As the threat of war in the Gulf grows, a middle-sized American city grapples with the reason hundreds of thousands of US troops are being sent to Saudi Arabia. As one of the country’s embarkation points for US troops and equipment, Springfield, Massachusetts has a special connection to the deployment. A student, a protester, a soldier and a family join Bill Moyers and others in a special town meeting to discuss their hopes and fears.
WATCH A CLIP
ANNOUNCER: Yesterday, Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein ordered a quarter of a million more Iraqi soldiers to Kuwait and 26,000 more U.S. troops arrived in Saudi Arabia.
President GEORGE BUSH: I am sending a signal, a clear, clarion signal, to Saddam Hussein: We are deadly serious.
ANNOUNCER: Does President Bush have the support of the nation? Is America prepared to go to war?
1st SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: No more!
2nd SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: No, I don’t want to police the world, but we have to be part of it.
3rd SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Can’t we find another solution?
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, Bill Moyers listens to the debate in one American town, Springfield, Massachusetts.
4th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Our very way of life is at stake, here, I believe.
5th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I’m not sending my son for Texaco.
6th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: “I want you to send your son there to die.” That’s the issue.
7th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: No, I don’t want to send my son.
6th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Are you going to send your son there to die? No way!
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, “Springfield Goes to War.”
1st RADIO CALLER: What are we there for? That is a good question.
2nd RADIO CALLER: There’s no way in hell the Arabs are going to be able to negotiate a settlement out of this.
3rd RADIO CALLER: At first I was backing Bush, but I think I have to back away from him now.
BILL MOYERS: Far from the sands of the Persian Gulf, the crisis there is hometown news here in Springfield, Massachusetts.
TALK SHOW HOST: America, a quarter of a million troops in the desert, and they want to add 100,000 more. Let’s go to the phones. It’s 781-1270. Are you ready to fight and die for Exxon? Inquiring minds want to know.
Good morning. You’re on WSPR.
4th RADIO CALLER: Good morning, Al. I don’t see any way they’re going to avoid war and they might as well get to it and get it over with and whatever they have to use to save American lives, fine. If they have to use tactical nuclear weapons, use them.
TALK SHOW HOST: And so you think we ought- to drop the bomb?
4th RADIO CALLER: If it’s necessary
TALK SHOW HOST: And what would make it necessary, in your mind?
4th RADIO CALLER: If they thought they would lose too many American lives doing it any other way.
TALK SHOW HOST: I don’t know where you’re coming from, sir.
4th RADIO CALLER: Thanks, Al!
TALK SHOW HOST: You have a good one. 781-1270
5th RADIO CALLER: I do not advocate the bombing like that previous caller-
BILL MOYERS: Any veteran of any war will tell you governments don’t fight wars, people do. Presidents can start wars and deploy troops and Congress can go along or not. But when the shooting starts,. the fighting and dying are done by young people from places like this. Springfield, Massachusetts, right now is a town confused and divided. The President of the United States is sending its sons and daughters. off to the Persian Gulf, but he has not explained what America’s Interests are there or if there is a moral imperative to fight. So, as In Cities and towns across America, the people here this week are asking questions of each other.
TEACHER: Now, what’s this little place? What’s that right there? It begins With a K. What’s it say?
1st PUPIL: KG-Ku-or something.
TEACHER: OK. Where’s Saudi Arabia? Right here?
2nd PUPIL: Uh-huh.
TEACHER: And what’s that word right here, down in here?
2nd PUPIL: Kuwait.
TEACHER: Kuwait, yes. What did Iraq do? Yes?
BILL MOYERS: These nine-year-olds are not faced with going to Saudi Arabia but that could, in time, change.
TEACHER: Some of you sitting here in fourth grade could be somewhere you had never dreamed of being in this world because you’re a part of the United States and we do get involved in a lot of different things, OK?
BILL MOYERS: For the children of Springfield and their parents, the specter of w.ar IS near at hand. Just two miles from Liberty School is Westover Air Force Base. It’s a major embarkation point for troops and equipment on the way to Saudi Arabia. For each soldier here there’s a different reason to go to war.
1st SOLDIER: I think it’s a principle. I just-you know, I don’t feel that its right to let another country go take over Kuwait like that and, you know, I don’t like that idea at all.
2nd SOLDIER: He’s just another Adolph Hitler. We don’t-you know, If they don t stop him here, they’re going to have to stop him somewhere else anyway.
3rd SOLDIER: I’m scared to go over there, but who wouldn’t be. Look, the only thing I can say is, someone has to go and help defend this country and I’m proud to be a part of it.
KEITH MEARS, Air Force Pilot: My understanding of what we’re doing there is defending the sovereignty of Kuwait, but I think it goes c1eeper than that. I personally feel like we’re there because we have a large interest in oil, no matter what anybody else says.
BILL MOYERS: Before he was called up, pilot Keith Mears flew 747s for Federal Express. Now he flies the massive C-5A transport for the Air Force.
KEITH MEARS: In the early stages of this whole thing, it was very popular. Everybody was supportive of the whole action and, you know, whatever the president wanted to do or whatever the country wanted to do was OK. And now, since it’s been stalemated for such a long time and now people are beginning to second-guess, and we keep on sending resources into the region and we keep now losing people over there in the region, too, now it’s starting to muddy the waters a little bit.
BILL MOYERS: When President Bush first announced he was committing troops to Saudi Arabia, he said it was to protect the American way of life. To many people, that meant “cheap oil.” The president has since shifted his position and has said it’s not about oil. But people here in Springfield, watching the price on the pumps, are not convinced.
6th RADIO CALLER: Good morning, AI.
TALK SHOW HOST: How are you?
6th RADIO CALLER: Oh, I’m great. Listen, Texaco has got a big hand over there, like Standard Oil. Let them do their own-
BILL MOYERS: Nineteen-year-old Richard Galica just returned from boot camp. He says he’s ready to fight for oil.
RICHARD GALICA, U.S. Marines: The biggest thing I noticed when I came out-I mean, gas prices are out of hand. I mean, I noticed that-I mean, I got out of boot camp, when I left it was 95 cents. I came back, it was a buck, 60. I mean, that is really out of hand, you know, so you have to look at that and say, “OK, there’s a reason why we’re over there because this going to”-you know, “this is really going to kill our economy and it’s going to kill trading everywhere and everything like that because, you know, oil-you know, they have what we want.”
GALICA’S FATHER: Well, you’ve got to protest. Somebody’s got to do something. It’s gone way out of hand right now. I don’t feel good about it. I mean, if you ask me, yeah, I’m scared. I’m petrified. And I don’t want to see him go, you know?
INTERVIEWER: Think you could kill somebody?
Mr. GALICA: I wouldn’t even have to think about it. I think I’m-I guess that I’ve been-I’ve been trained to do that. It’s, you know, what a Marine does. Marines kill. I mean, we’re there to keep peace but when it comes between us going and them going, obviously we want them to go before us. Yeah, I can definitely kill someone. No problem.
BILL MOYERS: At Springfield High, the sons and daughters of the generation that fought the Vietnam War know it soon may be their turn to fight.
ROTC INSTRUCTOR: OK. Now, the bad guys, the Iraqis
BILL MOYERS: But even in the ROTC class, there is dissent in the ranks.
ROTC INSTRUCTOR: What do you think about if they-if this goes on and next year you’re out there either serving aboard a carrier or out there in the 82nd Airborne? What are your thoughts on that? Yes, Mike?
1st STUDENT: I’d have a hard time doing it but-
ROTC INSTRUCTOR: Why would you have a hard time?
1st STUDENT: Because I just can’t see myself dying over oil, basically, and see my friends and other troops dying over oil. There’s got to be some other way, to me.
ROTC INSTRUCTOR: As I remember, didn’t you just get a motorcycle?
1st STUDENT: Yes, sir. I’m buying one.
ROTC INSTRUCTOR: OK. You’re going to be pushing that sucker a long time. OK. I think I saw some hands out here. Do you have any-yes? OK. What’s your opinion?
2nd STUDENT: Well, sir, I’d be honored to fly an aircraft for the Air Force and stop Mr. Hussein, you know?
ROTC INSTRUCTOR: Those wings don’t come in a Crackerjack box.
2nd STUDENT: Yes, sir.
ROTC INSTRUCTOR: OK? I think I saw some hands out here. Do we have any
1st FATHER: I’m not sending my son for Texaco. No way.
2nd FATHER: You’re not sending your son over there either.
BILL MOYERS: Across town, the fathers of Springfield struggle with what advice to give their sons.
3rd FATHER: We should have been in and out by now.
4th FATHER: I think appeasement is dangerous.
3rd FATHER: I think we should have been in and out by now.
2nd FATHER: [unintelligible] ignore these things all over the world, don’t you-
1st FATHER: No, because there’d be nothing left here.
2nd FATHER: We can’t live in a vacuum. The world
5th FATHER: It’s not a matter of ignoring it. “I want you to send
your son there to die.” That’s the issue.
1st FATHER: No, I don’t want to send my son.
5th FATHER: Are you going to send your son there to die? No way! No way. Not for those people, not for anybody. Someone comes and fools with us, we’ll take care of them here.
3rd FATHER: We elected the president. He’s the commander-in-chief of the Army or the armed forces. Whether you personally think he’s right, I personally think he’s right or everybody here thinks he’s wrong
5th FATHER: The longer we stay there, in my opinion, the harder it’s going to be for the American public, who likes instant action-instant breakfast, instant cars, instant gas, instant war, come home. The longer we stay there, the more trouble we’re going to be in
3rd FATHER: Especially around Christmastime.
5th FATHER: -the more the Vietnam syndrome is going to come up. Wait till Christmas. They’re going to be screaming like a son of a gun.
3rd FATHER: I agree.
5th FATHER: And Saddam Hussein is sitting there. He’s been sitting there for-
TALK SHOW HOST: -going in with an aggressive invasion, then?
7th RADIO CALLER: Well, I do know that the Israelis went into where Idi Amin was in southern Africa. I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do. I would like to-.
FAMILY MEMBER: [reading] “I am a Jew, because In every place where suffering weeps, the Jew weeps.”
BILL MOYERS: Sabbath dinner at the home of Betsy and Dick Guberman.
DICK GABERMAN: Hey, the real bottom line is, what are we going to do with Iraq? I mean, that’s the bottom line.
1st FAMILY MEMBER: And we can’t forget that, because this man has to be stopped.
DICK GABERMAN: He’s a madman.
1st FAMILY MEMBER: And all his weaponry has to be destroyed.
2nd FAMILY MEMBER: Who’s going to stop him?
BETSY GABERMAN: Well, the longer the United States waits, the more difficult it gets because you-
DICK GABERMAN: Hey, Babe-
BETSY GABERMAN: -can see, even in our own country, you can see the-our allies, everybody’s backing away and they’re going to be left-Iraq is going to be left with all the strength and with all the biological weapons and the chemical weapons.
3rd FAMILY MEMBER: It’s pretty universal that the Arab objective is to use all of those armaments against Israel.
BETSY GABERMAN: So, again, this become a Jewish issue and the Jews are going to be blamed for it. If, God forbid, that anybody’s killed, it’s going to be because the American Jews and the Israelis pushed them into this kind of war.
3rd FAMILY MEMBER: Oh, sure. I think to defer doing what should be done now until a later point is only going to make it much harder.
2nd FAMILY MEMBER: How much longer are we going to wait to stop him?
BILL MOYERS: There are even lonelier voices here. Attorney George Nassar, an American of Palestinian descent, argues that Iraq’s President Hussein is supported by his people.
GEORGE NASSAR, Palestinian-American Attorney: I think he’s brilliant. I think he’s cagey. I think he’s a revolutionary. I think he has the consensus of his people. There seems to be no indication that he doesn’t have almost complete consensus of his people. One has to remember that what’s going on in the Middle East is also a struggle against-by the poor against the rich. One need only go into the Palestinian camps to see that, so that to the Arabs who have been disenfranchised, Saddam Hussein is a hero. I think America’s a great threat to world peace right now. There simply isn’t another nation in the world that could-that could keep us from doing exactly what we want and that will be our usual-the pursuit of our-the basic axiom of American foreign policy, and that is the control of energy.
8th RADIO CALLER: Hello, AI?
TALK SHOW HOST: Yeah.
8th RADIO CALLER: Because you dissent -dissent is vital to democracy -that doesn’t make you a communist and communist-
BILL MOYERS: Out at Westover Air Force Base, the protesters have arrived. They spent the last three years of the Vietnam War here. A weekend ago, 20 were arrested.
PROTESTER: Our position is that the United Nations should be dealing with the situation in the Persian Gulf.
INTERVIEWER: Are there any principles over there worth young American men and women dying for?
PROTESTER: I don’t think so. I think that-anyway, there’s no proof that we ever achieve anything in dying-in killing for principles.
BILL MOYERS: On this day, the Air Force responded to the protesters by playing ”I’m Proud to Be an American” over the loudspeakers.
[song] The flag still stands for freedom and they can’t take that away / Because there ain’t no doubt I love this land I God bless the U.S.A.
MARY RALPH, Clerk: If a war really starts, I think the country will be divided. If it is not over very quickly, the tide’ll turn and it’ll turn a lot faster than it did in Vietnam because-
BILL MOYERS: Mary Ralph is a part-time clerk with UPS. As the debate divides the country, so it divides Mary’s family. Her husband Bill, a photoengraver, believes America must force Iraq from Kuwait
BILL RALPH, Photoengraver: If we’re going to do this, let’s go whole hog. My feeling is if we must fight a war we’d better not do it the way we did it in Korea and we’d better not do it the way we did it in Vietnam. We’d better go all out. And that does not mean anything but conventional weapons.
MARY RALPH: My husband and a lot of other men, they think that it’ll just be a conventional war. I don’t want to just wave as my son gets on board a C-5A and heads for the Saudi Arabian desert, which is a real possibility to me. I want to know why. I want to know if that’s the only answer, if it’s the right answer. And I don’t want to take those risks without asking questions.
BILL MOYERS: The Ralphs’ son, John, sides with his father.
JOHN RALPH: I think it’s right, you know? I think that we should be there you know? Because I think that it’s a good move to go over there and protect oil and stuff like that, you know? I think it’s a good move, you know?
BILL MOYERS: At work, too, even Americans who share common values are disagreeing.
NEAL O’LEARY, Small Businessman: I support my government, right or wrong. I’m one of those guys that says “do or die,” “Semper Fi.”
BILL MOYERS: Neal O’Leary owns Century Dry Cleaners out by the base. His employee, Loretta Bergeron, stitches the patches that go on soldiers’ uniforms. Unlike her boss, she has doubts.
LORETTA BERGERON, Stitcher: We’re so involved, I think we’re the ones who are going to suffer in the long run. You can’t blame the young boys. I think it’s the politics. I mean, they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. I do monogramming and you look at these, and you say, “I wonder if he’ll ever come back? Wonder if I’ll ever see this name again?” You know, you see a strange name and you say, “Gee, now that’s a different name,” and you wonder, ”Where will he land?”
TELEVISION REPORTER: It was their first day off since they came to the desert nearly three months ago.
BILL MOYERS: Last week President Bush ordered 150,000 more troops to join the 230,000 already there. He is pressing the United Nations Security Council resolution approving the use of force if necessary. So in Washington, they are still talking of war. Here in Springfield, they are wondering why. Why are we there? What will be the cost?
1st SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: And I would like the people of Springfield to bear in mind what Santayana told us, that those who don’t learn fron1 the mistakes of history are bound to repeat them.
2nd SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: The United States can no longer be the policeman of the world. No more!
3rd SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I see in the views of many in this audience that militarily, politically, we should become a fortress Americana, and that if problems in the world, in hot spots in the world, pressure, does not touch Massachusetts soil on the East or Californian soil on the West, we should not be involved. Nothing is worth the chance. Nothing is worth the risk. Nothing is worth the fight for.
4th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I am a five-month newlywed and my husband is over there. I am proud to serve in the Air National Guard and I would defend my country. But first, I am a wife and a woman and I have plenty of feelings and I want my husband back home. That’s all.
BILL MOYERS: To learn more of what the people here think and feel about events in the Gulf, we invited 300 citizens to a town meeting in the basement of Springfield’s First Church. Joining us were some out-of-town guests with strong opinions on the issues. At first, we asked them to listen.
BILL MOYERS: What is your understanding of the reason he is there?
4th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: At the beginning, I understood why the military went, because we were asked to be there.
BILL MOYERS: By?
4th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: By Saudi Arabia.
BILL MOYERS: So it was a defensive
4th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Right, defensive. But as soon as they start talking about going to war-and 1 know if I have to go, I will go, and 1 will fight right next to my husband. But I don’t believe we should be there for oil. Those people have fought all their lives. We have never been really-we’ve had our world wars our civil wars, but we have never been at war like they have been at war over religion, over oil, over territory. It’s not-it doesn’t make any sense to me. Why should you-why should you fight, like, over oil? That’s what it is.
BILL MOYERS: The questions raised by the people of Springfield are questions our guests have thought long and hard about, but each comes from a different perspective and each holds a different opinion. At our invitation, they met here to help us address the basic questions. What’s America’s role in the Middle East? Should we go to war?
DOUGLAS FEITH, former N.S.C. Member for Pres. Reagan: There is no in between there.
Rev. C.T. VIVIAN: But there is.
DOUGLAS FEITH: If you advocate negotiations now, then I’d say
BILL MOYERS: Earlier in the day, I talked individually with our guests. Douglas Feith is a Middle East specialist who served on President Reagan’s National Security Council and in the Reagan Defense Department.
DOUGLAS FEITH: Unfortunately, the choice the United States faces right now -among the choices the United States faces right now -is not a peace option. If there were, I would support it.
BILL MOYERS: Can you say to these parents in Springfield that their sons are in jeopardy and their daughters in jeopardy for our way of life, their way of life? Is it really, truly going to be adversely affected by what is happening in the Persian Gulf?
DOUGLAS FEITH: I think that if Saddam Hussein gets away with this aggression and launches what I think would be the inevitable series of aggressions that would follow and develops nuclear weapons and inspires many other countries in the region and beyond the region to emulate him and develop nuclear weapons and missiles, then these people in Springfield and throughout the United States will have tremendous threats to them. There will be threats to American citizens all around the world and I think we will be judged very harshly in the future if we take the attitude that this aggression really does not affect us.
BILL MOYERS: I want to call-I want to see if there’s anybody here who with Mr. Feith is outraged by the invasion of Kuwait. Right here, yes, sir?
DICK GABERMAN: Nobody wants war. That’s the problem. And therefore, it prevents us from coming to logical decisions because it is the worst chaos you can possibly envision. But on the other hand, we were silent when he killed the Kurds. We were silent when the Germans sold him all the chemical equipment. We were silent when we shipped him grain and gave him credit. When do we say, “Enough is enough and we have to stand up and say “Stop?”
CHRISTINE HELMS, Middle East Expert: Strange-isn’t it strange, I find, frankly, as an American citizen, that we must go in and risk perhaps as many as 100,000 lives total in order now to put, what we’re saying is we can’t police our own house. The Germans can’t stop selling their own chemical weapons. We can’t stop selling our weapons. The Italians, you know, are-
BILL MOYERS: Middle East scholar Dr. Christine Helms has twice interviewed Saddam Hussein. She has also written books about Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
CHRISTINE HELMS: If there was a use of force against Iraq, if the Iraqi border was crossed, at that point we would cross a political boundary line that all Arabs in the Middle East can identify with. All Americans would be an immediate target as well as would all American institutions. And I think the United States will pay a high price in many, many ways.
BILL MOYERS: I hear you saying that in a kind of crude way, Saddam Hussein does speak for the poor and disenfranchised Arab, even outside the borders of Iraq. Is that right?
CHRISTINE HELMS: Yes. I mean, the irony of this is that Saddam may end up being disliked, even hated, by his own population for entering into a second war situation, but he may well by martyred and idolized in the rest of the Arab world.
BILL MOYERS: But he invaded another Arab state.
CHRISTINE HELMS: That’s right. But this is what I’m saying is amazing. I mean, this is-the extent of the hatred for the Westerner is so great that, in other words, young people in the Middle East are willing to overlook the invasion of another Arab state in order to be critical of the foreign presence.
General BERNARD E. TRAINOR, U.S. Marines (Ret.) : Dr. Helms, notwithstanding the fact that Saddam Hussein may have made the trains run on time and that there are a lot of Arab have-nots out there that don’t like the West, does that justify this aggression?
BILL MOYERS: Retired Marine General Bernard Trainor teaches at Harvard. He wants the sanctions to work but fears time is running out.
[interviewing] Militarily, could the United States get bogged down?
BERNARD TRAINOR: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Has George Bush made a mistake? I get some sense you feel we may be boxed in there.
BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, I think he-who was it, Cortez, when he landed, burned his ships behind him so that there was no way of going back? When he sent the-or initiated the action to send these additional forces out there-
BILL MOYERS: Last week.
BERNARD TRAINOR: -last week, and said that they were not going out as rotation, they’re not going out as replacement forces, they’re going out there and everybody’s going to be there until this thing is over, in a sense he burned his ships behind him. And he did, in a sense, box himself in. He could have kept his options open by saying that this force is going out and could be used as a replacement force, a rotation base, but he elected not to do that. And I think he elected not to do that because he wanted the threat to Saddam Hussein to be credible.
He wanted Saddam Hussein to look the tiger in the eye and say, “They are coming,” whereas up until this point, Saddam Hussein has not been convinced that they are coming. And the way he has done this, and he’s done it dramatically and he did it unilaterally, is that it raises questions in Saddam Hussein’s eyes or mine as to whether Bush is going to come regardless of UN resolution or regardless of American public opinion.
But the key -the issue -remains in the actions of those two men.. ~hey are looking at one another. They’re both playing a very sophisticated game of chicken. They’re driving towards one another in these vehicles and as they come closer and closer, the danger arises. And now, I think, the president has taken his steering wheel off and thrown it out the window and said, “I can’t turn now. I’m coming right at you. You’re the only one that can turn.” 1 think that’s what he’s faced Saddam Hussein with.
Rev. C.T. VIVIAN: General, maybe I’m missing something, but when we first went in it was very clear what we were there for. It was very clear that we were there to stop him on that line, the mark in the sand. We understood that. But when we hear the president continuously talk in ways that didn’t allow for any way to deal with it without-except outright, massive war, that’s when the change came. The emphasis-
BILL MOYERS: Reverend C.T. Vivian is a veteran Civil Rights activist who opposes the troop build-up on moral grounds.
Rev. C.T. VIVIAN: It’s immoral, how our president has behaved in this entire thing.
BILL MOYERS: Immoral? Why?
Rev. C.T. VIVIAN: It’s immoral.
BILL MOYERS: That’s a very heavy charge.
Rev. C.T. VIVIAN: Precisely, and that’s what I want to deal with, is that, number one, the UN said that there should be economic sanctions with the exception of food and medicine. We were the ones that said “No food or medicine.” Somehow, we get the idea in the United States, as long as it’s Americans not being killed, everything’s all right. And if we could do this without Americans being killed, who would care? We should care because the issue is simply not 10 cents a gallon oil. The issue is what’s going to happen to this world after whatever the debacle is.
BILL MOYERS: But you see, Reverend Vivian, if I were President Bush sitting here with you, I’d say, “Unless we draw the line and prevent an aggressor like Hussein from succeeding, then others will imitate him and we’ll find a world of chaos, anarchy, bloodshed and constant violence.”
Rev. C.T. VIVIAN: And I would say-I would say to him, “Let’s look at the new world again,” because the truth is, we are acting now on the basis of the old world, the old world of colonialism-
BILL MOYERS: Are you on Saddam’s side?
Rev. C.T. VIVIAN: Oh, I am on the side of peace. I am not on the side of war. I’m saying that Saddam did that, it has to be the whole world that comes together.
BILL MOYERS: And that’s what’s happening at the UN.
Rev. C.T. VIVIAN: But it’s really-yeah, but we see ourselves breaking the initiatives of the UN, demanding more and more and more, going further and further toward war.
BILL MOYERS: Our meeting took place on Saturday night, November 17th. The first question: Why are we mobilizing for war?
6th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I was watching the news and I noticed the reporter asking a question to the soldiers, “Why are you here?” And the soldiers had many answers, not one, which is unusual, because they’re supposed to think as one. And one answer came up which I thought was kind of odd. “We’re here to defend our country.” And I thought to myself, “Aren’t we here to defend Saudi Arabia?” So are we really there for our own benefit?
BERNARD TRAINOR: I suspect the officers are about as confused as the soldiers are as to why they’re out there.
Rev. C.T. VIVIAN: And as confused as the president. You see, the president is trying to find a moral imperative for this war. There is no moral imperative for this war, all right? It’s just that simple.
BILL MOYERS: Do you disagree with that?
BERNARD TRAINOR: Obviously. You’re suggesting, then, that somebody can aggress its neighbor and take American citizens and others as hostages and there’s no moral imperative involved in reacting to that?
Rev. C.T. VIVIAN: You keep listening, you begin to get the idea that what Bush has done is to create a fact of where you’ve got to go to war or they’ve got to get out and you’re going to do it whether you like it or not. The world doesn’t work that way, or it’s not going to work that way anymore. There has to be in between positions.
7th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: We’ve got hostages over there. People in here are forgetting about that. There are American hostages over there being held against their will. What are you going to tell their families, Reverend Vivian? What are you going to tell them?
Rev. C.T. VIVIAN: I’ll tell you what I’m going to tell them.
7th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Huh? Are you going to say, “Oh, it’s all right-draw the line.”
Rev. C.T. VIVIAN: No, is it in fact
7th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: No, you won’t have a moral issue for that!
CHRISTINE HELMS: First of all, if we do in fact have to use the kind of military force that will be necessary to achieve Bush’s goals, the hostages will be the first to go.
BILL MOYERS: You want a-you have a question or a point.
8th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Sir, I believe that we belong
where the president asks us to go to defend the countries-and we should be where we are because of the fact that there was an invasion of a nation by another nation. And I think that we should stand tall and firm and be glad of the fact that we are Americans and we defend the rights of the unsung heroes.
9th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I’d like to correct my fellow veteran here. He does not have a monopoly on love of his country. I love my country. I’m embarrassed by my government.
BILL MOYERS: What war were you in?
9th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I was in Vietnam.
BILL MOYERS: What war were you in, back there, sir?
8th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: World War II.
9th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Vietnam. Now, we’ve supported so many bloody dictators in our time and we’re doing it today, that the question of punishing Hussein is not the main one. The main one is his biologicals, his chemical weapons and his potential nuclear capability. If the United States and the Soviet Union can agree to have observer teams from each other’s nations observe the destruction of nuclear weapons to reduce each other’s fear of each other, why should we not negotiate now with Saddam Hussein to put in observer teams there to see to it that his military capability is reduced?
10th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Now, there are two questions that I’d like to ask. I realize that Saddam Hussein has backed himself into a corner by invading Kuwait and committing all the atrocities that they did. I agree with Dr. Vivian on a lot of things. I also agree with the general. The question that I want to ask of you is, why is there is such a disproportionate amount of men there, where it seems to be just our forces are there? Where are all the others from the other countries? We only get a little bit of oil from them. It seems to me like a place like Japan, who gets the majority of their oil power, would have some of their men there. There are a lot of other countries. Are the lives of our men that less valued that we should be so gung-ho as to send thousands and thousands when we don’t seem to be getting support from the other countries?
BERNARD TRAINOR: That’s certainly a legitimate question. I think, basically, because we have a great capability to project our power and that’s a very difficult job.
10th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I’m sure other countries have that, don’t they?
BERNARD TRAINOR: No, they don’t really. But let me just say that because we have this capability, it would obviously be more U.S. But I would agree with you. I think that there should be more representation from the other members of the world community. We saw that the Japanese have turned down even sending noncombatants down there.
10th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: [unintelligible] How about the Gara Mountain? What is your opinion of this?
BERNARD TRAINOR: About the what?
10th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Is it the Gara Mountain that he is busy making his little nuclear bomb there?
BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, of course
10th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I mean, eventually it’s going to come down to where we’re going to have to do it to him, isn’t it?
BERNARD TRAINOR: Unless he backs off and I think that’s our highest hope.
10th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Even though he backs off, he’ll be a whole threat to all these little countries around him if he has a nuclear-
BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, now, this is where we’ll differ. I think if we force him out either diplomatically, or if he is forced out militarily, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to
10th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: But how [unintelligible] diplomatically at this point?
BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, as I say, if with this build-up of force, if he looks at it and he feels, “My word, if I don’t withdraw from here, I’m going to be clobbered and I’m leading the country on the route of national suicide,” then he might just back off.
BILL MOYERS: Mr. Ralph?
BILL RALPH: I would like all the panelists, if they would, to reflect upon the history of the middle and late 1930s and I would like them to reflect for the benefit of the audience upon the fate of the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. And I would like them not to take moral stances. We made this demon and it’s really a problem of do we deal with the demon we know and wait for the demons unknown to come, which they probably will, or do we sit by and let this guy accumulate power, accumulate power and accumulate power until finally my more peaceful brethren find themselves in with a much bigger demon than they now face.
BILL MOYERS: Mr. Ralph, you’re drawing an analogy in the Persian just to make sure we’re responding to the point, you’re drawing an analogy between Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and Hitler’s moving into Central Europe in the late 1930s.
BILL RALPH: I want to make one thing very clear. I am drawing a geopolitical parallel. It is strictly a geopolitical problem, in my eyes.
MARY RALPH: With all due respect to my husband’s geopolitical views, and to all the veterans in the audience, especially the World War II and Vietnam-era veterans that have spoken, I would like to say that this is not the same world as it was in the 1930s and 1940s because we changed it. We are the only country in this world that has ever used a nuclear weapon. And therefore if we are truly the beacon that you said we are, sir, then I feel it’s up to the United States of America and all of the people who are proud, as I am, to call themselves Americans to lead the world in finding other solutions. Please let’s not let our sons, our daughters, our brothers, our sisters die for oil or Saddam Hussein or any of all of the wonderful objectives that you people have spoken of. Do we have to let people die? Can’t we find another solution?
BILL MOYERS: Back there?
11th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I am opposed to war. I always have been. But what country is strong enough to police the world? No, I don’t want to police the world but we have to be part of it. We have to be part of it. If we’re not part of the police wars, the United Nations is not worth the land that it’s on.
12th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Can we do it with a moral philosophy? Could we at least do it with a positive-
11th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: If I were to put armed guards at each of these entrances and told you that you could not leave unless you gave me $10, you would be irate!
12th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: That’s correct, but I wouldn’t support the man who just kept me in. We were working with Iraq up until, what, a year ago, less than that, giving them all the arms-
11th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Here’s the man hear-
12th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: We have not had a moral-
11th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Here’s the man here, here’s the man that denounced Ryan for years, he comes out and supports the only man that would support Ryan, Tommy O’Connor.
BILL MOYERS: I want to tell you that I, I will take on the Middle East, but I will not take on Springfield politics. This gentleman’s had his hand up since I walked into the room. He’s very patient and civil about it, but it’s your turn.
13th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: As a citizen of India and a student in this country, I want to just broaden this thing out of the United States to say that when we look at what’s going on, to the Ba’ath socialist movement in Iraq, we see an attempt to essentially-the United States sees a number of third world regional powers which have military installations and which have weapons systems. We see this as a coercive attempt-irrespective of the conflict in the region, which we think, a lot of us, including my government, feels should be settled by an Arab solution between the Arab peoples. We see it as an attempt to disarm us and as a citizen of India, my country has got potential nuclear installations. It has large conventional forces and we have fought multiple wars over boundary lands. Will you now send the same coercive measures against us? It compels us to move into a militaristic position.
CHRISTINE HELMS: I think the attitude that he expresses is becoming much more prevalent, too, in many Islamic countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. But also one thing that has not been mentioned tonight is that the blockade on Iraq has had an enormous effect on other countries and an inability on our part to negotiate is severely hurting them. And I submit to you that if, in fact, we see a power vacuum in Jordan arise, we will have very serious difficulties. Turkey is another country which is severely hurt by this. It got $5 million a day from transshipping Iraqi crude and 60 percent of its energy needs met. And we can go through a list of countries: $2 billion of energy for Poland and Romania on a yearly basis, the Philippines, South Korea, India, Pakistan-
BILL MOYERS: So isn’t there something admirable about the support these countries are giving in the face of this sacrifice to the United Nations combined effort?
CHRISTINE HELMS: No. They’re getting almost no support. At the most, we now have $21 billion only in terms of commitments. The money actually hasn’t been delivered.
BILL MOYERS: But they are supporting the embargo, are they not?
CHRISTINE HELMS: Yes, but-
BILL MOYERS: So that’s a sacrifice.
CHRISTINE HELMS: That’s a sacrifice of enormous proportion. And my question is that-we have long-term questions. It’s not-you know, we can also force Saddam Hussein out of Iraq, but if it takes so long to do that that we literally disable multiple economies across the world at critical times-Romania and Poland, for example, in these fragile democratic nation-states that they’re in, are going to have to pay increased energy prices in this world oil market.
DOUGLAS FEITH: What this means is that if we rely on the economic sanctions alone for a very extended period of many more months, the tremendous economic pressures throughout the international community created by the embargo of Iraq are likely to crack the international coalition standing up to Iraq. And I think that’s part of the reason that we can’t count on patiently relying entirely on economic coercion against Iraq.
CHRISTINE HELMS: But one of the dangers of using military force in a country like Iraq, if you totally destroy the central government or so disarm the military there that nobody has the capability of restoring power and the state is not able to maintain territorial integrity, is that you open up a Pandora’s box. If you had Turkey move into northern Iraq, you had the Iranians move into southern Iraq, will this be less comforting-more comforting to the lower Arab Gulf states? I think not. I think these are questions that one can talk about the short-term issue of morality of ejecting Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, but there are in fact much longer scenarios and consequences that devolve from the use of force.
BILL MOYERS: After an hour and a half, our discussion of war came home to mothers and sons. Right down here there’s a-there’s just-let me get the microphone over here.
14th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I’d like to direct my question to the two gentlemen advocating the administration’s policies. And I have to say, I’m very impressed with your knowledge. But I’m wondering if you have any inside knowledge as to when Dan Quayle is going to reenlist and when Senator-when President Bush’s sons are going to enlist, because my son is there and I don’t want my son coming home in a body bag.
BILL MOYERS: Ms. Williams, you have a son there, 19 years old.
15th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I hear a lot about power. I hear a lot about someone winning and someone losing. But to me, the bottom line is my son’s life is not worth power or someone winning and someone losing.
BILL MOYERS: Does he agree with you? Have you talked about it since he arrived in theÖ
15th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: No, my son is in the Army and he is an American citizen and he’s there to defend his country. But he’s there in a hovel and he sees an Arabian riding around in a BMW and he can’t even afford a Volkswagen. So to him it doesn’t make much sense, no sense whatsoever. Why is he there? I still don’t know why he’s there.
16th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: [unintelligible] drive around BMWs or Volkswagens. It has nothing to do with it.
[crosstalk] The point is that when they took over they took American citizens, they took American citizens, they tied them to the-
15th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: My son is an American citizen, too.
16th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: But they also have American citizens as hostages.
BILL MOYERS: Let’s [unintelligible]-stand, if you don’t mind. Let’s see If we can make a connection, here. Instead of simply continuing to shout, let’s see if-what do you think he’s saying?
15th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: He’s saying that he made a commitment to be a soldier and he’s taking the responsibility and that’s a sacrifice. No sir.
BILL MOYERS: So what do you think-what did you hear her say?
16th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: She feels sorry for her son bell1g there, but he joined the service. When you join the service there’s certain responsibilities and certain risks that you may have to go to war.
BILL MOYERS: What do you say to that?
15th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I say to that, the hostages that are there, I understand they’re there. But President Bush should do something about those hostages-negotiate make some peace. I don’t think my son’s bloodshed is going to’ bring those hostages back.
BILL MOYERS: But eventually, the discussion turned to the most intractable issue in the Middle East, the issue Saddam Hussein has insisted must be linked to his occupation of Kuwait. Mr. Nassar-and I’d like to continue the conversation between you.
GEORGE NASSAR: If the generals get their way and we bomb Saddam Hussell1 to Mars, how does that change and solve the Middle Eastern problem that start at the end of World War I and represents a massive failure of British, French and American policy?
BILL MOYERS: Realistically, I hear you asking the question Mr. Nassar, is, “Can the president, can President Bush, use the reality that exists now to link Saddam’s withdrawal from Kuwait or his ambitions in the Middle East to the problem of Israel and the Palestinians?”
GEORGE NASSAR: Hasn’t Saddam Hussein, whether we like him or not, placed the other questions squarely on the table when American presidents have not? Whether we like him or not, he’s placed the misery of the people in the camps and the misery of the poor in the Middle East, who have been waiting for America ever since they started emigrating here-hasn’t he placed the question squarely on the table and no one else has up to now?
BILL MOYERS: Let me go to the Gabermans because they were in the film and that’s where I heard the reference to Israel. What was –
DICK GABERMAN: Well, there’s a basic assumption that George Nassar is making and that is there is an analogy here. And there is no analogy. But it’s people like George Nassar, people who support Saddam Hussein, who want to make an analogy in order to get the pressure off of Saddam Hussein and now put the pressure on the state of Israel.
BILL MOYERS: Are you suggesting that the issue of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip be addressed before Saddam Hussein leaves Kuwait, before the hostages are released?
GEORGE NASSAR: It will never be addressed, as the president says, if he leaves and then we may sit down, says the president, and discuss that. We’ve been “getting around to” discussing that issue and have never gotten to that issue.
BILL MOYERS: But is that then a reward to Saddam Hussein for invading?
DICK GABERMAN: I think what George is really trying to [unintelligible]
GEORGE NASSAR: I don’t want to consider myself a companion to the Kuwaiti government, as an American, so that I can feel good about myself. I do not consider myself companionate with two corrupt families who control the people of their countries without parliaments and who have given up slavery only in the last 30 years.
DICK GABERMAN: What you’re basically saying is that Saudi Arabia has no right to be in existence as a country, that Kuwait has no right to be in existence as a country, probably all the Gulf states have no right to be in existence. Why? Because they have all the oil and all the money.
GEORGE NASSAR: No, I’m saying-
DICK GABERMAN: Therefore, open it up to an international discussion so that the poor people can now overwhelm these governments and take them over. Is that what you’re suggesting-
GEORGE NASSAR: I’m saying that-
DICK GABERMAN: -is total chaos?
GEORGE NASSAR: I’m saying that no regime should collapse in the Middle East and that what should be addressed in the Middle East are the problems that were left after the First World War. And we do not address them by bombing civilians in Baghdad. I mean, no one has taken on in this room what we are going to be if we kill 500,000 Iraqis-women and children. Who are we going to be?
17th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: What’s he talking about? He gases all-
GEORGE NASSAR: Well, that’s another historical comment that was made. The Kurds were warned. They are the most bellicose people in the history of the world and they were warned not to side with Iran. I do not justify what he did.
BILL MOYERS: I have not called on this gentleman yet, then I’m going to come over here.
18th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: The Kurds have been fighting for their freedom against everybody for hundreds of years! They were warned, so that meant it was justifiable for this madman to gas them and kill them? Baloney!
13th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I don’t think you care about the Kurds [unintelligible) people for that matter. What has been going on in this room [unintelligible) for me is utterly-it’s appalling. Just watching you talk and talk and talk. You never talk about our interests. I don’t think you care about Indians. You don’t care about Kurds, Palestinians and you sure as hell don’t care about all those people in Iraq who have no problem with you people here in Springfield. But you’re going to send precision bombers and blow them to bits!
BILL MOYERS: In the end, our debate turned on the question of America’s intent.
19th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: My son is in Saudi Arabia and I thought he went there to defend aggression, and I didn’t
BILL MOYERS: Defend against aggression?
19th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: Against aggression. I haven’t bought into my son becoming an aggressor. I accepted the role of going in and protecting any further advance but I really haven’t bought into the other. And I’m convinced that that’s going to be a national debate now, after tonight.
BILL MOYERS: Back there.
20th SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: I keep hearing and reading that if only the president could properly articulate why we are where we are, then the American people would just fall in line, a light would go on, and we’d all understand. And if his lack of articulation is why there’s the kind of debate in this country that there is right now, then I’m glad he hasn’t gotten it together yet. And when are we going to get the kind of history lesson we need to really understand what’s going on here? A friend is a friend one day, an enemy the next-Noriega, Khmer Rouge. When is someone going to respect the American people enough to tell us what’s really going on? 2
1st SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT: It seems to me that there’s a very clear morality of convenience here. When we were opposed to the-Iran just not so long ago was our er.t:!my. When we were opposed to Iran, we supported Iraq, so that if, as the gentleman said, Hussein is our-an international outlaw, he’s our international outlaw. So how-yesterday’s friend is today’s demonized enemy. How can we then invoke some kind of moral critique-justification for our actions?
DOUGLAS FEITH: I think you’ve raised a profound and important point, which is that when you pursue policies that don’t have a clear moral grounding and are not well explained and the public doesn’t support you, you get into a great deal of trouble.
BILL MOYERS: But in terms of the reality right now, does the moral conundrum raised by this gentleman have any effect upon the President’s decisions of the moment, or should it? Can it?
DOUGLAS FEITH: Well, the effect it should have is to make the president realize that he must clearly enunciate what he thinks is at stake in the Gulf so that it resonates with the American public’s sense of what’s right.
Rev. C.T. VIVIAN: I am not hearing this room talk about the long-term consequences of the action except for the fellow from India who doesn’t represent the U.S., doesn’t represent the Western world, right, and has to be outside of that to begin to see how the whole world is looking at this instead of how we’re looking at this. My concern is also something that was not brought up, how poor people across this country are looking at this, all right? It is not an accident that over 30 percent of the forces there are black, all right? It is not an accident that a great percentage of them are
Hispanic. It’s not an accident that most of the rest are the children of poor Americans. The money we’re spending now should be spent on basic problems we have, all the way from hospitals and health to highways. I’m not hearing that kind of conversation here between the people who will be killed.
BILL MOYERS: General Trainor?
BERNARD TRAINOR: Bill, you opened this session with a definition of sacrifice, which I thought was a workable definition. And what struck me during the course of the discussion here, the American people were prepared to make sacrifice on August the 3rd in response to this aggression. Since that time, the question of what we are doing there and where we are going and how we are going to do it has raised a lot of questions within the minds of the American people so that while they’re willing to make sacrifice for something that they understand, that line in the sand, the defense, they seem to be confused about, or unwilling to make sacrifice in terms of going beyond that, which raises the issue of what, exactly, is it that the administration plans, has in mind? What is it that we are doing that would be worthy of that sacrifice? And clearly, from the discussion that took place here today, which I think is probably pretty representative of what’s going on around the country, is this administration has not yet made its case. It has not articulated its case to the point that people are willing and anxious to make the sacrifices necessary.
BILL MOYERS: The Constitution, as I understand it, the men who framed that constitution, made it very difficult for America to go to war, or they intended to. That’s because they knew the consequences of war. A political mistake can be recalled. A limb cannot be recovered. A life cannot be reclaimed. And if you read their letters, you understand they knew perfectly well that this great nation would have to war. But, as Thomas Jefferson said, they fully intended for the Constitution to “chain the dog of war” and make it possible to loose that creature only when it seemed absolutely necessary to do so. As a people who were talked into existence, they believed that the republic would be saved by talking itself into a constantly new understanding of what its purpose is. What I heard tonight was that as Springfield goes to war, it does so very, very reluctantly. And that, by the way, I think, is exactly what the framers and founders of this political system intended reluctantly. Thank you for making the evening possible.
This transcript was entered on April 15, 2015.