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Americans brace for war

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2001

War! headlines shout. It's coming, political leaders warn. How do average Americans respond? In six communities around the nation, the words uttered by old and young, black and white, men and women mostly boiled down to support for military action, though none could have imagined it a week ago.

At a supermarket: 'I'd like to get it going'

TUMWATER, Wash. -- Supermarket, suburban America, start of a new week: People go about their business, same as usual, but nothing is the same. Nothing ever will be.

American Flags are everywhere -- on car antennas, in pickup-truck beds, on the jackets of housewives pushing grocery carts.

One minute, Don Ellis is dashing into Safeway for a gallon of milk. The next, he's sitting in his minivan, dabbing at tears as he tries to understand what makes a terrorist tick.

''So many innocent people killed,'' he says. ''What gets me is that these people think they're heroes, that what they're doing will get them a seat by Allah's side. It's incomprehensible to me.''

Yet comprehend it we must, Ellis says, if we are to win a war against terrorism.

Ellis, 57, a retired brewery worker, says just thinking about last week's terrorist attacks is enough to tie his stomach up in knots. He's sad. He's angry. Yet he expresses confidence in America's military strength and intelligence-gathering abilities.

''With our resources, I don't see any reasons why we can't get them,'' he says. ''I know it's going to take a while, but hopefully it won't be anything like Vietnam.''

While military officials counsel patience, Ellis wants to see America respond decisively and quickly.

''I'd like to get it going. Let's get the people who are responsible,'' he says. ''I think most Americans want retaliation. Me, definitely.''

--David Foster

In the inner-city: 'U.S. means us ... All agendas have been put on hold'

CHICAGO -- A red-white-and-blue American flag hangs from one window of the cafe, a red-black-and-green black nationalist flag from another, and in the middle, Maurice Perkins sits, full of determination.

''U.S. means us,'' he says, sitting in The Great Migration Cafe, housed in a stately gray mansion on Chicago's South Side. ''We all have to unite, put these uniforms on and go do something.''

Something as in fight terrorism, no matter what it takes, even if it means the loss of American lives, declares the 50-year-old Army veteran.

''Those Silicon Valley guys,'' he says, waving his arm, ''they can lay down their notepads. So should those politicians. I'd like to see all of them suit up. All agendas have been put on hold. This is top priority and it's going to get done.''

Perkins runs an anti-gang program, the Inner-City Youth Foundation, here in the shadow of the Robert Taylor Homes, a towering housing project in one of the poorest pockets of the city.

Sitting in the building's empty cafe, decorated with vintage posters advertising concerts by Billie Holiday, B.B. King and Ray Charles, Perkins wants to make it known -- he believes in military might.

''They mean business,'' he says. ''These guys are going to search and destroy and end all this. What choice do we have -- brace ourselves to get hit again?''

Perkins says serious racial inequities exist in this country, but that has not dampened the patriotism that poor people share in this community.

''There are still problems with the white man leading and the black man bleeding,'' he says, ''but look out there -- you still see a lot of flags flying.''

--Sharon Cohen

At a peace shrine: 'How do you fight an -ism?'

BERKELEY, Calif. -- As a gung-ho 18-year-old, Daniel Shapiro fought in the ''good war'' of the 1940s. As a parent, he worried when his sons reached draft age a generation later. He doesn't want to see his grandchildren take up arms.

''I'm beginning to think it's pretty useless,'' he says.

He salutes U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, the Democrat who represents Berkeley and Oakland, for her lone vote against giving President Bush the power to use force against the terrorists. ''What guts!''

Shapiro and his wife, Lois, are making their way Sunday afternoon along a makeshift memorial at the University of California, Berkeley, set up in honor of those killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Fog drifts low over the shrine, which stands beside the 1968 Alexander Calder sculpture, ''Hawk for Peace.''

Some of the handwritten messages strike a martial note.

''Bush -- back him up,'' reads one signed by ''a faithful Republican.''

But in a town that beat a thunderous drumbeat against the war in Vietnam, many urge peace.

''If they say war, we must not go,'' says one.

Another: ''How do you fight an -ism?''

Taped to the fence is a photograph of the World Trade Center towers, shining columns piercing a cerulean sky: ''We will remember.''

The Shapiros, who live in San Francisco, watched in stunned horror as the towers came tumbling down.

But they're not convinced that war is the answer.

''Millions have died in wars and look where we are,'' says Lois Shapiro. ''We haven't achieved a great wonderful world free of evil.''

-- Michelle Locke

In a high school: Students say fight, though 'it's a bad time'

BOSTON -- Days into their senior year at New Mission High School, Paul McKoy and Glen Canales are thinking about something new that may be looming in their future: a war against terrorism.

To McKoy, it could be a career move. Should he join up?

Yes, he knows people would die. But he is a Marine's nephew. He sits stock-straight and wears a red-white-and-blue ribbon on his chest to show solidarity against terror. He has flown a small plane in an Air Force program for teen-agers and wished to sit at the controls of a bigger one.

If war comes, ''I'd have a better opportunity, more of a chance,'' he says.

He only worries that the United States may again misjudge the power of terrorists driven by an unquestioning faith. ''We underestimate people because we've got nuclear missiles, and we think we're so big and tough,'' he says.

To Canales, opportunity has already come, right here in Boston's sometimes rough Mission Hill neighborhood. A 20-year-old dropout, he used to get into fights at his old school and trouble at home.

''I got a second chance at school. Now, for me to be drafted, that would be kind of weird,'' he says.

He'd rather write poems and songs and create graphic art. He was asked in his humanities class Monday about the meaning of freedom. ''The right to blossom, the right to grow,'' he wrote.

Yes, he knows no one is invulnerable to terrorists. He believes they must in the end be stopped by military force. For him, though, ''it's a bad time.''

-- Jeff Donn

At a National Guard post: 'At some point we fall in and follow orders'

MORRISVILLE, N.C. -- Whenever a jet flies over her house, Jordan Taylor Pierce points her blue eyes and index finger skyward and gleefully squeals one of the handful of words in her growing vocabulary: ''Airplane.'' Nanny and Grampy flew away in a plane last Monday.

Little Jordan, just a year and a half old, has no idea why the skies have been so empty lately.

And she has no way of comprehending an awesome reality that could face her daddy, a North Carolina Army National Guard pilot: one day, maybe soon, he might have to shoot down one of those pretty planes.

''I don't know that I could pull the trigger,'' says Capt. Brian Pierce, who flies Apache attack helicopters. ''But at some point we fall in and follow orders and say, 'Yes, sir,'' and salute the flag.''

The 36-year-old father is steeling himself for the possibility that he may be sitting Jordan down soon to tell her he's ''going bye-bye.'' But as much as that might hurt, Pierce says he knows he'll be going so that his daughter can grow up with the freedoms he's had -- in a world where airplanes are a thing of wonder, not fear.

''We can ensure that things don't change too much -- beyond what needs to change,'' he says. ''I actually welcome that.''

-- Allen G. Breed

On a family farm: 'If this isn't a good reason to go to war, what is?'

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The questions haven't stopped for a week now: Where is Afghanistan? Who is Osama bin Laden? And, perhaps most pointedly: Why haven't we killed him?

For a country digesting the reality of a new war, the questions are hardly unusual until you consider the inquisitor: 11-year-old Sean Duncan, a fifth-grader, the son of fourth-generation Arizona farmers.

''I've never heard fear from him,'' his mother, Kathleen, says from the family's 2,000-acre farm just west of Phoenix. ''I think he'd like to be at war.''

Adds Sean's father, Arnott, ''He just wants to make sure they don't get away with it.''

His parents agree: The United States must do whatever it takes to rid the world of terrorism in the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington. They are not only prepared for battle, they're gearing up to be in it for the long haul.

''It's not just deal with what happened,'' Kathleen says, ''but let's go out there and find out what could happen -- and see if we can prevent this from happening anywhere else.''

The couple grow broccoli, cabbage and lettuce in the shadow of Luke Air Force Base. Even as they talk, their words are drowned out by the roar of fighter jets overhead.

At 40 and 44 respectively, Kathleen and Arnott were only teen-agers themselves when the Vietnam War was raging. And while they selfishly admit being relieved that their two boys are years from being eligible for the draft, should one be reinstated, they insist this cannot be perceived as another Vietnam.

''We've been attacked!'' Kathleen exclaims. ''If this isn't a good reason to go to war, what is?''

-- Pauline Arrillaga



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