When war hits home: Bush push changing lives
It's a bright but bone-chillingly frigid Saturday as people gather to make their voices heard.
A week before this cold rally, local U.S. Army Reserve members lined up in Charlottesville for their monthly drill session, wondering if they might soon be putting their skills into practice on a Middle-East battlefield.
In the seven days leading up to the march that will follow the rally, numerous college students across Virginia, who had opted for the benefits of being "simultaneous members"– a program that offers state residency and tuition assistance to students who were also enlisted part-time in the armed services– received word it was time to leave the classroom to fulfill their military obligations.
And so today over a thousand people brave sub-freezing temperatures to congregate at the east end of the Downtown Mall to march for peace.
War is on everyone's mind.
Crowd members huddle together and try to stay warm shifting from one foot to the other, as speakers from religious groups and political organizations take the podium to encourage political leaders to turn away from an invasion of Iraq. The air fills with the thud of applauding mittens.
As the march begins, shouts go up: "Not my president, not my war. Enron's president, Exxon's war." A sea of people sweeps down the Mall. Mothers with strollers. Elderly couples with canes. High school students with placards. Black people, white people, brown people. Dreadlocks. Ski caps. Crew cuts.
Chanting "Drop Bush, not bombs," marchers momentarily flood McIntire Road before being herded back onto sidewalks by police.
A statistic floats through the crowd, repeated over and over: According to a Los Angeles Times poll, 72 percent of Americans think there is not enough evidence to justify a war with Iraq.
But does that figure accurately represent the Charlottesville area? How do local residents feel about the prospect of war? And what impact would a U.S. invasion have on lives here at home? The Hook talks to several people with a particular stake in the United States' military involvement in the Middle East to find out their thoughts.
Eric T. Allen
Following the horrors of September 11, Charlottesville native and Gulf War veteran Eric T. Allen immediately tried to re-enlist in the Marine reserves. His says his wife was "dead set against it," but Allen was determined.
"A lot of it was out of anger and feelings of patriotism," he says. "I told my wife, 'Whose mother do you want to ask to send her son? I'm already damaged goods in that area.'"
In 1991, Allen's Marine group was the first combat reserve unit activated, and he spent several months driving an amphibious assault vehicle in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, among other duties. Reflecting on his experiences, he says, "It was certainly life-altering. It changed my personality. I lost my innocence."
But he'd do it all over again if the Marines hadn't rejected him as too old at 35, pointing him toward the National Guard, where he just completed a 12-month stint.
He's convinced there's reason to go to war against Saddam Hussein. "The evidence is overwhelming that he has weapons of mass destruction," he says. "He could be worse than Hitler."
Allen, who owns Valley Publishing Corporation, says he believes that a unilateral invasion may be necessary because "I don't have a lot of faith in the U.N."
He does have confidence in the Bush administration, though. "I don't think we could have a better group doing it as far as experience. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell– all you need is Schwarzkopf, and you've got the whole team."
Although he suspects a war would entail "surprisingly high" Iraqi civilian casualties, in his opinion the time to act is now. "I think the longer we wait, the worse it will get."
Allen trusts President Bush's wartime agenda. "I think oil's probably a factor in it," he says, "but I don't think it's the factor. I think it's national security."
Israeli Elie Avidor describes how during the Gulf War his niece in Tel Aviv experienced firsthand the effects of Iraq's scud missiles– crouching in a protected room, throwing up inside her gas mask.
"This time she's bought tickets to leave," he says. "She knows from her previous experience that she doesn't want to go through this with her kids."
Nevertheless, Avidor, who grew up in Haifa, says that when he was in Israel for two weeks in early January, concern about a U.S. war with Iraq was overshadowed by attention to the upcoming elections and Hezbollah bombings. "And to tell you the truth, being in Israel, there is way less demonizing," he says. "They don't sit around and demonize Hussein on the news. They don't need to justify anything."
He adds, "In Israel the concern is whether they should retaliate if they're attacked."
Although the 53-year-old Avidor, who's lived in Charlottesville for four years, disagrees with "some Americans who think we should sit still until we're bombed by someone," he believes, "Bush and the U.N. need to try the most before going to war... They should explore everything, and if nothing works, I think they should try anything before going for an all-out war and bombing."
Asked if he thinks a war is inevitable, he replies, "It's more like I don't want to lose hope."
The University of Maryland doctoral candidate's mother and brother remain in Israel, and he says the consequences of a war with Iraq for his immediate family are hard to predict. "It depends to what extent Israel is involved in the war. It depends on whether the super-fanatic Muslims get frustrated and expand their activities in the U.S. Then it would affect my daily life."
In the meantime, Avidor urges people to seek out foreign news sources and "to listen to Muslims who live here to hear what they say, how they feel."
When Stanardsville residents Butch and Astrid Bailey learned in early January that their only son, Gabe, a U.S. Marine stationed in California, was scheduled to ship out to Kuwait on January 18, Butch decided to visit Gabe before he deployed. He arrived to find Gabe sorting through gear spread all over the living room.
"He was getting pushed for time, and I was helping him," his dad recalls. "And he was explaining all the things he had– the K-Bar [a knife designed for hand-to-hand combat] was the worst– and the vacuum-sealed chemical suit and his Kevlar vest. He wanted me to try it on. These things made it more real than I wanted it to be. And because it was my own son..."
His voice drifts off.
But on the Saturday of the march, Gabe received word his deployment was on hold. It's been day to day ever since, with Bailey and his wife anxiously waiting on pins and needles.
"I don't know if people who aren't in this situation can really understand that," Bailey says. "They can sympathize, but they can't empathize.
"When I was sitting in that room with Gabe getting ready," he says somberly, "I had the most profound sense of dread I've ever experienced."
Although the 53-year-old Bailey, a Greene County schoolteacher, dodged the draft during the Vietnam War, he claims he's not a total pacifist. "I do believe there are just causes that would require going to war. But for the most part, and specifically in this case, there are other options," he says.
And he points out, "There's no guarantee that if we have a war with Iraq it will result in peace and freedom.
"If President Bush's daughters were both enlisted in the Marines," Bailey theorizes, "and they were squared away, ready to be sent to Kuwait, I think he would be much more expansive about what the options are."
For now, though, Bailey waits apprehensively for word of Gabe's deployment. "I am worried about how it's going to feel when he's gone. I mean, this is bad, but how's it going to feel then?" he asks. "There's that sense of being out of control."
Self-described "head schlepper" at Sun Bow Trading Company, 64-year-old Saul Barodofsky wears a tie emblazoned with American flags as he pets the head of his Great Mastiff, Dominick. Barodofsky has made over 100 trips along the Silk Road to buy textiles for his store on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall. He's no fan of Saddam Hussein and says he thinks it's just a matter of time before Hussein takes aggressive action against the rest of the world. But he's troubled by the question of whether the U.S. should go to war with Iraq.
"I don't think it's a matter of 'should.' There are a couple of problems involved in answering the question," he says. "Number one, we're not talking about going to war with Mother Teresa. Number two, we have not seen such governmental secrecy since the Vietnam War. So we really have no idea of what is going on."
As a citizen, he doesn't like the level of subterfuge he detects in the current administration. "I think the government's big mistake is not keeping the American public really informed about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how they are doing it," says Barodofsky.
Although he advocates the removal of Saddam Hussein ("This is a really bad man."), he's convinced Bush has another motive for invading Iraq. "We know this is all about oil," he says. "And it's not just about oil; it's about cheap energy so we can keep our businesses going."
Barodofsky's not overly concerned that a war with Iraq would have a negative impact on his own business. He points out that during the Gulf War he traveled to Turkey eight times, receiving upgrades and extras thanks to the lack of travelers. "I wouldn't say it benefited me," he cautions. "What I did was I took advantage of a situation."
Does Barodofsky believe a war with Iraq is inevitable? "Not like death and taxes," he says.
Staff Sergeant Jacke Brown's former Army unit in Atlanta, represented by a black puma on the sleeve of her camouflage fatigues, deployed to Kuwait shortly after her transfer to Charlottesville.
"If I had stayed," she says, "I would have deployed with people I'd known." Instead, she's handling personnel records at the U.S. Army Reserve Center on Cherry Avenue, a post she took over January 5.
Brown has spent her career in the Army. After serving in a reserve unit for seven years, she decided to enlist full-time in 1989. She's done stints in Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., and Spain. During the Gulf War, she was stationed at the mobilization station in Fort Benning, Georgia. Now, at age 43, she has only three years to go until she retires.
She finds nothing unusual about the current escalation in military activity, pointing out, "We're trained to do this 365 days a year." Brown, however, does not support a war with Iraq.
"No," she says, "and that's being honest." Bush's motivation for war is unclear to her, but Brown offers with a shrug, "It seems to be about what Iraq is hiding."
"If there's a way to solve the problem other than war... you have to consider the youthfulness of the Army," she explains, adding it's not a question of U.S. soldiers' being well prepared– they are– it's a matter of putting them at risk. "Even the president, he has daughters. He doesn't have sons. You've got people who are sending their only sons."
Asked if she thinks a U.S. invasion of Iraq is inevitable, she answers with a sad smile, "Oh, yes... They wouldn't be sending so many soldiers, if something wasn't going to happen."
Brown is particularly worried about the safety of her old unit because they're specialists in decontamination and creating smoke screens, which will place them in the thick of combat.
"Hopefully, by some fluke," she sighs, "it may not happen."
Helena Cobban's desk is stacked with books and articles covered with sticky-notes. In addition to being a global affairs columnist for The Christian Science Monitor and Al-Hayat, a London-based pan-Arabic newspaper, she serves as a fellow at UVA's Institute for Practical Ethics and sits on the Middle East advisory committee for Human Rights Watch. Cobban's familiarity with the horrors of war, however, is far from scholarly.
"I probably have experienced war at what you'd crudely call the ground-zero level more than most in the mainstream media," she says, explaining that she lived through six years of war in Lebanon while married to a Lebanese national and trying to raise their two children. Now 53, Cobban points out that today most wartime journalists are flown in and put up in international hotels. "They're not worrying in a visceral way about their children when a bomb goes off."
She says, "I had several friends killed during the war," and recalls a woman in her Beirut apartment building who died from a stray bullet while doing the dishes. About her years in Lebanon, she says, "What I took from that is war is unhealthy for women and children."
Cobban adamantly opposes a U.S. war with Iraq. "I wouldn't support it even if the U.N. said go," she says.
"I think people in this country altogether have been so blessed by not having, from 1812 to September 11, to suffer an attack on the homeland," says Cobban, who was born and educated in England. "It takes a leap of imagination to understand what a sustained attack would mean for people living in Iraq."
Although she thinks the U.S. should accept some responsibility for Hussein's despotism since it supported him during the Iran-Iraq war, she rejects any unilateral action to depose him, noting, "That's true rogue nation behavior."
Regarding Bush's current push toward military conflict, Cobban says, "Until the last moment, he can always call it off. And if he does, he'll find a great many people willing to help him 'come down from the tree.'"
Sitting at a table in the offices of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Susan Donovan explains that she got involved with resettling refugees because she felt helpless to effect political change. She thought if she couldn't alter the course of action, at least she could assist with the consequences.
"My role is to clean up," she says, "to plan for the disaster and clean up after it."
Her reaction to the possibility of war with Iraq is complicated, Donovan explains. "There are two of me. There's me, and there's the director of the IRC. As director of the IRC, I'm not political; I'm concerned about the role an invasion would have on refugees.
"For me, it's different. I've studied foreign affairs. I believe in the United Nations. I believe in global responses to problems like Saddam Hussein. I'm concerned about our response being unilateral."
Although she objects to a war with Iraq, if the U.S. moves forward with an attack, she says the IRC would be involved within 48 hours.
"Clearly, an invasion of Iraq would create a refugee crisis. There are no relief agencies in Iraq right now who can prepare for this," says Donovan, 44. "And there haven't been for 10 years because of the sanctions."
She points out there are 5,000 refugees remaining to be resettled from the last Gulf War. And September 11 resulted in the U.S.'s curtailing its commitments to take in people currently awaiting asylum. Donovan says that before the terrorist attacks, the U.S. was slated to bring in 70,000 refugees during the 2002 fiscal year, but following the calamity, it accepted only 27,000.
Looking ahead to the potential consequences of a U.S.-Iraq war, she laments, "It's an unfortunate situation where we may be creating refugees and then not offering any solution to that.
"We're founded by refugees, and we're founded with this value of providing safe haven," says the 12-year Charlottesville resident. "If we break away from our commitment, we don't provide leadership."
A Palestinian who grew up in Kuwait, Alan Doukan originally came to the U.S. in 1985 to attend college in Norfolk. Following graduation, he roamed from coast to coast ("I've lived all over") before settling in Charlottesville in 1994. Now a U.S. citizen with the heart of an entrepreneur, Doukan, 36, recently sold the Estes IGA on Cherry Avenue, the latest in a string of businesses he's owned in town.
Shocked and hurt by the events of September 11, like every American, Doukan says his neighbors offered him nothing but kindness in the aftermath. "I had no problem. I even had more support," he recalls. "A lot of people came to the store and offered to give us a place to spend the night."
Although he's concerned about terrorism, Doukan doesn't think Saddam Hussein is a threat to the United States. He's against an invasion of Iraq "because it's not a war to bring democracy. It's an oil war." He continues, "I want our government to use the same standard it used with China and Kuwait, where human rights are the main interest and economics second."
He thinks Bush should allow the United Nations to pursue a diplomatic solution ("Listening is a big problem we have. We need to listen") and instead turn his attention to addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. "If that problem was solved," Doukan says, "then most of the havoc in the Middle East would be solved."
Nevertheless, he fears the Bush administration is committed to walking down the warpath. "I think it's happening. Our economy sucks, and our government needs something to make people get busy."
But in Doukan's opinion, an invasion of Iraq will only serve to bolster anti-American sentiment among Middle Eastern people and spur terrorism. "A long time ago when we were kids, I remember the normal person loved America, and the government hated it," he says. "Now it's the opposite."
Shaharya Khan is the quintessential all-American: the son of Pakistani parents who moved to Manassas when he was four, he came to UVA as a Jefferson Scholar, studied governmental pragmatism, and then went on to graduate school in UVA's M.D./Ph.D. program.
"I've never gotten a ticket– parking violations excluded. I've never gotten into any trouble," he says. "I've always been involved and felt like a good citizen."
Yet the day after September 11, a policeman driving by stopped and confronted Khan as he was walking to his lab. The cop asked for his student I.D., driver's license, and passport. When Khan explained he didn't carry his U.S. passport around with him, the policeman barraged him with questions, writing down all his answers.
Khan was in shock. "It was after so much effort at contributing to society, those very people you hope would appreciate that... it's devastating," he says, reflecting on the incident. "It further undermines my sense of membership in society.
"The thing is I consider myself lucky," he continues. "I wasn't arrested. I wasn't denied legal counsel. I didn't have my life taken away like some people."
Khan no longer takes his rights for granted. "As American citizens, we have a responsibility to use our voice," he says, "and I believe because my voice matters, I can say, 'We should not go to war.'"
With a brother who's a lieutenant in the Army, Khan, 27, appreciates the commitment of the military. "I understand the sacrifice that he makes. I also understand, quite frankly, the way I understand world events, that Iraq is not a threat to us."
Khan wishes people in the U.S. would recognize that it's only by sheer luck they're not Iraqi citizens facing a destructive war. "It could be my brother, my father, my mother underneath those bombs," he says, "except for an accident of circumstance."
Although Saddam Hussein may be a despot, Khan says, "His death does not justify their deaths."
When Alan Farrell was 20 years old, he was living the gruesome Vietnam War reality that Larry Burrows' famous Life magazine photos graphically brought home to Americans. Fighting as a Green Beret in Laos, Farrell became intimate with war's high price.
"We were losing something like 300 guys a week," he recalls.
Today, at age 53, Farrell is a French professor teaching 20-year-olds at Virginia Military Institute. Over the past month, he's noticed desks emptying in his classes as students are called up for service.
"Once you've joined a unit, there is no educational dispensation," he says. "When they say go, you go."
He recently received a letter from a student now stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who said he felt "cheated" by not being sent to Kuwait. Farrell knows all too well the restlessness that often accompanies being a soldier, but he's also familiar with other aspects he'd rather spare his students. "They don't know what the scream of a guy who just lost his eyes is like.
"I think the most terrifying thing for me is when a student comes and says, 'I want to be a soldier like you,'" he remarks. "But, of course, I'm enormously proud of them, too."
Farrell supports a war with Iraq, stating flatly, "I don't have much faith in diplomacy." Regarding Saddam Hussein, he says, "The guy is a threat in any number of ways.
"It's certainly our responsibility to protect ourselves," he continues, "and in protecting ourselves, I don't much care who gets hurt." In Farrell's opinion, "The collateral damage is worth it."
Asked about the Los Angeles Times poll that claims that 72 percent of Americans think there's not enough evidence to justify a war with Iraq, Farrell responds, "I'm not sure the polls are the people." He adds, "When the voters elected Bush, if they couldn't predict how that guy would respond to certain situations, then shame on 'em."
Farrell thinks a war is probable, given how many U.S. troops have been deployed.
"I guess it would affect me personally in the number of students involved," he reflects. "My students from 30 years ago will be leading, and my students from last year will be over there as regular soldiers.
"I can just say, as a schoolteacher, I don't want my boys to go off to war. But I urge them to do the right thing," he concludes.