The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have not only prompted millions of Americans to fill houses of worship in search of solace and answers, it has also gotten them talking: about their fears and concerns, as well as about what the United States should do in response.
On Thursday night, about an hour before President Bush was to address the U.S. Congress and the nation, about 100 people gathered at Benedictine University in the Chicago suburb of Lisle to talk. University social work professor Jane Boumgarden assured those who came because they are scared that those feelings are normal. "Normal right now is feeling out of control. Normal right now is feeling incredible fear and helplessness. That is our reality right now," she said.
Karanjit Singh is a Sikh from a neighboring community who says he fears for his young son's safety. Sikhs in several communities in the United States have been targets of harassment or violence from people who think their turbans or dark skin makes them Islamic radicals. "Me and my wife are always telling my son he can not go outside alone," Mr. Singh said. "He used to play in front of our house with his friends. We are not allowing him to do that because safety is a big issue."
But most were concerned with what the United States should do in response to the attacks. President Bush has announced plans to wipe out terrorists worldwide. Most Americans support using the U.S. military in such a fight, even if innocent people in other countries are killed. Mani Batchu is not part of that majority. "Even if we are angry, acting on impulse, we must not react with violence," he said. "That is not the solution at all. There are innocent Afghan civilians, innocent Pakistani civilians if this goes across the border. We do not know yet."
But Martin Tracey supports the president's plans for an international campaign against terrorism. He says after what happened last week in New York and Washington, a military response against those responsible or those who support those responsible is not out of order. "The use of force is justified in self-defense," Mr. Tracey said. "That is because when God commands us not to kill, he is commanding us to preserve life. When people take actions that threaten the preservation of life, the obligation is preserve us, life requires us to stop them, often in a way that is death-dealing."
Benedictine University history professor Vince Gaddis called the president's speech a "war message." He was concerned with Mr. Bush's statement that any country supporting or harboring terrorists will be considered a hostile regime. "The Taleban government seems to be a very small piece of this war. Did what we hear is that we are willing to militarily strike any nation? That frightens me," he said.
Several people who spoke expressed fear that the president could lose public support for the war against terrorism the longer it continued, especially as U.S. military casualties begin adding up.