On the homefront

Based on the initial surge of patriotism and flag-waving post-Sept. 11, it would be easy to assume, that Western North Carolina residents wholeheartedly support the President. As time passed, however, the flags have faded — literally and figuratively.

Peace activists, too, were quick to respond: Vigils were held, marches organized and voices lifted. But the anti-war activities have likewise declined.

Yet it’s just about impossible to draw any conclusions about either of these trends.

Take, for example, the fact that the local U.S. Army recruiting offices failed to meet their collective goal for this fiscal year. Media Relations Officer Leslie Ann Sully, of the Columbia Recruiting Battalion (which includes WNC) told Xpress that local Army recruiters were expected to enlist 488 new recruits, but succeeded in signing only 362. To say that the discrepancy makes a statement about local support for the war would be an oversimplification, however, any number of factors could have contributed to that outcome.

According to USA Today, the armed forces nationwide have met their collective recruiting goals.

Sully also noted that the Army is downplaying any connection between Sept. 11 and its national recruiting efforts. Much of the overall recruiting success, she said, is related to the Army’s new advertising campaign promoting “the Army of one” and a revamped Web site that is reaching out to young people.

Local recruiter Sgt. 1st Class T.N. Scholfield also declined to cite Sept. 11 as a primary motivator for the people who enlisted through his office. “It may have been a factor,” he conceded, “but not a primary one. For many [recruits], it’s still about obtaining job skills, money for college, or just getting out on their own.” Interestingly enough, those who did inquire about enlisting as a result of Sept. 11 weren’t exactly prime recruiting material, said Scholfield. “We got a lot of calls from folks who are former service wanting to re-enlist, but [they] were past the age where they could join.”

The American Red Cross, which saw an unprecedented response in the days after 9/11, is now back to issuing press releases calling for blood donations, saying, “Inventory levels of all blood types are dropping.” Chief Operating Officer Randy Davis, of the Carolina Blood Services Region also noted in the press release that “Traditionally, there is a drop in blood donations close to Labor Day.”

Cicada Brokaw, a representative of the WNC Peace Coalition and a member of Fools of Conscience (the local chapter of the National War-Tax Resisters League), noted that within the local peace movement, “the energy peaked at the teach-in” back in January. That event, called Pathways to Peace, attracted more than 300 people to UNCA for a day of seminars and discussions.

For Brokaw, though, the fact that the anti-war movement saw its zenith nine months ago has little signifigance: “It’s not like people have stopped opposing the war. It is hard to sustain, but other actions are continuing.” A peace walk from Black Mountain to Asheville (held in March) attracted over 200 people, he said. Brokaw also pointed out that vigils continue weekly near the Vance monument, and a peace-themed film festival is planned for October. Unlike many newly-minted, post-Sept. 11 flag-wavers and pledge-of-allegiance-sayers, however, Brokaw added: “We’ve been protesting all along, some since the Gulf War, in an effort to end the sanctions against Iraq … We need to look at the example set by King and Gandhi and practice compassionate listening. Listening is the first step; it is the start. Bombing is like yelling and screaming, and it is very hard to communicate that way.”

Churches have been at the heart of many people’s response to last year’s attacks. After the initial shock and the reactive anti-Islamic spasm, a need for understanding seemed to emerge. The Black Mountain Friends Meeting sponsored talks by mid-East scholars; All Souls Episcopal Church invited Moslems to address the congregation; and the Jubilee Community urged its members to think multiculturally, as a way to promote global understanding. For every Franklin Graham who continued to hang the mask of evil on Mohammed’s followers, there was a minister like Fahed Abu-Akel , Presbyterian Church U.S.A. head, who preached peace.

Just last week 38 Christian leaders from three western nations, gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, issued an urgent call to American leaders to pull back from their unilateral movement toward pre-emptive military action against Iraq. In a similar spirit, here at home, most of the Buncombe county churches contacted for this story indicated that anniversary services would focus on peace, meditation, and remembrance.

In a post-Sept. 11 America assumptions, symbols and faith are playing a comforting role, but answers and accord remain elusive.

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