Balancing beliefs is a difficult tightrope act

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 21, 2003

I was eight or nine years old and sitting on the floor in the family room, leaning against my dad's knees as we watched television. He was in his version of the Archie Bunker chair, a ratty old black vinyl recliner with duct tape on one arm where on of the dogs had chewed it down to the frame.

We were watching the fall of Saigon.

I remember the newsreels clearly, the desperate people clinging to the helicopters as they lifted away, climbing the fences, throwing themselves across the razor wire as though it were the winner's tape at the end of the race.

I remember the body bags.

One of the curses of being a writer - even at nine, I knew I was going to be a writer - is an overactive imagination. I could almost see the face of each soldier behind that anonymous black veil of death, and faces of their families, waiting across an ocean for the sad cargo.

"I hope," said my dad, an Army Air Corps -first generation Air Force veteran, "I hope you never have to see anything like this again."

Sorry, dad.

About 20 years later, I sat in my mother's living room, clutching my oldest child in my arms while my mom was giving the baby his bottle, and I watched them deliver the flag-draped caskets of those who died in the Gulf War. Not so many, this time, but any death was wasteful and wrong. I remember wondering what my children were going to do, wondering how they could be safe in this world full of armed helicopters, machine guns, nuclear weapons.

And now, it happens again.

Like many in this country, I feel terribly conflicted about this war. A tail-end baby boomer, I grew up surrounded by songs of love and peace. I was also an Air Force brat. As a mother, I'm terrified that my sons will have to die on foreign soil. As a mother, I watch tapes of the towers crumbling and want to nuke the terrorists into a slag heap.

When is war justified? How do I reconcile, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and the ferocious urge to protect my own at any cost?

I can understand the protesters. I can understand the supporters.

What I can't understand is why they can't understand each

other. There is little in this world that is black and white, but some things do stand out more clearly on the scale of wrong and right.

Arresting a man for wearing a tee-shirt that says "Give peace a chance" is wrong. Assembling without permission and disrupting traffic flow, as chains of protesters have

done across the country, is also wrong.

Being taken into FBI custody for simply voicing an opinion, which happened in Texas, is wrong. Smashing windows and threatening police officers for "peace" is also terribly wrong.

Blind obedience is never a good thing - look at history for confirmation. There are eerie parallels between the rise of certain governments and some of the actions taken by this country lately that are disturbing. We can only hope that when the sand storm settles and the war in Iraq is over, our privacy will be restored.

But you do not have to be blindly obedient to be supportive. I cannot agree with everything this administration has done - perhaps I still do not agree with going to war. I'm still working that one out, trying to balance justice and justification in my soul as well as my mind. But now that we have gone to war, I offer all of my support to our troops and pray for the day we can say it's over, and the last casualty has been brought home, and I will turn to my sons and say "I hope you never have to see anything like this again."

Mary Reeves is the Neighbors editor and a reporter and columnist for the Star-News. She can be reached at