It's easy to be against the Iraq war, except when you are at an American airport, and the troops in their cream and brown fatigues are marching towards their uncertainties. The Atlanta airport in the United States was full of them, in tight knots with their families, massed over balconies, or swinging their legs and their duffel bags in formation. It was difficult not to think of the classical poster of Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones in ‘A Farewell to Arms', or our own Sunil Dutt and Nanda starrer, ‘Usne Kahaa Tha', with its haunting song, ‘Jaanewale sipahi se poochho, woh kahaan jaa raha ha'. In the departure lounge, the unspoken was louder than the small talk so ineffectively masking the anxiety. The cold professionalism of the parade ground and the collective determination of the barracks disintegrated as the soldiers stood stripped down to their individual selves. Now they were brother, sister, husband and wife and, most poignantly, Mom and Dad to young kids who were clearly oblivious to the fact that they might be saying a longer goodbye. Ironically, among the soldier families, there was none of the excessive display of affection, the long passionate embraces with which American travellers greet their partners departing for or arriving from a day trip. Some of the civilians at the airport may have been totally opposed to the war, but here every man, woman and child stopped in mid-kiss, coffee and souvenir-buying to stand up and clap gratefully as the companies marched towards the gates, each batch led by a volunteer of an armed forces support group waving a small US flag. Proxy wars come in different sizes and shapes. The soldiers themselves looked studiedly ahead, showing no emotion or very briefly acknowledging the applause. Did one imagine it, or were they silently saying, ‘Thanks, but why don't we change places?' A more touching cameo played out on the sky train carrying us to our gates. Standing in a corner were a soldier, his wife and their toddler in his pushcart. The wife stared grimly into space; the soldier looked at the kid. And the child, blissfully ignorant of the infinitely greater dangers ahead, lisped, ‘Dad-dee, Dad-dee', insistently gesturing to him to hold on to the train's safety strap.