War issue wanes in some minds, not mothers’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 17, 2008

NATCHEZ — Odesia Minor has a lot invested in what happens with the war in Iraq.

Her oldest son, Sam Jr., has been in the U.S. Air Force for a number of years, and her youngest son, Jermaine, is in the U.S. Army. Both have done tours of Iraq.

“When the war started, I was very upset, and I was afraid, because I didn’t want my children to go,” Minor said. “I couldn’t rest.”

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Sam Jr. was a communications specialist and not often in the way of danger, but Jermaine is a diesel mechanic who has to travel across the country. Sam is currently stationed in Japan, but Jermaine is on standby to go back for a third trip to Iraq at any time.

“He is comfortable with that, but I am not,” Minor said.

Whenever her sons were in Iraq, Minor found she couldn’t sleep, and she obsessively watched war coverage on whatever cable news channel was carrying it.

“I still do the same thing, hoping and praying they won’t take these kids back over,” she said.

It is typically the families of those fighting the war that feel the most pain and worry, said Sharon Goodrich, a longtime worker with military family support groups.

“You are always going to have the fear factor,” Goodrich said. “That is something that never goes very far from you. If you have children, all of a sudden you are a single parent.”

Public perception

But the families of service personnel aren’t the only ones who have opinions about the war, and depending on who you listen to, the war is either going very well or very badly.

And that perception may be the biggest problem with the public discourse about the war, said Rick Travis, associate professor of political science at Mississippi State University.

“I think that for many voters trying to understand reality is often very difficult,” he said. “We are often led by the opinions of others and the information we receive.”

For many people, the information they receive is selective.

“I certainly don’t think we are open to information of all varieties,” Travis said. “Those who are opposed to the war are going to hear the bad news, and those who are for it are going to hear the good news.

“Very few people are open to hearing the totality of the issue.”


Many voters may consider the war a priority in the presidential election, but it is getting less and less attention nationally, often eclipsed by domestic issues such as the economy.

“In part, that is because the war is going much better than it was six months ago, and so as a wedge issue for the American people is not as divisive as it was,” Travis said. “I think it is an issue that has largely run its course.”

Another reason the war may not be playing as prominent role in the national scene is precisely because war is such a divisive issue.

“I think that many people have already decided how they are going to vote, and those that are virulently opposed to the war have long been Obama backers, and nothing is going to change that,” Travis said.

There may still be a few undecided voters for whom the war may be a deciding factor, but Travis said they are likely few in number.

“If the 155th infantry in Mississippi was moving out in October instead of January, it might affect more votes locally,” he said.

Many — but not all — military families tend to be more apolitical when a loved one is deployed, but they are keenly aware of what politicians are more likely to work for military interests, Goodrich said.

“When a unit is deployed, it is all about the families and spouses in the combat zone,” Goodrich said. “They are not worrying about politics.”

The politicians’ plans

Regardless of the public perception of the war — or perhaps just because of it — both of the presumptive presidential candidates have a plan to address it, though their plans are significantly different.

Democrat Barack Obama’s plan is to begin phased withdrawals of one to two combat brigades a month, a plan that would have the bulk of combat troops out of the country by summer 2010.

His plan also calls for a small force to stay in the country to carry out targeted strikes against Al-Qaeda in Iraq. That force will also provide support for and train the native security forces in Iraq.

Republican John McCain’s plan includes continuing the recently ended “surge,” which stemmed violence in some of the most violent parts of the country, and welcoming the United Nations to play a bigger part in the upcoming Iraqi elections. McCain has openly disavowed setting any timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Obama has said that fighting the war without an end in sight will not serve to make the U.S. safer, while McCain has said it would be a mistake to leave before Al-Qaeda in Iraq is defeated.

But with the primary season over and the general campaign — for all intents and purposes — under way, both of those positions are beginning to soften, Travis said.

“Obama has backed off of his position somewhat because the war is not going the same way it was six months ago, and McCain has noted that if the Iraqi leadership has called for a withdrawal during that time period (following the election) he would consider going for that,” Travis said. “Both men have moved to the center of the issue since the height of primary season.”

It was because of Obama’s promise to end the war that Minor said she decided to support him, she said.

“I just want them to end the thing,” she said. “It is a big issue, not only for my children, but for others, too. If I feel this way, I am sure a lot of the other mothers feel the same way.”