day was bright and warm. Then shortly before six o'clock, the wind began to blow. At the Diamond Moving Picture Theater, in a neighborhood not far away that had become home to Omaha's growing African American population, a crowd of sixty people gathered to see the black-and-white silent film Twister. Those who were still outside noticed the sky to the southwest turn luminous, "a lurid brass-yellow" color. A black funnel cloud appeared. As it swirled and twisted toward the city, the tornado slammed to earth and then bounced back into the air. One man said, "It came like a rushing and roaring torrent of water." As the sound increased and the air pressure dropped, the Ahmansons' dog grew nervous and bolted from the house. Howard wanted to run after him, but his parents hurried him into the cellar.
The path of devastation, two to six blocks wide, was so narrow and intermittent that people wondered if it had been inscribed by God. Some believers said that he had sent the deadliest tornado in American history on Easter Sunday to punish Omaha for the drinking, gambling, and prostitution that were legendary in this western city. Others pointed out that among the 135 killed in the city were innocent children as well as aging sinners. Plenty of God-fearing people had inhabited the more than two thousand homes destroyed by the whirlwind. The victims had simply succumbed to bad luck. 2b1af7f3a8