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Debate on Iraq War Spreads to Small Towns in the U.S. - 2003-03-25

With the onset of hostilities in Iraq, people across the United States have been speaking out both for and against the decision to go to war. Larger demonstrations in America’s big cities have been covered on TV, but the debate has been joined in small towns as well.

VOA-TV’s George Dwyer recently traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, site of an historic battle in the American Civil War, where he found that, even in a place known for its patriotism, a lot of people have “Mixed Emotions” about the War.


Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, population 7500, knows all about the sting of battle.

One Hundred and forty years ago, 3 days of fighting here resulted in horrific losses, 51,000 killed, wounded or captured. Since then, the people of Gettysburg have lived with a constant reminder of the terrible cost of armed conflict. Thousands of war dead lay buried at this site.


At his coffee shop in downtown Gettysburg, Ross Hetrick reflects on the mood of the town in these days of war.

“This is a conservative area and I would say probably like a lot of America that they are supporting the war. I think there might be some people here that, because of the carnage you had here, sort of have a little bit more connection to the actual real realities of war.”

Monuments and memorial plaques mark the town’s historical acquaintance with the “realities of war,” but it is the Iraqi conflict that is most on the minds of people here today.

“I spent 22 years in the military and I’ve got right now a step-son, two nieces and a nephew who are in harm’s way.”

Robert Alcorn is a self-appointed history teacher on the streets of Gettysburg. He supports the war.

“The decision to start the war was I think actually justified because in the past 12 years of diplomatic efforts really nothing has happened. There’s been no changes.”

Others here are troubled by the U.S. decision to initiate hostilities. Gettysburg’s Lutheran Theological Seminary has been a local landmark since before the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. Some students here think war could have been avoided.

“I think in the face of so many international voices against immediate action I think that America could have done better by listening in the end to that international opinion.”

Over at Gettyburg’s American Legion Post, military veterans disagree, and feel the war’s critics are wrong to demonstrate.

“They have their right to do this, that’s part of our Constitution, they have their own ideas about this, but I believe that they are entirely incorrect with what they’re doing now.”

This visitor to Gettysburg’s Memorial Park also says he has mixed emotions about what’s going on.

“I can see the point of view of people who are opposed to war, but they must look at the overall picture and rise above the politics and rise above their personal feelings and look at the big picture of what is to be gained by this.”

Back at Ross’s Coffee Shop, the owner is not buying that argument.

“I am very much against this war. I think this war is an incredibly bad mistake. It is creating a precedent which we are going to have to live with for a very long time which is the invasion without provocation of another country, which is a very bad precedent.”