March 27, 2003
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About 40 local residents gathered downtown at dusk last Thursday, March 20, for a candlelight vigil to protest the start of the war on Iraq. Among those who participated in the vigil were Amy Scott and Bill Houston.

Photo by Robert Mihalek

Respondents oppose U.S.-led attack on Iraq—

Local residents react to Iraqi war

It was a beautiful warm day Sunday, and downtown Yellow Springs hummed with life — kids hanging out in front of Tom’s Market and Current Cuisine, villagers in their summer clothes chatting and licking ice cream cones, tourists galore. On one of the first warm weekends following a long, cold winter, folks seemed to be carefree, enjoying the warmth and sun.

It looked like a typical early spring day, but it was not. Thousands of miles away, the United States government was dropping bombs on Iraq, and, when asked if the war affected their lives, about 30 local residents quickly shifted gears from their first-day-of-spring mode and described themselves as angry, depressed or anxious.

“I’m very disturbed by it,” said Muriel Meray, local business owner and artist. “It’s springtime and I feel there’s a cloud over the spring. It’s the war.”

Meray, like almost all of the people who responded to this informal survey, opposes the American-led war. Specifically, she said, she views the war as immoral, and feels troubled that “I know people are suffering, especially women and children.”

Most people surveyed don’t know anyone serving in the war, and quickly acknowledged that the war doesn’t affect their lives in obvious ways. Many said that watching the war on TV seems a surreal experience, a fire-and-lights reality show. But the majority described a keen distress at the government’s actions, and an uncomfortable powerlessness.

“I feel a sense of melancholy,” said Andy Carlson. The associate dean of Capitol University’s College of Arts and Sciences, Carlson said he organized a series of discussions around the issue at school, since it’s “a learning opportunity for faculty as well as for students.” Although he is not a pacifist, Carlson said he doesn’t agree with the Bush administration’s rationale for the action.

Normally an optimistic person, Mark Crockett, a member of the Miami Township Board of Trustees and a local business owner, said the war has made him “feel pessimistic about the future.”

“I oppose the war totally, from an economic, social and moral perspective, on all levels,” he said.

“Anxiety and great prayerfulness” are the responses cited by Martha Worrell, who expressed her fear that the war will “destabilize rather than stabilize the world. I have a fear of terrorist attacks.” To keep her 10-year-old son from being overwhelmed by the conflict, Worrell said, she limits the amount of TV he can watch. She also encourages him to use cooperative behavior.

“I tell him that peace begins within,” she said.

Rosemary Bailey, a speech therapist, described feeling affected emotionally “on a continual basis” since the war began last week. Specifically, she feels angry and while she stays away from TV and radio because they inflame her anger, Bailey said she still feels disturbed by what she sees as President Bush’s manipulation of the American public, especially his repeated linking of Saddam Hussein with the Sept. 11 tragedy. “There was never a direct connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda,” she said.

“I consider this war an act of terrorism,” she said. “I feel a lot of anger toward Bush and anger that those who oppose the war are considered unpatriotic. I believe Saddam is an evil man, but is inflicting terrorism on Baghdad the right way to deal with him?”

Charles Funderburk, who teaches political science at Wright State University, worries about the Iraqi war as a shift in U.S. foreign policy.

“I’m concerned that the Bush administration sees the war as a first of several steps toward remaking the Middle East in America’s image,” he said. “It has a vaguely familiar and disturbing ring, like Vietnam.”

Victor Ayoub, retired professor of anthropology at Antioch College, traveled to Iraq several times and lived in Jordan for five years during the early 1990s. His opinion of this war is shaped by those experiences, Ayoub said.

“I know the anxiety people in Jordan felt over the first Gulf War, and I feel a terrible sense of frustration on their behalf,” said Ayoub. He said he also feels betrayed by the Bush administration because “the U.S. government has lied. In a democracy, that shouldn’t be.”

Many said they were concerned for the safety of American troops.

“I’m not happy about it. Knowing that there are young kids put in peril bothers me considerably,” said Chuck Buster, who is the father of two sons.

Jeff Simons, who taught Marines when he lived in Japan 12 years ago, finds himself thinking often of his former students.

“The people fighting are just kids,” he said. “I wish them well and hope they come home safely.”

Along with concern for the American troops, many villagers cited their concern for the Iraqi people.

“I worry about the millions of Iraqis who will be feeling pain,” said high school student Gwen Glowaski, who said she doesn’t want her government to “create more pain in the world.”

Some villagers find themselves drawn to their television to keep up with war developments. “Not getting enough sleep” is the main effect cited by Laura McNabb, a Tom’s Market employee who said her family has been watching the tube around the clock.

“You get glued,” she said. “The kids had the TV on all night.”

But others, like Jerry Buck, a retired library administrator, who sees the war as “crazy,” registers his protest by boycotting television.

“I don’t understand the fascination of watching a war on TV,” he said.

Eric Weikart’s work with children has colored his response to the war, he said. The director of Mills Lawn’s After School Program, Weikart, who strongly opposes the action, wondered, “How do I explain the war to the children?” He said he sees children in his program working out their anxieties through play.

“I have two 11-year-olds who go on Special Forces missions every day,” he said. “That’s how kids work things out.”

Contact with young people has also affected the response of Yellow Springs High School music teacher Yvonne Wingard, who described herself as “uneasy.”

“I’m worried about what might happen,” she said. In choir class last Thursday, the day after the war began, she and her students spent much of the period talking about the war, Wingard said, because “the kids are so unsettled.”

High school students hanging out downtown Sunday afternoon said that the increased noise of jets overhead has brought the war home to them.

“I’m sometimes scared for my life,” said YSHS sophomore Kyle Truitt. “I worry about terrorism.”

But the Iraq war most often has an unreal quality, said Joey Lurie, a YSHS freshman, who described himself as “extremely opposed” to the action. “If I don’t watch TV, then it doesn’t exist,” he said.

Darcy Hennessy, another YSHS student, feels confused about how to react to the war. “I feel lucky because I know even though there are people dying, my community will be safe,” she said. “But I feel I should be doing something to oppose it.”

A man who has spent his career working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and who asked not to be named, said that he has mixed feelings about the war.

“I struggle with it. I work for the military,” he said. “But I don’t believe war is the right thing to do.”

European-born villagers who lived through World War II find the Iraqi war brings up powerful and disturbing memories.

“It reminds me of fleeing the Germans,” said Andrée Bognár, who was 10 years old when her family, on bicycles, fled the advancing Germans in Belgium.

“It brings back memories, first of fleeing the danger, then of finding shelter,” she said. “I pray for peace.”

Luisa Owen, who grew up in Yugoslavia during World War II and recently published a memoir of her childhood called Casualties of War, finds the Iraqi war “very disturbing.”

Especially, she said, she’s disturbed by how the government and media present the war, talking about “gains and losses,” rather than casualties, and “only about our side, as if the rest of the people aren’t people.”

“It makes it all a lie,” she said.

Because today’s Americans have never experienced war on U.S. soil, they seem sometimes to view it “as a game on TV, and those reality shows don’t help,” she said. “It reduces the dignity of the human spirit.”

—Diane Chiddister