Profile: Attitude among those around Kent , Ohio , about anti-war protests during the Iraq War

October 25, 2004

Word list (to be put in the spaces in the report)

yell   lives  skeptics campus discussions   undecided fighting take
criticize   anti-war unpopular   nothing fired   change all for criticism
difficult constructive   debate     critical (2) ceremony challenge


MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: And I'm Michele Norris.

There are challenges posed by this presidential election for the campaigns, for voting officials and for the media. And there's one ________________ for the whole country that we haven't faced in decades: how to debate a controversial war that's in progress. How are we doing at maintaining a civil discourse over an issue of life, death and national policy? To find some answers, our colleague Robert Siegel went to a place synonymous with the complete breakdown of civil discourse over an ________________ war of years past.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Man #1: They're ...(unintelligible) troops! There should be strike on this campus.

Crowd: (In unison) Yeah!

ROBERT SIEGEL reporting:

In the spring of 1970, President Richard Nixon expanded the Vietnam War into Cambodia . At Kent State University south of Cleveland , there were ________________ protests.

(Soundbite of vintage protest)

Unidentified Man #2: Who's first?

SIEGEL: The Ohio National Guard was called onto ________________.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Man #2: For your own safety, all you bystanders and innocent people...

SIEGEL: On May 4th, members of the Guard ________________ into a crowd of student demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine.

(Soundbite of gunfire and people yelling)

Unidentified Woman #1: They've turned their gun on me.

Unidentified Man #3: ...(Unintelligible) burn up there. Wait. Five seconds.

SIEGEL: A visit to the scene of the shooting is part of the history course that Emily Norquist and Lizell Jackson are taking this semester at Kent State .

Unidentified Woman #2: I didn't even know what it was.

Unidentified Man #4: Yeah.

Unidentified Woman #3: I've seen people walk through it.

Unidentified Woman #2: I've walked by it so many times.

Unidentified Woman #3: I feel so bad when people walk through it. Like, I want to ________________ at them.

Unidentified Woman #2: I always wondered what it was...

SIEGEL: It's a course on the Vietnam War taught by Professor Judith Bosau-Allen.

Professor JUDITH BOSAU-ALLEN ( Kent State University ): We are now standing at the May 4th Memorial at Kent State , dedicated to the four fallen students but, really, to all of us that experienced that day in May, 1970.

SIEGEL: Judy Bosau-Allen was a Kent State student back then. Today's students weren't born yet. The events of that day 34 years ago are as distant to them as the Great Depression was to the students of 1970. But the war in Iraq, which is unpopular among students here, provokes many ________________ on campus of the war in Vietnam.

Mr. STEVEN HOOK (Political Scientist, Kent State University ): I want us to be clear on the distinction between pre-emptive war and preventive war. Martin.

MARTIN: Isn't pre-emption that you consider that the attack is coming any minute and there's troops lined up on the border...

SIEGEL: Political scientist Steven Hook teaches a course in 20th century US foreign relations. After class last week several of his students stayed to talk with us about Iraq , protests and the limits of dissent. John Aaron reminds us that his contemporaries are the children of the Vietnam generation.

Mr. JOHN AARON (Student, Kent State University ): A lot of the parents that I know, and my parents included, are ________________ of the government because they were unconditionally lied to during Vietnam .

SIEGEL: You're saying your generation has been, to a great extent, raised by those people who have those...

Mr. AARON: Yes. A lot of the...

SIEGEL: ...memories, your parents have those memories.

Mr. AARON: Yes, we were raised by people that were ________________ of the government.

SIEGEL: Rebecca Alcorn says--and her classmates agree--that sentiment among the students is heavily anti-Bush and pro-Kerry.

Ms. REBECCA ALCORN (Student, Kent State University ): If you're a Bush supporter, you can't put your Bush sticker on your car. You will be attacked a little bit verbally.

SIEGEL: But Jessica Friese and Robert Tully point out how supportive today's anti-war students are of the men and women who are fighting. So does Adrienne Breakfield.

Unidentified Woman #4: I just don't support the people that are making the decisions.

Mr. ROBERT TULLY (Student, Kent State University ): Now when troops come home, I mean, people have parades to celebrate what they've done. Back during Vietnam , from what family members have told me, the soldiers would be spit on, you know, they'd be insulted. Now it's you can criticize the government. You don't ________________ the people who are being forced to fight.

Unidentified Woman #5: And if you even see the cars, they all have the troop symbol, the little flags to support them. And they may have a pro-Kerry or anti-Bush sticker and pro-Bush sticker on their car or something, but their hearts and souls are with the troops.

SIEGEL: Is `Support the Troops' or a ribbon OK and...

Ms. ALCORN: Oh, that's--yeah, definitely.

SIEGEL: No social stigma attached to that at Kent State ?

Ms. ALCORN: No, no, no.

SIEGEL: It's not a code for `I support Bush-Cheney'?

Ms. ALCORN: No, it's just that W. We can't have that.

SIEGEL: That was Rebecca Alcorn again on bumper stickers.

Kate Catalona says that while she disapproves of the decision to go war in Iraq , she finds excessive ________________ damaging to the people who are serving there.

Ms. KATE CATALONA (Student, Kent State University ): I think if people are constantly, like, criticizing it and bashing it, it really takes a toll on people, and it--not just, like, other American people, as in manipulating their opinions, but on the people who are there.

Ms. ADRIENNE BREAKFIELD (Student, Kent State University ): I won't disagree that it doesn't ________________ a toll on the soldiers over in Iraq . It probably does. But at the same time, shouldn't we be questioning the government? Because if we don't, if we just stand idly by and say, `OK, Mr.--President Bush, go to war, you know, we support you,' that's setting a precedent for why we should go to war another time. And I think that's wrong.

SIEGEL: That's Adrienne Breakfield again. She says her brother served in Afghanistan , and her sister may yet ship out to Iraq .

Unidentified Man #5: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to welcome you to the Operation Iraqi Freedom send-off ceremony. The combat squad company...

SIEGEL: This week a unit of the Ohio National Guard that's based just down the highway from Kent State , the 1st 107th Armored, ships out to Iraq . Among those attending a deployment ________________ on Akron , 2nd Lieutenant Jason Holchee, an accountant in civilian life who has spent 12 years in the Guard. Can a candidate criticize the war and support the warriors, as Senator Kerry has said? Lieutenant Holchee isn't so sure.

Second Lieutenant JASON HOLCHEE (107th Armored Division, Ohio National Guard): I guess you can make somewhat of a distinction, you know, to support the troops. But that coming from a politician, I mean, at the time when we're at a war, I don't know if you can make a true distinction.

SIEGEL: You think there might be an argument instead that when we're at war, we should support the war 'cause our guys are ________________in that war?

2nd Lt. HOLCHEE: Correct, yeah. I mean, I think history has dictated that soldiers have suffered in past conflicts when politicians did not support them, and they suffered for it.

SIEGEL: Jason Holchee says he's referring to Vietnam . But Tom Reynolds, a Kent State advertising major, whose Air National Guard unit goes to the Middle East in June, welcomes the open discussion of whether the Iraq War was warranted or wrong.

Mr. TOM REYNOLDS (Advertising Major, Kent State University ; Air National Guard): When you're engaged in a war, it's always constructive to talk about it because, obviously, it costs money; a lot of people's family's over there. I know there's a deep involvement economically. It definitely ties up a country. So, I mean, yeah, it's constructive to talk about it and discuss it.

SIEGEL: You know, there was a time when people in this country would have said, `When our men are putting their lives on the line'--and they were talking about men in those days only--`it's not a time to debate about what were...'

Mr. REYNOLDS: Are you talking about Vietnam ?

SIEGEL: Vietnam or before that, there was a sense in the country, you know, `Hey, don't criticize, you don't undermine the troops.' Things have changed it sounds like.

Mr. REYNOLDS: Yeah, seems like it. I mean, my personal opinion, I think it's ________________ to talk about something, you know, that we're so deeply involved in. I mean, that wasn't allowed during Vietnam . I understand what happened back then. I think back then they should have talked about it. Maybe it would have helped out a little bit, I guess.

SIEGEL: One Kent State student made an interesting point about what they've heard about the Vietnam War era and what's going on today. She said they've heard about the generation gap of 35 years ago, and they find ________________ similar today. Young people don't feel all that differently from their elders.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

SIEGEL: We heard what one group of 40- and 50-somethings think about Iraq . In Chagrin Falls, a half an hour's drive from the Kent State campus, Peg Furnace(ph) hosts a monthly book club. She invited her friends and their husbands over to talk about Iraq with us. They're a group of suburban professionals and businesspeople, and most of them support George Bush. Rick Lehman is a tax lawyer.

Mr. RICK LEHMAN (Tax Lawyer): My reaction to things is this: I live in a 9/12 world and a 9/10 world. I live in a world that's affected by 9/11, so I'm, you know, all for it. I'm ________  ________ the war. I don't think the president lied. I think that the decision was based upon the best information that he had at the time. I think it was based upon a view of what the right thing to do was at the time. If it was a lie, it was a politically stupid lie.

SIEGEL: Jackie Sedlak is the rare Democrat in the group.

Ms. JACKIE SEDLAK (Democrat): I've lost total faith in a president whose lies and administration whose lies are costing our soldiers' lives in Iraq and have mired us in a war that I think is unwinnable. And I just think it's a time for ________________ in leadership and in administration to hopefully get us out of that. And with a 14-year-old son and the whole threat of the draft and the possibility of that being re-enacted, I just feel it very personally, and it's very, very worrisome to me.

SIEGEL: But that's the minority view in this group. One likely Republican voter faults Defense Secretary Rumsfeld for what he sees as mismanagement of the Iraq War. But most approve of the president's decisiveness. And several people, including Keith Caracle, a small-business owner, say that the president knows more than he can say in the heat of a presidential campaign.

Mr. KEITH CARACLE: Now I have some sympathy for the difficult situation that he's in. And I think being in a war makes it particularly ________________ for him in this election because there's a lot he can't say and there's a lot that, if he did say, would be spun or twisted, and he's be vilified for it one way or the other.

SIEGEL: The idea that the war in Iraq was an appropriate response to 9/11 makes sense to most of the people gathered here. But Keith Caracle's wife, Ellen(ph), is that rare bird on whom millions are spent in the state of Ohio these days, the undecided voter. She's especially ________________ about Iraq .

Mrs. ELLEN CARACLE (Undecided Voter): It's such a passionate thing, I mean, gosh, especially when you are talking about war. I do think there's a different tension to this election than there has been in other year--you know, other...

SIEGEL: Because there's an argument about a war going?

Mrs. CARACLE: Yeah. I mean, it's such a moral issue, too, yeah. People's________________ are on the line.

SIEGEL: People lives are on the line. Is it for a good cause or not?

Mrs. CARACLE: Yeah.

SIEGEL: That goes beyond a discussion of Social Security.

Mrs. CARACLE: Yeah.

SIEGEL: What's the right way to fix it?

Mrs. CARACLE: Or the tax break, yeah, the tax break. It's whatever, yeah.

SIEGEL: You feel that?

Mrs. CARACLE: Mm-hmm.

SIEGEL: For this group of Kent State 's neighbors, like the Guardsmen and the students we spoke with in Ohio , Iraq is not necessarily the decisive issue. Many spoke of the economy or education or the Patriot Act or the character of the candidate as determining their vote more so than the war. But hardly anyone said that a vigorous ________________ of that war, including criticism of how or why we got into it, was somehow inappropriate to a presidential election campaign.

NORRIS: Later this week our colleague Robert Siegel will be reporting from New Hampshire , another so-called swing state in next week's presidential election.



1.      What happened on the Kent State University campus in 1970?



2.      What happened to soldiers coming back from Vietnam in those days? Does that happen now?



3.      What does Adrienne Breakfield say about debating the Iraq war? Is she for debating it? Why?



4.      Does Jason Holchee think a politician can criticize a war but still support the soldiers? Why or why not?



5.      What do most people today agree about, even if they disagree about the war?