Americans debate in public forums, private thoughts wisdom of taking on Iraq

Pondering the prospect of war

Posted: Thursday, October 03, 2002

The young soldiers at upstate New York's Fort Drum are ready to fight in Iraq. A preacher near their base prays those orders won't come. Out in Ohio, a man who flew 35 combat missions against Nazi Germany ponders the prospect of a new war and says, ''I'd go a little bit slow.''

While the ultimate decision on attacking Iraq will be made by the powerful in Washington, citizens elsewhere are engaged in a distinctively American tradition -- debating in public forums and private thoughts whether going to war is wise.

On the fringes, some Americans wish a war against Saddam Hussein had already started; others oppose U.S. military action of almost any type. But in dozens of interviews conducted across the nation by Associated Press reporters, most people -- like Pam Gillispie of Sioux Falls, S.D. -- sensed that the choices facing their leaders are complex.

''We need to protect ourselves,'' said Gillispie, 52, who grew up in the Vietnam era, and has a 22-year-old son. ''At the same time, I hate the thought of going to war. I just want to be ready. I would hate to see another 9-11.''

In Athens, Ohio, 82-year-old John Jones, the World War II veteran, has been working hard at keeping up with Iraq-related news.

''I'd like to see the United Nations unified behind us, rather than just the United States and England,'' he said. ''If we get the U.N. behind us, it would be all right to go into an all-out conflict. Until then, I'd go a little bit slow.''

Jones said he has noted an occasional gap in the rhetoric of the Bush administration and some military commanders.

''The political people are pushing, and the military are saying hold back a little,'' Jones said. ''That gives me pause.''

At Fort Drum in northern New York, some active-duty soldiers suggested war was necessary.

''The U.N. has given Saddam enough chances,'' said Pfc. Brent Litchard of North Umberland, Pa., who is convinced Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. ''We just can't sit around and wait for him to use them.''

Lindsay Forfa, a private from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said she recently got married, ''so personally I'm not looking forward to the possibility of being deployed to Iraq.''

''But I think the United States has to take control of the situation,'' she said. ''Saddam is a terrorist in every way.''

Sgt. Alex Meek of Red Oak, Iowa, said he was ''impartial'' about whether war should start, but added, ''If the president tells me to do my job, I'm going to be one of the first ones to jump up and say, 'Ready!'''

In nearby Watertown, N.Y., Jehovah's Witness preacher Armand DeBardelaben suspects war is inevitable, but hopes he is wrong.

''Any time you have war, people die,'' he said. ''I don't want anyone to die.''

DeAnna Tonak, 18, of Centerline, Mich., is a student at the University of Michigan's Dearborn campus and worries that some fellow students might have to fight if war breaks out. She also fears war would raise the danger of terrorist attacks in the United States.

''This is going to be a war fought here,'' Tonak said. ''There will be bloodshed in this country.''

In South Dakota, the Iraq debate has particular resonance because of the pivotal role of native son Tom Daschle, who as leader of the Senate's Democratic majority, has sometimes differed with President Bush.

Stan Lorenz, 51, a Sioux Falls businessman, voted for Bush and will stand by him in the event of war.

''That's why we elect a president,'' Lorenz said. ''Whatever he decides, I guess I would support it.''

But Morris Oakie, an American Indian from Sioux Falls, said the United States would risk overextending itself by invading Iraq.

''It's kind of dumb,'' said Oakie, 27. ''We're already dealing with another problem on terrorism. I don't know why the president would get himself into a bigger hole than the one he's already in.''

At a bar in Des Moines, Iowa, engineer Mike Hoffmann, 47, said war with Iraq is overdue. ''We should have finished it the first time,'' he said, referring to the Gulf War.

By contrast, Josh Armbruster, 25, a Des Moines chef, was skeptical of Bush's motives.

''It sounds more like he's trying to do what his dad didn't quite do,'' Armbruster said. ''The president's calling anybody who doesn't support the war un-American -- give me a break.''

In Seattle, Chinese immigrant Pokow Chun, 73, said she lived through Japan's invasion of China in 1937, and wishes the United States would decide against invading Iraq.

''I saw the result of war,'' she said. ''It's horrible spending all our time fighting each other.''

Another immigrant, Iraq-born Ala Faik, 50, of Ann Arbor, Mich., also hopes bloodshed can be avoided, but not at all costs. Saddam, he said, ''is a war criminal who needs to be removed.''

Associated Press reporters Doris Haugen in Sioux Falls, Miranda Leitsinger in Des Moines, William Kates at Fort Drum, Melanthia Mitchell in Seattle, and David Runk in Detroit contributed to this report.



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