Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, faced a reflection of the nation's division over whether to go to war in the Persian Gulf last night when he met with constituents at a town meeting in Arnold.
In a meeting where the tension was clear as tonight's deadline approached for Iraq to leave Kuwait or face war, some called Mr. McMillen a "disgrace" for backing the use of military force in his vote in Congress last weekend. Others praised him for supporting President Bush, one man declaring "I salute you."
During the spirited, two-hour town meeting that drew more than 125 residents to Anne Arundel Community College, Mr. McMillen at times shouted to defend his vote last week -- with the majority of Congress -- that would allow the president to use military force to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Dick VandenHeuvel, 63, of Annapolis twice interrupted the meeting when he held aloft a small cardboard sign reading "No War."
"Put the sign down!" shouted several in the audience. The crowd included men in their Veterans of Foreign Wars caps, young people with children, students and middle-aged couples. Both sides shouted at each other and at the congressman.
"You've postured all along," Claude Schrift, 45, of Annapolis told the congressman as he stood on stage at the school's arts center. "How can you send one child into harm's way?"
Mr. Schrift, whose 20-year-old son Rodney is serving with the Army in the gulf region, called the congressman's vote a "disgrace" and criticized him for holding a forum after Saturday's congressional vote.
"I object to you impugning my intentions for making the decision I did," said Mr. McMillen, his voice rising, as he was greeted by a smattering of applause.
The Crofton Democrat said he supported the president because he believed sanctions against Iraq would not work and because of the severe economic cost to the world of continued waiting. The U.S.-led coalition facing Iraq would have to take a stand, he said, against Saddam Hussein, who has ignored repeated diplomatic initiatives and savaged the Kuwaiti people.
"We're talking about a brutal dictator," he said.
"I salute you for the stand you've taken," said Grant E. Acker, 66, a World War II veteran from Glen Burnie, whose 18-year-old grandson Allen is serving with the Navy in the gulf. "There's not a person here who wants war. But you've got to take a stand."
"I praise your vote. We stand behind you," said Don Shallcross, a 46-year-old Vietnam veteran from Glen Burnie. Four of his 10 children are in the gulf. He urged Mr. McMillen to support the troops. "I don't want to see them hung out to dry like we were in Nam."
Yet some questioned the toll on Iraqi civilians, and others wondered whether a draft would be reintroduced. John Moynihan, 54, of Annapolis, wondered what would happen in the Middle East region in the wake of a war. "I believe there will be a peacekeeping force for Kuwait for some time," the congressman said.