The Homefront: Reaction to the Iraq War from Sacramento, California
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SPENCER MICHELS: In California’s capital city, Sacramento, on the morning after war broke out, a handful of peace demonstrators tried to attract some attention on a busy street, a far cry from the disruptive protests 80 miles away in San Francisco. Sacramento Bee columnist Bob Graswich has been sampling attitudes here on the war.
R.E. “BOB” GRASWICH: This is a very troubled community. I think Sacramento is very disturbed by this. I think Sacramento is very upset by this. And I think Sacramentans, being we are not outrageous people, we don’t make big shows of our anger but I think in general people are trying to figure out how to express themselves, because I think there’s a lot of pent up frustration with the government right now.
SPENCER MICHELS: Political pollsters say the sacramento area is a microcosm of California. The city itself, with 400,000 people is largely Democratic, its suburbs, Republican. A Harvard study called it among the most racially diverse cities in America. A recent survey found 43 percent of area residents opposed to a war with Iraq, and 51 percent supportive.
ROBERT BARBINO: I think it is incredible. I think George Bush is the greatest pres. We’ve ever had or ever will have. That’s what I feel.
SPENCER MICHELS: Robert Barbino is a former air force fighter pilot, one of a large contingent of retired military personnel in the Sacramento area. He shops at the commissary on the now decommissioned McClellan Air Force Base.
ROBERT BARBINO: We should have done this a long time ago. We’ve been inhibited by this new philosophy of the United Nations which are not…they are not doing their job. They should go in and take care of these dictators ok?
SPENCER MICHELS: Pollsters say former military service is a major determinant of political attitudes. But not all ex-military support the war.
CHESTER TRUE: I’m opposed to war obviously for various reasons. I think we are making a mistake there frankly. I would have been more supportive if we had been attacked by them. I would have liked it to have been something on the nature of Pearl Harbor where we were attacked and we could do something you know.
SPENCER MICHELS: And Billye Kahler, whose husband was an air force officer, had mixed emotions about the war.
BILLYE KAHLER: I think we came to the point where we had to finally go to war. But I think we started out wrong. You know with this belligerent attitude. We got all our allies stirred up and mad and even got me mad. But I think at this point we had to go to war.
SPENCER MICHELS: At the weekly luncheon of Sacramento’s downtown Rotary Club, the war got a brief mention during the program, but the focus was on the upcoming Academy Awards. Rotarian Steve Ruland, who sells office furniture, said he is disturbed by war protestors.
STEVE RULAND: The arrogance of these people that are out there, that think they know more about world affairs than our president, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, all these people who are out there every single days on the street corners, waving a sign at me, thinking that they know more than them about what’s going on in the world, I don’t have a lot of patience for those people.
SPENCER MICHELS: In African American communities like Oak Park the war was greeted largely with skepticism. 15 percent of Sacramento’s residents are black. At Tapers barber shop, where Rashon Trice was cutting merchant seaman Dana Haris’s hair, the television was on ESPN, the cable sports network.
RASHON TRICE: Is there anything to gain from Iraq disarming? He hasn’t shown any threat to us. Okay. There’s no smoking gun as to say. The truth is, he’s just seems like, my opinion, personally, just out for oil. They haven’t attacked us.
DANA HARIS: We talk about helping out the Iraq people, ok, yeah, but we can’t even help ourselves out.
SPENCER MICHELS: In recent years, immigrants from Vietnam, Laos and nearby nations have flocked to Sacramento. 17 percent of the population is now Asian, many of them refugees who have fled war, for a better life here. Nai Hing Saeteurn and her daughter, film maker Phan Saeyang, are Mien, who came from Laos. ( Speaking in Mien )
PHAN SAEYANG: She doesn’t want the country to go to war because it reminds her of the war she fled from Laos, and with all the destruction she just doesn’t feel it’s right. She thinks there’s other ways around it. See, we already have our brother, he’s in the army, he just got back in, he’s training in Alabama, so my mom’s really afraid of that. And I have another brother who is only 21, and if gets really bad he might get drafted.
SPENCER MICHELS: At a cafe in an all-Asian shopping center, hardly anyone was paying attention to the war.
HUAN PHAM: I hang around all these places, nobody talks about the war at all nothing seems to affect us except I pay more at the gas pump.
SPENCER MICHELS: As the evening commute got underway, a few hundred anti-war demonstrators clustered near a main commute street. It was a little noisy, but well-behaved. Meanwhile, life in Sacramento, the gateway to the gold rush and the western terminus of the Pony Express, goes on with little acknowledgment that the country is at war.