The day after war began in the Persian Gulf, the clash of ideas broke out at Atholton High School. The small band of student peace activists learned that reaction to unpopular causes can range from juvenileto threatening.
Some students found unintended uses for the blackarmbands bearing the peace symbol handed out by Atholton Students Advocating Peace -- an organization whose membership fluctuates between15 and 30 -- during lunch break Thursday.
One boy ripped his armband nearly in half and displayed what he told his lunch table crowd was "an armband for two." Members of ASAP reported that other armbands were used as handkerchiefs or thrown to the hall floor and trampled underfoot.
Erin Shepherd, 16, a junior and ASAP member, said she was approached in the hall by a male student who tried to remove her armband. Several members of the group confirmed reports that a male student had his arm pulled and twisted in anattempt by another student to remove an armband by force.
Thursday was Junior ROTC day at Atholton, and students in uniform filed pastthe table where ASAP members offered armbands and asked students to sign petitions against the war. But the peace activists said threats were more likely from athletes than from Junior ROTC students.
No injuries or fights were reported at the school.
About 10 of the anti-war students found a more supportive atmosphere in Washington, D.C., three hours after school ended. As lights went on in the White House, Chris Grant, 15, a sophomore at AHS, leaned over the snow fence that held demonstrators back and flashed the peace sign at cars passing along Pennsylvania Avenue.
"What do we want?"
"Peace!" Chris shouted over the noise of cars and the horns blown in solidarity withthe demonstrators. The group's numbers fluctuated during the day from 25 to a high of 450 at 6 p.m., U.S. Park Police estimated.
"When do we want it?"
"You saw what happened at our school," said 17-year-old Michelle Taksui, a senior and ASAP member, referring to Thursday's events at Atholton High. "Nobody here would do that."
The demonstration Thursday night resembled events attended by some of these students' parents in the 1960s: a lone man with long gray hair dancing to his own private drumbeat; people moving through the crowd offering pumpkin-nut muffins; the old chant, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" updated to "Hey, Bush, whaddaya say . . ."
One major difference is ambivalence.
Said Chris: "I've gottoo much to deal with at home to fight for oil. I'm not against war.. . . I know Iraq was taking over Kuwait, but it's screwy to fight for peace. . . . What Bush did is very noble, but he's sending children, just 18, to die there."
William Bryant, 15, a 10th-grader, said his father understands his views. The elder Bryant, who was in the Seabees, wanted to go to Woodstock in 1969, but couldn't because his security clearance was too high.
"Kuwait should be saved and all. It's a small, helpless country invaded by Iraq, but the idea of us goingthere and people dying, that's a bad idea," said William.
How wouldhe save Kuwait? "The other countries should go. The Soviet Union hasn't done anything."
Said James Timko, 17, a senior and the only member of ASAP who identifies himself as a Republican: "I believe this war is wrong. It's not the fact that we don't want to go. All the guys in ASAP, we could be conscientious objectors, but we all said if we got drafted, we'd go."
Understanding between the majority of the 1,080 students at Atholton and the few ASAP members broke down overthe issue of support for the men and women at the front.
Members of ASAP insist they support the military personnel while opposing thewar, a distinction they say many of the students found difficult to understand.
"I walked into my English class and someone said, 'How can you not support the soldiers?' I said, 'That's totally wrong.' I do support the soldiers," said ASAP member Liz Fulda, 16, a junior.
They can't have it both ways, said Douglas Green, 16, a junior. Claiming to oppose the war while supporting the soldiers is like saying, 'I hate chocolate pudding, but I love to eat it,' " he said.
Ifthe war goes on and the draft is reinstated, Douglas said he would go. "If it gets to that point, that means American casualties would have happened and I don't like having a friend get hurt and not doing anything about it."
Adam Smith, a 15-year-old sophomore who stood with one other student against the overwhelming majority of his English class in a heated debate, also failed to convince the other students that he could support the soldiers while opposing the war.
"It was very obvious they were really (angry) at us," Adam said. "We were trying to listen to them, and it was obvious they didn't want to listen to us."
The communications gap extends to the relationship of some peace activists and their parents. Some students said their parents barred them from going to demonstrations in Washington on the ground that it was too dangerous. Others, the sons and daughters of 1960s activists, said their parents understood.
Michelle said she was getting into trouble with her parents over the demonstrations, but thatthey relented when she said she had to be there, with or without permission.
"I just don't want (this) to be in the history books 20 years from now and not be proud of what I did," she said.