Perspectives on War: Vermont opinions

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(Host) Continuing Vermont Public Radio’s series, “Perspectives on War,” we turn now to three Vermonters who share their views on the possibility of war with Iraq.

VPR’s Lynne McCrea reports:

(Sound of people reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.)

(McCrea) A recent meeting of the local Rotary Club in Colchester: the featured speaker is Scott Wheeler, a writer and history buff from the Northeast Kingdom. After lunch, he’ll take the audience back to the days of prohibition in Vermont. But right now, people’s minds are on the present.

(Wheeler) “This war, or impending war, is on everyone’s mind, to some degree.”

(McCrea) Scott Wheeler was born and raised in the Northeast Kingdom. He’s been a reporter for the local paper, and has conducted numerous interviews with long-time residents to preserve the area’s history. He senses that the question of war has galvanized people on both sides of the issue, but that many in the Northeast Kingdom, like himself, are on the fence.

(Wheeler) “I think that most of us are just trying to figure out, you know, what to think on the matter. Because, my general feeling is, if there is a reason – a good reason – to go to war, let’s do it. Let’s get it over with. If there isn’t, you know, maybe we could find a more peaceful solution. I would love to tell you that I have the utmost confidence in our government to do the right thing. But there’s a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that, I’m not certain they will do the right thing. Whatever that right thing is.”

(McCrea) At the Vermont Republican Party offices in Montpelier, Joe Acinapura has no doubt the government is doing the right thing. Acinapura is chairman of the Republican Party, but his opinions may be guided more by his master’s degree in international relations and 28 years in the military:

(Acinapura) “And I served in NATO, was a NATO commander for communications in the southern theater.”

(McCrea) Acinapura feels it’s important to have a historical perspective in foreign policy decisions. In his view, the Bush administration is doing everything it can to preclude war – through a show of force.

(Acinapura) “There’s one thing to use force, it’s another thing to show the force – to make a demonstration of strength. And saying to the enemy, in this case Saddam Hussein, that we are serious, going to enforce the resolutions of the United Nations.”

(McCrea) To explain his perspective on Iraq, Acinapura uses the metaphor of a bully in the middle of a circle, surrounded by 15 nations. Everyone says to the bully “Drop your arms.”

(Acinapura) “Now he or she might turn around and kill, you never know. The chances are, the bully might also drop their arms – if the 15 stick together. What’s happening now is that you have one, two or three jumping into that center circle and putting their back up against Hussein’s back, which makes his back a little bit stiffer. And therefore he says ‘I got a partner here.’ So the show of force isn’t as strong as it could be.”

(McCrea) While Joe Acinapura is convinced the U.S. needs to stand up to Iraq, Doug Dunbebin fears such action would make the country more vulnerable to terrorism. Dunbebin is a Burlington city councilor – one who voted for a city resolution to oppose military action against Iraq.

(Dunbebin) “We in Burlington were the second of now more than 90 cities that have passed similar resolutions. First was Santa Cruz, then on October 7 Burlington passed the resolution. And since then, pace has picked up tremendously.”

(McCrea) The “Cities for Peace” organization took their message to Washington last week, with mayors and councilors representing cities all around the country. In Dunbebin’s view, President Bush is taking valuable resources from cities, and diverting them to the war effort:

(Dunebin) “And we’re talking about police forces and fire departments having to go to fight in war. That leaves cities more vulnerable to attacks by terrorism because we don’t have some of our first responders. And then if you combine that with the fact that cities right now are in crisis – we have problems with affordable housing, with drugs. And all of our valuable resources are all being diverted to fight a war that in long run is going to make us less safe. That just doesn’t make sense to me.”

(McCrea) While people struggle to make sense of the world situation, Scott Wheeler admits he feels somewhat removed in rural Vermont. But he says the people of the Northeast Kingdom face many odds every day. And he’s hopeful they’ll face whatever challenge lies ahead:

(Wheeler) “I think we as Northest Kingdom people, and we as Vermonters, we will survive. We will try to do the right thing. And if the right thing is protesting the war – so be it. If the right thing is supporting the war, I respect people’s views on the matter. And I really wish I could have enough information where I could form a very strong opinion instead of sitting on the fence. Because sitting on the fence isn’t always a comfortable place to be.”

(McCrea) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Lynne McCrea.

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Audio and transcripts from Perspectives on War are available online.

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