One of the larger news features of mid-February was the arrival in Baghdad of some 200 peace missionaries from around the world, who had come, they announced in appropriately grave tones, to serve as "human shields"—to put themselves between the targets in Iraq and the bombers of the mad George W. Bush. The British contingent of the mission, traveling photogenically in two old-fashioned red double-decker buses, got the lion's share of the press, thanks in part to the media talents of sixty-eight-year-old Godfrey Meynell, who has an interestingly counterintuitive résumé for this sort of thing (he is a former Foreign Office man and a former high sheriff of Derbyshire), an attractive stiff-upper-lip yet unassuming-bloke-of-the-people manner, and the natural hamminess of a well-aged Smithfield. For a week or so you could scarcely pick up a London paper without catching a breeze from Meynell's stiff upper lip in action. "I do think if we have a large number of people at the sites, it will be very difficult for them to bomb," he said in a typical utterance. "I really do think so."
On March 2 The Sunday Telegraph reported that almost all of Britain's eleven would-be shields were among those who had decided, on second thought, that sequestering themselves in buildings slated to receive high explosives was actually too dangerous, and had quietly slipped away to home. The fault, apparently, lay with the perhaps naive Iraqi government, which apparently took at face value the missionaries' pronouncements of their willingness to risk life for peace. As the Telegraph reported, after nearly two weeks had passed in which only about sixty-five of the shields "had so far agreed to take up positions at the oil refineries, power plants and water-purification sites" selected by the Iraqi regime as "strategic sites," the government group hosting the pacifists, the Organization of Friendship, Peace and Solidarity, had presented them with an ultimatum: choose their spots or leave. Meynell, who was among the relative few to have bedded down at a potential crater (a Baghdad power station), was admirably forthright in admitting his new understanding of realities. "I am ashamed to be leaving you," he told the workers at the power station, "but I'm going out of pure, cold fear." It had come to him, he said, that "this power plant is right next to a bridge, surrounded by Republican Guards. It's obviously a prime target."