Fears about war high in school in Mfume district WAR IN THE GULF

January 30, 1991|By Tom Bowman

Hours before the first bombs fell on Baghdad, Iraq, Tanika Saunders, a seventh-grade student at the William H. Lemmel Middle School, picked up her pen. The neat script captured the innocence of youth and the belief that a war could somehow be averted.

"My friends keep saying Tanika give up hope, there is going to be a war. They also say someone is going to die, quite a few," she wrote in a Jan. 16 essay taped to a wall on the school's long, cinder block hallway.

"They really scare me because my uncle and cousin are overseas. . . . But I am not going to give up hope."

Other students echoed these feelings on lined paper, beneath the bold black letters, "NO WARS." A world map was hanging alongside, bordered with two day-glo patches bearing the words of the day: "Iraq" and "Kuwait."

"Some of the children have more than one relative" in the Persian Gulf region, said Lynn Dorsey, a counselor at this predominantly black school, where group counseling sessions are slated to begin this week. "I was really surprised at the numbers."

In one class of about 35 students, she said, 18 had family members among the forces in the gulf.

"I've had some [students] come in crying," added Mrs. Dorsey, who said the youngsters were likely mirroring the behavior they witnessed at home.

Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th, after a father-and-son breakfast at the school Monday, said these same fears were widespread throughout his district since war erupted two weeks ago.

"I have not found much support among black residents of my district for the war," the congressman said. "They support the troops, but they don't support the war."

National polls show a dramatic difference between blacks and whites over the war. A USA Today poll published Jan. 21 showed that 83 percent of whites -- but only 43 percent of blacks -- supported the president's decision to attack Iraq.

Twenty-one percent of blacks were angered by protests against the war, compared with 56 percent of whites, the poll by USA Today found.

The Baltimore Democrat, one of 183 lawmakers who backed economic sanctions over military action in the House vote that authorized President Bush to use force, said such sentiment had led him to think a cease-fire in the gulf war should be considered.

"I think it's time to start thinking about a cease-fire on both sides," said Mr. Mfume, who plans on raising the idea with his colleagues. "In absence of that, what we get are mounting casualties."

Throughout the 7th District, he said, parents are concerned about their children on the front lines, especially with the prospect of a land war in the coming weeks. Many of his constituents are not in U.S. planes above Iraq and Kuwait but waiting in the desert sands in Saudi Arabia.

"A lot of them know the infantry is going to bear the brunt of it," he said.

In Mr. Mfume's district -- and across the country -- there is also talk among African-Americans of unfairness. Blacks make up about 12 percent of the population but almost 30 percent of U.S. troops in the war.

"I think there are large numbers because the options are few" at home, Mr. Mfume said.

"Many would rather go to college. . . . Many have opted to go into the armed service as a way to try to get those skills."

Meanwhile, his constituents also consider it a "personal affront" that President Bush vetoed a civil rights bill but expects blacks to help liberate non-democratic Kuwait, the congressman said.

Mr. Mfume said the call for a cease-fire -- which has been espoused by Coretta Scott King -- had not been heard in Congress, although, "I'm sure there are many [lawmakers] who probably feel that way."

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