HIS SON IS a Navy corpsman, stationed in Saudi Arabia since August. He does not want to give his name because the war has divided his family, and he fears publicity may sharpen the differences.
Earlier this month, his daughter-in-law opened a newspaper and found a picture of him at a Washington protest against war in the Persian Gulf. He was carrying a placard bearing his son's photograph, and was quoted as saying, "My son is in the Navy, in Saudi Arabia, and I don't want anything to happen to him."
"My daughter-in-law hit the ceiling . . .," the Baltimorean says. "I got upset. I said, I did this because I felt it was right. Frankly, I blew up a little bit under the stress. I'm not a political person usually. When your family's involved, you learn fast. I hope it can be ironed out. This is my big hope, to say, 'Hey, we blew our cool, it's over now.'"
The Persian Gulf offensive defies generational stereotypes about who favors and who opposes war, and who occupies the vast gray area in between, where opinions are fluid and ambiguous. It is also a war destined to create conflicting loyalties within families, where parents, proud and supportive of their children, may harbor strong misgivings about the war their children have been sent to fight.
The corpsman's father served in the Pacific, where he witnessed the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In a different way, the Vietnam War also hit close to home. "I was an English teacher in Baltimore city for 20 years," he says. "I saw my own students go to Vietnam. I got letters and then I stopped getting letters. I can only conclude they didn't come back.
"With millions of Americans, I watched nightly napalm bombings, jet duels and 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam. And then finally, I got off my chair and went to Washington and demonstrated against the war to bring it to a close, and I was right, and so were millions out there."
Now that the Persian Gulf war has begun, the father has modified his own offensive against the war. "I did accept the mandate of the Congress and I desisted," he says. "I didn't demonstrate any more. I have now taken up the position that we have to support the armed forces, to save their lives . . . that doesn't mean supporting the war, but once a decision is made, we've got to support the men and women over there."
This position "is one that is awfully hard to live with," the father says. "I feel somewhat like a hypocrite or a fence straddler. It's not my nature. It's a very uncomfortable and almost desperate xTC situation to be in."
In letters to his son, the 63-year-old father "has not gone into detail on demonstrations. I don't want to do anything that would confuse him. I told him I do support him . . . He's got to do what must be done. If I could do it, I would do it. Send him home and let him live and let old men in pinstriped suits go out there with their M-16s."
Frances Jolley's long spiritual journey has led her to hate war, but to accept its inevitable occurrence, according to the Bible. Now that her 26-year-old son, Raymond, is stationed in the Persian Gulf -- he too is a hospital corpsman -- her convictions and faith are being put to the test in the most intimate of ways.
"I think we must think peace at all costs, that's the basis of my problem with war," says Jolley, 50, the principal of Dunbar Middle School and an associate pastor at Brown Memorial Baptist Church. "At the same time, if indeed the Scriptures say there will be diverse earthquakes and pestilence and hunger, then it is a given . . . only an omniscient god who is sovereign can answer to why these things must be."
And if her son is harmed or killed in the war? "Even if I have to reap that unbearable wheat, I still have hope . . . we must in our faith believe that whether they live or die, they belong to the Lord. We're [merely] stewards over our children," Jolley says.
Over the years, Bill Alli, a machine gunner on the central front in Korea, former Foreign Service officer, one-time hawk and father of two Marines in the Persian Gulf, has undergone a political sea change. As he has broadened his understanding of world cultures and languages, Alli, 59, has come to regret his support ++ of the Vietnam War and to understand that there is a better way than war to solve world conflicts.
"Now that communism has imploded and the big problems of a global nature are coming to the fore -- the environment, including pollution of all sorts, the problems of the ozone layer, homelessness, poverty, global AIDS problems -- I believe that now we need a new vision of humanity," Alli says.
To that end, Alli, as a member of the national Military Family Support Network -- an anti-war group formed in response to a letter to President Bush from the father of a Marine -- worked to give sanctions a chance in Iraq.