- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2003

The speed and efficiency of the war in Iraq have not lessened blacks' distrust of the government and of Bush administration efforts to obtain their support for the U.S.-led effort to oust Saddam Hussein. Although support for the war has increased among most groups, blacks continue to register lower poll percentages in favor of the conflict.
"I don't think [the war] was right. America needs to clean up their own back yard before they go looking into someone else's," said carpenter Chamberlain Adams, 36, of Silver Spring. "I think President Bush did this to spur support for re-election. He had to attack somebody after September 11, and Saddam was who he chose."
Mr. Adams said he opposes war in general, fearing that it will lead to other wars and skirmishes.
Don Scoggins, 57, an independent businessman from Fairfax, shares Mr. Adams' distaste for warfare but takes a different view on the conflict in Iraq.
"I think our cause going in was justified. … I am behind President Bush 100 percent," Mr. Scoggins said. "Just because we're people of color doesn't mean we should support regimes run by people of color that are vicious."
"I'm not for war, but I am against the Hussein regime, and if this is what it takes to remove him, then so be it," he said.
A Pew Research Center survey of 1,254 adults in February found that 66 percent of Americans backed military action in Iraq, but that 44 percent of blacks favored war, the lowest level of any group surveyed. About 73 percent of whites and 67 percent of Hispanics supported combat, the Pew survey found.
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Zogby America poll of 1,002 likely voters in February found that 25 percent support the war among blacks. About 70 percent of men and 50 percent of women said they supported the war, the poll found.
As recently as this month, about 49 percent of blacks said they backed the war, according to a Washington Post/ABC News telephone survey of 1,030 randomly selected adults conducted April 2-6. About 81 percent of whites supported the war, the poll found.
Blacks' opposition to the war has grown out of their distrust of the Bush administration, said David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank that focuses on black issues.
Mr. Bositis said that because 9 percent of blacks voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 a lower percentage than any Republican since Barry Goldwater "he is not likely to get black support for something like this."
However, blacks have objected to war in general at least since Vietnam, said Ron Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute, and a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.
Martin Luther King's outspoken criticism of the Vietnam conflict and Muhammad Ali's refusal to be drafted set benchmarks of opinion in the black community, he said, noting that many blacks also opposed the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
"When we have a war, the number of blacks die disproportionately. And African-Americans are disproportionately represented in the military," Mr. Walters said.
Mr. Walters' argument about black overrepresentation on the battlefield has resonated among some blacks since the Vietnam War, but numbers don't seem to support such an assertion.
According to the Defense Department, of the more than 58,200 service personnel killed in Vietnam, a little more than 7,000, or 12 percent, were black. Blacks, who made up about 12 percent of the U.S. population during Vietnam, accounted for about 10 percent of combat troops.
Since the advent of the all-volunteer military in the 1970s, blacks make up about 30 percent of service personnel but about 10 percent of combat troops. Blacks account for about 13 percent of the general population.
"The military is the most integrated government establishment," said Tracy Price-Thompson, 39, a retired Army lieutenant and author of "Black Coffee," a novel about a black female Army officer. "A lot of blacks enlist as a way to progress in society because they know the benefits and they want to help their country."
As of Wednesday, the Pentagon has reported 132 U.S. casualties in the war in Iraq: 111 due to "hostile" incidents and 21 attributable to "nonhostile" incidents. According to published reports and photographs, at least 17 black servicemen have been killed in the war, about 13 percent of casualties. The Pentagon has not created a demographic breakdown of casualties by race.
The relatively few casualties notwithstanding, polls showing even 40 percent support for the war among blacks are greeted with some skepticism.
"Nobody believes that there are 41 percent of blacks in favor of the war," said Cliff Kelley, a black host on Chicago's WVON-AM, the city's only black-owned talk radio station. "The only black people supporting this effort are people like Armstrong Williams," a conservative commentator.
Mr. Kelley's callers have come in about 9-to-1 against the war, he said, because "they believe that it is morally wrong to bomb people who haven't done anything to them."
Conversely, Mr. Williams said, he his talks to blacks about the war leads him to believe that "it's more like 50-50 on support of the war."
"They were influenced by 9/11, and they realize that we are all Americans," Mr. Williams said. "They know that these people hate us. … I have no idea who is being polled, but it seems that only the bourgeoisie is having its say."
National black leaders, such as Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have voiced outrage and opposition to the war, as well as to the Republican-led Congress and Bush administration.
Blacks opposed to the war cited the United States' resources among a variety of issues and concerns, some tinged with suspicion and doubt.
"I thought the war was a stupid use of our resources," said Damien King, 21, a grocery-store seafood manager from Congress Heights, in Southeast. "If it was just about giving freedom to the Iraqi people, I think it is a worthwhile cause. But I think there is a hidden agenda, and that is controlling their oil and giving U.S. companies major contracts for the rebuilding effort."
Robert Wright, 36, a client-service representative from Seat Pleasant, said, "It's sad we're going through this war with our limited resources."
Troy Williams, a 36-year-old health-club manager from Alexandria, said war in Iraq "is about taking other people's resources."
"We have numerous issues at home the economy, crime, health care, providing equal opportunities for education with the affirmative-action debate and we can't take care of any of those," he said.
Mr. Bositis, the Joint Center analyst, said many blacks take the view that funds spent on a foreign war means fewer funds for key black issues such as housing, education and Social Security.
"It is seen as a trade-off between foreign and domestic spending, with domestic spending losing," he said.
That notion is highlighted in an essay titled "Smart Bombs and Dumb Children" on www.blackpressusa.com. In his essay, James E. Clingman, an adjunct professor of African-American studies at the University of Cincinnati, questions the Bush administration's spending priorities, saying the war and its technological needs will usurp the president's education goals.
Leo S. Mackay Jr., deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs and a former "top gun" Navy aviator, acknowledged that domestic issues "are what interest blacks primarily." However, he added, "Domestic issues are often affected by foreign issues."
Suspicion of the administration's goals, both foreign and domestic, has fueled some of the black opposition to the war.
"I … think it is interesting that the administration had no children going over to fight, compared with the large numbers of blacks in the military who sent their loved ones to battle," said Bob Nock, 51, an engineering manager from Chantilly. "I think the war was about oil and U.S. efforts to control the Middle East."
Stephanie Cardwell, 34, an analyst for the National Association of Securities Dealers, said the U.S.-led action in Iraq "is to show our efforts towards hemispheric globalization."
"We want a foothold in the new world order being established in the Middle East."
Charlie Johnson, 33, resident barber at Cutz on the Hill Barber Shop in Capitol Hill, said, "I don't believe we are over there because Saddam killed his own people. I think it's something else they are not telling us about."
Mrs. Price-Thompson, the author and former Army officer who lives at Fort Dix, N.J., said, "We as a people have a history of opposing any type of government action. Because the government has not been kind to us, we are naturally mistrustful."
In addition to distrust of the government, blacks couched their opposition to the war in concerns about its aftermath, doubts about the U.S. role in the Middle East and criticism of the U.S. failure to find terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Pat Cook, 49, a secretary from the Petworth neighborhood in Northwest, said the United States did not have a legitimate reason to invade Iraq, adding, "My real concern is, where will it end? First, we were after [bin Laden], then without reason the focus changed to Saddam Hussein."
Speaking of his respect for U.S. troops, florist Joe World, 50, noted the failure to find bin Laden, saying, "Now we can't find Saddam. … How long will it be before this is forgotten like the first [Persian Gulf] war, where people closed their eyes for 12 years?"
Ronald Bowman, a 38-year-old electrician from Alexandria, said the United States has "opened up a Pandora's box in the Middle East, and this won't be the last conflict between the two regions."
Guy Raphael, a former Air Force sergeant from Fort Washington, expressed support for the troops and noted that his sister Air Force Cmdr. Valerie Bryant of the 82nd Airborne Division, the first woman to command a jump unit is in Iraq.
"I just wish we hadn't gone into the conflict alone and disunited," said Mr. Raphael, a systems analyst.
The Bush administration's action against Saddam has created an unstable climate, he said. "A lot of the 'axis of evil' countries are now nervous that they are next, and their first thoughts are of survival and doing whatever they can to ensure it. And that is dangerous for us."
Jamal Shivers, 22, a college student from Fort Washington, said, "I think this idea of attacking other countries, like Syria, makes it look like the U.S. imposing a new world order, and that's the wrong move."
Mr. Shivers' attitudes about the war reflect the ambivalence among some blacks about the necessity of military action in world politics.
"Well, my take on the war is Saddam is a very bad man and needed to be removed," said Mr. Shivers, 22. "I am not for the war, but a lot of things are necessary for there to be peace, and I think they're doing the right thing."
Joan M. Riggins, 48, a telecommunications store manager from Takoma, in Northwest, said she does not support the president. "We wouldn't have gone to war if he were not in power," she said.
"The war was justified because we don't want our country to be like Israel, with terrorist attacks every other day," she said. The military "made it safer for us to get back and forth to work by their show of force as a warning to others."
Nakisha Nichols, 25, a sales representative from Takoma, said she supports the troops "because they have to go, but I don't support the U.S. trying to regulate what goes on in someone else's country."
A few blacks voiced unqualified support for the war.
U.S. Capitol Police Officer Neil MacCalla, 26, of New Carrollton said U.S. officials had good reasons for military action in Iraq. "I support them 100 percent," she said.
"I thought the reasons were political to remove the Saddam regime, and I don't think there is anything he could have done to stay in power," Officer MacCalla said.
Kelli Lee, 22, a hairstylist at Lee's Barber and Braiding shop on Capitol Hill, said the U.S. goal of removing Saddam was justified, even though anti-U.S. sentiment in the Middle East will hinder efforts to set up a democracy in Iraq.
"I'm not mad or upset that we went to war. I agree with the reasons behind it," she said. "I'm just glad it's over."

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