Sunday, October 06, 2002

'Heart of America' full of questions


Cincinnatians express concerns about war plans

By Howard Wilkinson hwilkinson@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati will be the venue for President Bush's message Monday night on Iraq, his aides say, because it represents the “heartland of America.” But the hearts of many of those “heartland Americans” the president hopes to reach with his speech at the Cincinnati Museum Center are full of questions, even among those who want to support Mr. Bush and his plan for military action against the regime of Saddam Hussein.

        “I don't know; it is kind of scary,” said Bob Minning of Delhi Township, as he and his wife, Bonnie, waited for their lunch order Saturday at Price Hill Chili.

BUSH VISIT
  • When: 8 p.m. Monday.
  • Where: Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal.
  • Audience: By invitation only.
  • On TV: Local TV stations WCPO-TV (Channel 9), WKRC-TV (Channel 12), WXIX-TV (Channel 19) have committed to airing the speech. WLWT-TV (Channel 5) expects to carry the speech.
        “The other countries around the world are saying, "no,' so you have to wonder why we are pushing the idea of attacking Iraq,” the U.S. Navy veteran said. “Still, I don't want it to be like Pearl Harbor, where we wait around until somebody attacks us.”

        The 8 p.m. speech is being billed as the president's explanation to the American people on why he believes the country should go to war if necessary to enforce United Nations resolutions and prevent Saddam from passing weapons of mass destruction on to terrorists who might take aim on America.

        Saturday at the popular Price Hill eatery, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, the West Side Republican who is on record as supporting military action against Iraq, walked among the booths at noon, shaking hands with patrons and asking them what they thought about the prospect of war in Iraq.

        “I understand your concern,” Mr. Chabot told the Minnings as the server brought their drinks, “but I really believe that unless we do something to stop him now, Saddam Hussein will do something to harm this country. I really believe that.”

        Mrs. Minning said that, while she did not vote for Mr. Bush in 2000, the president has “surprised” her with his leadership.

        “He's done really well,” she said. “What he is talking about now, though, is scary. I feel very sorry for him for the decision he has to make.”

        Nearby, Martin and Dorothy Schloss of Westwood invited Mr. Chabot to join them at their table.

        “The fact that so many of our allies don't want to get involved in this 1/2ndash 3/4 that worries me,” Mrs. Schloss said. “Yes, Saddam Hussein is horrible. Does that mean we attack first? I don't know. It is a very difficult thing to know what to do.”

        Mrs. Schloss said that she will be listening very closely to what President Bush has to say “to see if I hear any of these questions answered. I hope I do.”

        While Mr. Chabot was campaigning in Price Hill, his fellow Republican, U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, was across town in Norwood, getting a haircut and going to his son's soccer game.

        “I was sitting in the barber chair this morning and the barber was saying that he doesn't think anybody wants to go to war, but that most people would be willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt,” said Mr. Portman, who, like Mr. Chabot, is supporting a congressional resolution that would give Mr. Bush broad powers to wage war on Iraq.

        “People do not trust Saddam Hussein,” Mr. Portman said.

        The president, Mr. Portman said, is coming here because “people here support him and will give him a fair hearing.”

        “Any big city in America is going to have people who see things differently and might protest in the streets,” said Mr. Portman. “But I don't think he is going to see much of that here. President Bush feels comfortable here. It is a city that is reflective of the heartland.”

        But it is not a city that is without strong opposition to war in Iraq.

        Monday, the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Over-the-Rhine hopes that the protest crowd it gathers at Laurel Park in the West End is at least as large as the crowd of 700 invited guests who will hear the president's speech at Union Terminal.

        “It will be a peaceful protest,” said Sister Alice Gerdeman, the center's coordinator. “I'm sure there will be some chanting. which is a little bit noisy.”

        Sister Gerdeman said the protest is necessary to show the president and the rest of the world that, in Cincinnati, “not everyone believes war is the answer.”

        “I have no doubt that there are much better leaders in the world than Saddam Hussein and that his is an oppressive regime, but it is not the only one in this world,” she said.

        “We do not have the right to go around changing regimes in other nations.”

        For the Rev. Rousseau O'Neal, pastor of the Rockdale Baptist Church in Avondale, the question of whether or not this nation should go to war in Iraq is one that should be resolved “prayerfully,” first by the president and by the people.

        “President Bush has to search his own soul to make sure that he is doing this for all the right reasons,” said the Rev. Mr. O'Neal.

        For some in the Tristate, the question is a very personal one because they have fought in wars themselves.

        Fifty-two years ago, Jesse Willingham of Deer Park was a 20-year-old Army machine gunner fighting for his country in Korea. At a fierce battle at the Chongjin Reservoir, Mr. Willingham won his Purple Heart when he took a machine gun bullet in the leg.

        But, he said, one of his most vivid memories of combat was seeing the bodies of innocent Korean children on the sides of roads, children who had been caught in the crossfire of war.

        Today, he cringes when he thinks of his country going to war again.

        “If Saddam is really building up an arsenal that threatens us, then I say go ahead and take him out,” Mr. Willingham said. “But if there is a way to avoid war, then we have to find it for the innocent kids who will die.”



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