Henry I. Stern sat on Saddam Hussein’s toilet. The college senior won’t stop talking about his time in Iraq, but he’s not all that excited about the gritty realities of war. He’d rather tell about his adventures cavorting with the United States Special Forces—“SF’s” for those familiar with military jargon—hence the porcelain.
Stern lived in a tent on a U.S. military base in Baghdad for ten days this past December. During his stay, he visited thousands of members of the armed services who are involved in all aspects of the war. There, the preppy Harvard student witnessed America’s largest current military offensive by making the most of his connections. His father, actor Daniel Stern, who played the tall robber in Home Alone, was invited by the United Service Organization (USO) to Iraq to entertain the troops. The younger Stern served as the liaison between the USO and his father.
In Baghdad, Stern’s day began at 6 a.m. with a “shitty meal.” After that, he began the real work of the day: making small talk with the thousands of servicemen stationed at the base. From computer technicians to ground troops, the Sterns engaged in light, getting-to-know-you type conversations, “nothing too political, too technical.” Out of all the departments Stern visited, he was most intrigued by the Special Forces. “Their job just seems really fun, like an action movie,” Stern says enviously. The life of an SF is understandably glamorous, as they get to live in the abandoned palaces of former royalty. One night, Stern went over to Saddam’s old palace with some SF’s he had befriended. After “loosening up over a few beers,” Stern was privy to Saddam’s privy. He did not make full use of the facilities, however, because of performance anxiety. “There were a lot of people around,” Stern remembers regretfully.
If life as an SF is like a video game, Stern certainly got a chance to hold the joystick. He says his best times in Baghdad involved the detonation of explosives. After the SF’s confiscate Iraqi weapons, they destroy them on an abandoned range. After the SF’s collected a cartload of AK47’s, Stern was allowed to explode the weapons with a remote control bomb. “I’d see a cloud of smoke and then I’d hear the explosion,” Stern says. He was ultimately responsible for nine such bombings. Although being a student is a far cry from occupying a country, bits of Baghdad have been seeping into Stern’s life at Harvard. Even in his VES class, Stern can’t seem to get Iraq out of his mind. “For class we’re supposed to be doing a sculpture and somehow Saddam’s face just gets incorporated into it.” Apparently Stern has taken more than a piece of Uday Hussein’s marble wall away from his experience in Iraq.