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War in peace: Most county residents prefer nonviolent solution to attack on Iraq

War in peace: Most county residents prefer nonviolent solution to attack on Iraq


December 22, 2002
Sentinel staff writer

Steve Bare discovered there’s nothing quite so empty as Christmas in Vietnam on a one-year tour of duty.
Bare, who served in the First Air Cavalry, remembers soldiers sharing little packages from home, trying to put fear on hold for a while.
That 1969 winter in the jungle was on Bare’s mind again recently when he came up with the idea for a letter that he and 51 other Aptos High School teachers and three administrators would eventually sign, opposing a U.S. invasion of Iraq.
War is on everyone’s mind nowadays and, once again, Americans face the odd juxtaposition of potential war during the season of peace.
What people are saying
Getting a clear reading on Santa Cruz County residents, and where they fall in the debate over a U.S. attack on Iraq, is no easy feat.
A recent CNN poll stated that 55 percent of Americans think the United States should take military action against Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein “so long as there is proof” he is a regional threat.
But in dozens of informal interviews around the county, a different picture emerged; residents here are hopeful for a different type of resolution to that region’s woes.
Santa Cruz was the first city in the nation whose leaders passed a resolution opposing a U.S. war on Iraq. Local activists also managed to fill several buses with anti-war activists to attend an rally in San Francisco in the fall.
And every Friday for months, a small group of peace activists has been rallying at 5 p.m., rain or shine, at Ocean and Water streets to draw attention to their cause.
Bare, who teaches English, said he does not think the Bush administration is “a bunch of ogres. I’m not that extreme.”
However, he said the administration is “misguided and lacks compassion and creativity to look at more creative, constructive ways, instead of a reactionary military response, causing needless death, environmental destruction and the further erosion of the human spirit.”
Instead of an invasion, he wants continued monitoring with international cooperation. “We should shower not only Iraq but all the needy world with generosity, food, medicine and other support. ... We have fostered anti-American feelings and we must take the responsibility to change our policies and our practices.”
War has been on the minds of many local high school students, struggling with the disparity between local peace activism and stories of looming war on TV.
“If we were more of a peaceful culture, (terrorists) may not feel the need to perpetrate violence against our country,” said a local student, Gabriel Ramos, out playing Christmas songs on Pacific Avenue this week.
But the county is also home to residents who believe an immediate war is justified, though they tend to keep a low profile.
In their view, Saddam Hussein poses a threat to his entire region, and would not only resist but scoff at diplomatic efforts, and even international pressures, to rein him in.
Two would-be interviewees refused to state their case at all, saying they felt silly making complex foreign-policy determinations from Surf City.
“It’s different in Santa Cruz,” said a Westside senior citizen and local property manager who believes an imminent attack is justified but asked that his name not be used. “Of course you’ll have a hard time finding anyone here saying, ‘It’s a good idea.’ But what happens when you’re a nice guy? They keep messing with you. Have you seen what this guy Saddam Hussein pulled during the Gulf War, setting oil wells on fire? This guy has no regard for life of any kind.”
In Santa Cruz County, military service is not necessarily an indication of support for a war on Iraq.
Fred Martinez, commander of Post 121 of the American Legion in Watsonville, would not rule out supporting a future invasion but believes an immediate attack is unwarranted.
He called for caution and “really hard evidence. Right now I haven’t seen anything to justify war. You know, they are playing hide-and-seek. In time, if they find something, we should evaluate it again. But let’s give inspectors some time. We should just stay out of it until that point comes. I think the talk is getting ahead of the evidence.”
Mary Louise Whitehead, 80, who served in World War II as a nurse’s aide, admitted to feeling “very mixed and sad and concerned about it. I hope it doesn’t have to happen. And if it comes down to it, I hope other nations will support the activity.”
Her preference, she said, “would be that somebody from among his opponents would just go ahead and take him out so we wouldn’t have to. I don’t think we can believe what he says, and at my age, I’m not even sure I’ll live through this.”
Like many other locals, Greg Caput, a Watsonville painting contractor, is waiting for more information.
He emphasized his support for an attack was only a “tentative yes,” if Iraq is not following the sanctions put on it by the United Nations.
Caput expressed concern for his nephew, stationed in Fort Bening, Ga. Caput said he tries to balance worrying about his nephew with the fact he is “very patriotic, very proud to be in the military, so we kind of support it.”
Nationally, some religious organizations, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have issued strong words of caution about a “conflict without support from other nations.”
The Rev. Greg Sandman of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Watsonville said he agrees with the conference’s statement and “the great concern about human casualties.”
Sandman said he wants to know why there is so much of a focus on Iraq right now, with charges that Saddam is supervising the manufacture of biological weapons, “if it’s evident that North Korea, Pakistan and India are doing the same thing.”
Unlike many area residents, Sandman believes the U.S. government, at least so far, has exercised restraint with Iraq. But he said he wasn’t sure if the restraint was a sincere effort to avoid conflict or simply a ploy.
The Rev. Katherine O’Connell of Interfaith Ministries said she was a little nervous that her anti-war sentiments would be misconstrued as “anti-patriotic or un-American. I am very much a patriot. “
O’Connell, a Capitola resident, said she believes the conflict with Iraq has been inflated by old misconceptions, stereotypes and a perceived need to elevate certain political figures into evil “archetypes.”
She said she believes an invasion of Iraq would inflict profound damage on land held sacred by many religious traditions.
A Central Valley grower, selling produce on Wednesday at Farmers Market in downtown Santa Cruz, said he was sympathetic to the plight of the Iraqi people, but added that the American public may not have all the facts.
He believes the government “has so much information on these people. They have the means to be recording our voices right now, so imagine what they know over there.”
“We’re a superpower of the world and we shouldn’t be the policeman of the world,” he said. “But we’re the only ones capable of doing it. If you leave the status quo, there will be upheaval in that whole part of the world, and they cannot be trusted. Most of my friends feel the same way.”
Contact Dan White at dwhite (at)


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