Protests, pall greet news of war Cloud of disbelief hangs over D.C. WAR IN THE GULF

January 17, 1991|By Tom Bowman and Susan Baer | Tom Bowman and Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- As the bombs dropped in Baghdad, several dozen demonstrators at Lafayette Park dusted off a chant that had been used against President Lyndon B. Johnson during the Vietnam War.

"Hey, George Bush, what do you say? How many kids have you killed today?"

"War criminal!" screamed Karin Cartright, 48, who lives in the park. "Shame on you," yelled several others at the White House, illuminated with lights, its wide lawn rimmed with police officers.

The demonstrators, many of whom have protested at the park since the U.N. deadline on Tuesday, gathered in a circle and prayed. Then they began another chant, "Thou shalt not kill!"

Later, when they noticed some upstairs lights in the White House go off, they changed their refrain to "Wake up, George, wake up, George," and punctuated it with a steady drumbeat.

Office workers stood in the park and stared blankly at the White House, while some stood back from the crowd and softly cried. And still others gathered around a radio in the soft rain, listening to the eyewitness accounts from the Persian Gulf.

"Terror. I can't believe we're actually doing this," said Sarah Manning, 21, an administrative assistant, her voice shaking.

"I don't want people to die," said Shaye Diveley, 19, a freshman at George Washington University, her eyes filled with tears. "I can't believe this could actually be happening."

But others who stood in the park said they were behind the action.

"I happen to support the president," said Carol Joslin, 28, of Los Angeles, in town for a job interview. "The way things have been going for the past week, he had no choice."

"I think it's time we stand behind the president," said Billy Rawl, 22, an intern with Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C. "We'll win this conflict."

At bars, patrons were fixed on TV sets -- at some places gathered around tiny Sony Watchman sets that regulars had been bringing in for the last few nights.

No one cheered. No one shouted. Instead, there was a wash of total quiet. "All I could think about was when John Kennedy was shot," said Jerry Carroll, a retired plastics industry manager. "It was the same kind of quiet."

NTC "People are taking it hard," said bartender Dennis Crouse. "They're switching from beer to hard liquor."

They were also gritting their teeth and sitting with hands folded solemnly in front of drinks and heads down. One Vietnam veteran wondered how he'd go home and explain these actions to his 7-year-old son.

Even with the months of buildup, there was still much disbelief.

"It doesn't seem real," said Chad Martin, a businessman from Orlando, Fla. "It seems like we're watching a docudrama. I don't think anyone has ever experienced anything like this -- the countdown, and now here are these guys with gas masks going on and off the air. It's very uncomfortable. . . . I feel very sad for the bunch of young men out there whose hearts are beating very hard."

"You look at this," says Mr. Carroll, a Korean War veteran, "and you kind of think it's not real. It may take a day or two to sink in."

Some, like Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women, just leaving a meeting at the Arab-American League when she heard the news, were incensed. "It's the stupidest thing we could have done. It's mind-boggling that we couldn't find a way to negotiate with [Saddam Hussein]."

Others backed the action and its swiftness. "I'm kind of surprised, but I'm glad," said Vietnam veteran John Conley. "If we're going to do it, let's get it over with. It's kind of like getting wisdom teeth pulled. It's no fun, but just get it done."

"I hope we blast the s - - - out them -- fast, hard and now," said Modene Gunch, a salesman.

If Washingtonians weren't united in their views, they seemed united in their serious and grave mood.

"Ominous. Very ominous," said hotel manager Dominic Romano. "I've lived in Washington for 12 years and I've never seen anything like this. May God help us all."

For Mr. Carroll, 55, the news brought back memories of wars past. "I'm probably the only one around this bar who remembers World War II. I can remember Pearl Harbor. I went through Korea. I can remember Vietnam clearly. I don't want to see anyone die. . . . But I don't want to see a megalomaniac force a situation years from now that would result in greater losses than we'll have now.

"Nobody wins a war. Nobody. I pray for the president and the decision he made. I pray he made the right decision."

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