Apocalypse now? Part 3: The Home Front

In Middle-America, folks are beginning to worry
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The Independent US

"I don't want to come back in 30 years and look for my friends' names on a wall." Sixteen-year-old Sarah Wells is visiting Washington for the weekend with her family. She feels a generalised anxiety about what is going on in Iraq, but admits that the fighting "hasn't really hit home" so far because she doesn't know anyone who has been sent there.

"I don't want to come back in 30 years and look for my friends' names on a wall." Sixteen-year-old Sarah Wells is visiting Washington for the weekend with her family. She feels a generalised anxiety about what is going on in Iraq, but admits that the fighting "hasn't really hit home" so far because she doesn't know anyone who has been sent there.

"Iraq will never be that many names," says Sarah's father, Jeff Wells, 47, looking back at the Vietnam Memorial, an angled scar of granite in the ground inscribed with the names of the 58,209 Americans who died in Vietnam.

Jeff was called up for duty in Vietnam but never served; the war ended before he had finished training. He is confident that Iraq will not be a repeat of Vietnam. "We're going in with our eyes open this time. We're there to eliminate terrorism." His wife Carrie, also 47, agrees, "I do think the objective is clearer."

Jeff did not vote for George Bush last time but is thinking of doing so now. He has no difficulty with the mission in Iraq. "I don't want another 9/11," he says. But a few minutes later, he is worrying about how America will extricate herself. "Vietnamisation - the idea of handing over control to the Vietnamese - never worked, and I can't see it working in Iraq either."

Kay Drury, 65, from New Jersey, disagrees. "I am a registered Republican but I don't like the Bushes. I'm so mad that he should think we have a right to go into Iraq." Her sister, Lee Moore, 64, from Atlanta nods. "I hope he starts pulling the troops out, but I don't know what happens then. There'll be a vacuum." Among the crowds of visitors there is general agreement that Iraq is not Vietnam redux. "I don't think this country will stand for another Vietnam," says Kay Drury simply.

"Vietnam never had a purpose," adds Brad Glosser, 40, who has brought his family from Pittsburgh to look for his father-in-law's name on the wall. "It was aimless. This is an established mission. The backing of the country this time is much greater. I don't think a President will ever let another Vietnam happen."

Rick Stanger, 27, from New York, doesn't share Mr Glosser's support for the war, but agrees that it's not like Vietnam. At least not yet. "Our involvement in Vietnam built up gradually over a long time," he said. "That's not the same in Iraq." His 26-year-old wife, Spring, agrees. "If political careers start ending, we will pull out." They both worry about leaving the job unfinished. "America has a history of half-assed foreign relations. We've got to stay," says Rick. "We've got to rebuild all the hospitals and schools we've destroyed," says Spring.

Is Iraq going to be a factor in deciding how they shall vote in November? Not yet. "If it becomes a bigger issue, we will vote on it, but not at the moment."

On this Easter weekend, there is a relaxed mood among the families sitting on the grass under the cherry blossom soaking up the spring sunshine. A hut near the Vietnam Memorial sells military memorabilia, including a poster saying "terrorist hunting permits available". Most Americans here seem to have no difficulty accepting the idea that the invasion of Iraq was a justified response to 9/11.

Craig Erman, a construction manager from Columbus, Ohio, has just found his brother's name on the Vietnam War Memorial. Asked if he supports the war in Iraq, he replies, "Absolutely. You've got to look at 9/11 and remember what happened." He reveals that one of his employees is in the Marines fighting in Fallujah. "He says they've found so many weapons. I'm sure the weapons of mass destruction are there somewhere - they've just been moved."

Art and Cathy Darling from Orlando, Florida, whose future son-in-law is a Cobra pilot in Iraq, also believe that Saddam was a threat to American interests who needed to be removed. "Look what he did to his own country," says Mr Darling. "We are finishing what should have been done in '92."

One of the few to express outright opposition to the war is Kenneth Brown, a 58-year-old African-American history professor from Michigan. "Saddam never did anything against America," he said. "Of course he was a bad person, but there are a lot of bad people in China. We don't go after them." Mr Brown is definitely not going to vote for George Bush, but still thinks he will win. "People want their President to be right."

The writer is a BBC News correspondent in Washington

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