On The Home Front

November 28, 1990|By Randi Hendersonand Jean Marbella

On Aug. 1, most Americans had never heard of Saddam Hussein, thought Kuwait was a dot on the map, and Iraq -- well, weren't they the guys we were rooting for in that war against Iran?

A day later, Iraq invaded Kuwait, Mr. Hussein was being compared to Hitler and American troops were on their way over there, putting the United States on the brink of war.

And just as quickly, most Americans rallied behind their president. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed in early August supported sending troops to the Persian Gulf; in the next couple of weeks support grew.

But as weeks turned into months, support began to flag. By mid-October, several surveys found that only 60 percent of Americans supported the troop deployment; more recently, just over half supported it.

To see what Marylanders are saying about the growing tensions in the Gulf, The Sun sampled opinions in several arenas; here's what we found.

Over the airwaves

The phone lights are all flashing, the lines filled. If there's one thing radio talk show hosts have learned in the past four months, it's that people want to talk about what's going on in the Persian Gulf.

John from Glen Burnie wants to see some action. "If anything, President Bush could be faulted for not acting expeditiously enough," he told WBAL-AM's Ron Smith last week.

But Cal from Frederick, a Vietnam veteran with a son now serving in the Gulf, is not so sure. "I'll say this about Congress and the president, they don't mind putting lives on the line, as long as it's not their own. Those are kids over there. . . . What are we dying for? We're defending propped-up oil prices for Texas oil barons."

And Nick from Baltimore County is just generally disgusted with the president and Congress.

"If they took that long to pass the budget, they'd better plan on war two years from now," he said. "If you ask me, Bush has put himself into a no-win situation."

An hour of calls one afternoon last week elicited a range of opinions -- all from men -- ranging from bring the troops home to nuke the Iraqis.

"Opinion runs the gamut and reflects what is current in the press," Mr. Smith has found. "The longer it goes on, the more quibbling there is. But it's not a right vs. left thing, that's for sure. It's a very interesting dichotomy."

The next morning at WCBM-AM, Rudy Miller -- who characterizes her callers as "more emotional, less analytical" than Ron Smith's -- fielded a similar range of opinions. "People are pretty passionate one way or another," she said. "This is an issue that's emotionally based."

Perhaps Cora, whose son will be leaving Dec. 1 for Saudi Arabia, best reflects the struggle that many Americans face in forming an opinion about the situation.

"I want them [U.S. troops] to just pick up their toys and come home, but I know that won't happen," she said. "So I would like them to just go in and bomb. But I know the rest of the world will be against that. I see no way out."

In poli sci class

Just days ago, another student packed his bags for the Gulf.

War has suddenly turned real to the 1,200-some students on the quiet campus of Western Maryland College in Westminster, whose young lives have been spent, for the most part, in peacetime.

But now, frat brothers and friends and classmates and recent graduates are becoming "activated."

"It's a scary thought," said Kristine Meislohn, a 20-year-old student from New Jersey. "To know that if this escalates any more, people we know might die."

But she, and several other students interviewed during a recent class on political thought, said they would support a war in the Gulf even though they find it hard to define what America would be fighting for.

"I guess we'd be fighting for the price of oil," said Mark Ryan, 21, of Bel Air. "And also, it'd be [because Hussein is] like Hitler -- you can't appease him."

Some of the students had ideas about what should or would happen next.

"You can't wait there forever," said David Kleb, a 21-year-old student from Pennsylvania. "Morale will start going down, and we only have so much money to keep troops there."

Tom Quirk, 21, of Arnold, however, said he believes war should be considered only "as a last resort."

Their professor, Robert J. Weber, comes at the subject from a different perspective given his age and experience; at 53, he sees negotiation rather than war as the solution.

"They don't know what a body bag is," he says of his young students. "They're caught up in all the hoopla of being over there."

At the gas pump

Watching the numbers fly by on the pump, knowing that they're moving much faster than they did four months ago, Carol Lindsley feels frustrated at what she doesn't know.

"My feeling is that we have so little information provided to us, we operate in a vacuum," Ms. Lindsley, a graphic designer, said last week as she filled her gas tank at the Crown station at Falls Road and Cold Spring Lane. "We don't know what's going on, all we know is what it means in terms of oil prices."

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