Area residents mixed on their views of war

NASHUA – Kagen Weeks drives a shiny red car decorated with a lone rear bumper sticker printed in red, white and blue: “Bush/Orwell 2004.”

The message the 28-year-old environmental engineer hopes to send is a puzzle to many passersby, who assume the driver supports President Bush. What’s lost on them is the irony of the juxtaposition.

Even in fantasy, the late writer and social critic and the president make an unlikely match.

Likewise, Weeks does not see eye to eye with the president.

This week, as the first anniversary of the war in Iraq approached, the city resident looked back – and forward – with deep concern about the conflict and its implications. He was one of about a dozen area residents who shared their feelings and thoughts about the war that began a year ago on a Wednesday night.

While some said they supported the president a year ago and continue to do so, others said they had lost faith after United Nations investigators failed to find weapons of mass destruction or concrete links between the terrorist organization al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein.

Still others, including Weeks, were sharply critical from the start.

“The war is for a small minority of corporate CEOs, (Bush’s) millionaire pals,” Weeks said, after he was approached on the sidewalk under the Fleet bank clock on Main Street.

“From the start, I knew it was a war where thousands would die, including poor Americans, to advance an agenda that doesn’t help our country economically or socially, and it definitely doesn’t help the safety of our country. . . . We’re no safer here in the United States than we were a year ago.”

Weeks, who was on an errand at noontime, said he considers the first anniversary of the war an important milestone. He also said he hopes it will compel Americans to reconsider the nation’s position in Iraq and question its policies.

“We’re there. We’re not done with it, and there’s no end in sight,” he said. “I just hope people think more about it.”

Meanwhile, the city resident worries the U.S. occupation of Iraq represents the first in a series of tumbling dominoes. “We’ll have numerous more Iraqs if (Bush) is allowed another four years,” he said.

Weeks said he would have preferred being wrong about the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but he said the lack of evidence only deepened his opposition to the war.

“In the long run, hundreds more will die for a cause I don’t believe was worth the life of one,” he said.

Mary Jane Davis, 78, and her husband, James William Davis, 73, were leaving Alec’s Shoe Store on Tuesday morning after making a purchase. James Davis served in the U.S. Air Force for 24½ years. His wife, widowed at the age of 30 and left with four young children, said her first husband died as a result of injuries he suffered during World War II.

“I’m 100 percent behind the president,” said Mary Jane Davis. “For all Saddam has done to his people. We’re there for a democratic policy, for the sake of the people.”

She said her position has remained steadfast – in spite of personal and family losses. A son, now 53, is completely disabled due to injuries he suffered in Vietnam.

“If I had lost 15 in my family, you couldn’t have a more patriotic person because I love America,” she said. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for this country. We’ve got to defend ourselves and help these people.”

Hardly aware of the raw temperature or snow flurries, Paul Rilko, 51, was washing the front window at Alec’s. A Vietnam era U.S. Army veteran, Rilko said he didn’t support the president’s decision to go to war with Iraq.

“Right from the beginning, I didn’t see absolute proof,” said Rilko, a self-described political conservative. “But once you send troops in, you’ve got to support the government. You don’t have to agree, but you support it.”

Rilko said he still remembers the sting of returning from Vietnam to social ostracism and ridicule. He doesn’t want that to happen ever again to any service person.

“I didn’t think we should have gone (to Iraq),” he said. “I didn’t see a big threat coming out of Iraq . . . but I wouldn’t turn my back on the military, spit in their face like they did to us. It’s the government that puts us in war, Congress and the president.”

Farther up Main Street, Jeanine Allan was leaving the Cooking Matters coffee shop and restaurant with her husband, Scott. Both were bundled against the cold in leather jackets.

Jeanine Allan, 43, a veterinary technician, said she supported the president a year ago and continues to support him.

“It’s not just about oil. It’s about human rights,” she said of the war. “We’re giving the (Iraqi) people a chance to live better.”

Her husband, 38, a casting supervisor, said he, too, supported the decision to go to war. And while he hoped the situation would be resolved more quickly, he said he was continuing to back the president’s decision to go to war.

“If you support the president, you support the troops. They go hand in hand,” he said.

City resident Kathy Crouse, 45, was buying office supplies at a store in the Turnpike Plaza on Amherst Street Tuesday afternoon. An office manager, Crouse was using part of her lunch break to run the errand.

“I was nervous, scared, but I felt something had to be done,” she said, recalling her feelings of a year ago when the president declared war on Iraq. “I’m not as scared, not as nervous (now). I just feel we need to finish up the job. I still support President Bush.”

Crouse said she would like to see the conflict end quickly. Meanwhile, she is praying for the safe return of U.S. troops.

“My thoughts and prayers are with them. I want them to know we do support them and are 100 percent behind them,” she said.

On Thursday morning, John and Jo-An Doyle were drinking coffee inside a Dunkin Donuts restaurant on Amherst Street. The couple had stopped on the way to a doctor’s appointment.

“I supported it. It made sense at the time,” said John Doyle, 77, a World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Navy. “I’m disappointed they didn’t find supposed weapons (of mass destruction), but other than that, I support him.”

Doyle also said he feels strongly that Americans should back their government during war.

“A lot of people are unhappy with the way things are going,” said the retired sales manager. “I think we should stand behind our troops and support (the president).”

Will Whalen, 50, a Temple resident who works in the electronics industry, was leaving the doughnut shop after making a purchase. An opponent of the war a year ago, Whalen said his thinking has not changed.

“I didn’t support it then. I still don’t,” he said. “It’s a war of convenience for the administration.”

Whalen’s father, a U.S. Army veteran, was hunkered down in a foxhole in Korea in 1954 when his son was born, and the son said that history has shaped his own feelings about his country.

“I love this country. I don’t think we took a right turn (in Iraq), but I still hurt when we hurt because I’m very patriotic,” he said.

But a year later, he said his opposition is even stronger.

“Especially since they didn’t find weapons of mass destruction,” he said, adding: “Do I feel safer now? Not really. Probably, it’s pretty much the same. It’s a shame what happened in Spain. I expected more of that here.”

Several patrons escaping the cold and snow on Wednesday morning sat inside Jackie’s Diner on Main Street eating breakfast.

Roxanne Chabot, 44, a homemaker from Wells, Maine, in town for appointments at St. Joseph Hospital, said she supported the president a year ago and still does.

“I believed in his team,” she said.

“I did feel we were in good hands. I thought he’d go in the right direction and get it done.”

A year later, Chabot said she continues to respect the president’s decision and the challenges he faces as the conflict drags on.

“He has a goal in mind and he’s working toward it,” she said. “Life is better for (the Iraqis) now, although they still have a way to go.”

Barbara Sergieff, 36, an artist, was sitting at the counter inside Jackie’s, several seats from Chabot. She said her perspective was shaped in part by her husband’s experiences and his appreciation for democracy: He was born in Iran, lived there until he was 5, and relocated with his family to Russia.

“Bush is the first president whose word I can actually believe,” she said. “I trust him and I’m not a person into politics.”

Like Chabot, Sergieff said she believes life has improved immeasurably for the Iraqis since the U.S. invasion, and she believes it will only get better.

“I want them to have as good a life as we have, to be able to go home and sleep at night,” she said.

Paul Trembly, 62, a Hannaford supermarket employee, was at the U.S. Post Office on Spring Street on Thursday afternoon. A veteran who served in the U.S. Marines, Trembly said his support of the war is the same as a year ago.

“We should only pull the troops if (Iraq) is stabilized,” Trembly said.

“I was upset that they didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction, but I’m supporting the troops,” he said.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Willard Keirstead, 68, was sitting in a chair at Wilfred’s Barber Shop on West Pearl Street after putting in a day’s work on Wednesday. While barber Jerry Desroches deftly combed and clipped, Keirstead, a builder, succinctly expressed his opinion about President Bush.

“Yes, I believed what he was doing was right at the time,” Keirstead said. “I still support him.”

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 594-6439 or