A panel debate Tuesday at Salt Lake Community College over the confrontation with Iraq developed into a confrontation among Utahns.
During the two-hour event, one student shouted "fool," another asserted that America never fought Germany and a panelist said Saddam Hussein is just a puppet of the CIA. Repeatedly, students said they were against spilling blood for oil.Comments from the audience at the two-hour event were as strong as the panelists' statements. In fact, while the audience of about 60 was supposed to ask questions after the panelists spoke, they ended up making comments about America's position in the Middle East instead.
Most seemed to oppose any military intervention by the United States in the region. A couple took the opportunity to announce antiwar actions planned for the University of Utah and downtown Salt Lake City.
"It strikes me as something short of believable that the United States government can feel morally outraged toward a leader of the Middle East for doing exactly what the United States did" in Grenada, Panama and probably Vietnam, said William Wright, a sociology professor at the college.
He was one of the four members of the panel opposing military action in the Middle East; another four panelists supported U.S. intervention.
Wright charged that America sent the more than 200,000 soldiers to the Middle East "because our economy is in deep trouble," calling it a Machiavellian trick to deflect people's attention from economic difficulties.
The government's real interest there is oil profits, he said.
"The fact is, what we did in Panama and Grenada is not the same thing," responded John Wilson, an assistant editorial editor for the Daily Utah Chronicle, the University of Utah student newspaper. He was on the panel supporting the American presence in the Middle East.
Both the governments in Panama and Grenada were totally despotic, and the United States was there to return democracy to the people. "Literally on the map, Kuwait does not exist right now" because of Saddam Hussein's aggression, he said.
"We're there at the invitation of the Arabs," Wilson added. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries invited U.S. forces to protect them.
He called Saddam a madman who used poison gas on his own people.
Marvin Hamilton, an infantryman during the Vietnam War and now a member of the antiwar group Utah Peace Test, said it is time to consider the "moral issues of what's involved in war . . . who it is who dies in war."
Usually, those who are in favor of intervention don't talk about napalm attacks on children, he said, "and I know that's what happens in war."
Quoting former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, he said every piece of war materiel is a theft from those who are hungry or not clothed.
Hamilton said he checked with the State Office of Education and found that Utahn spends $1.2 billion per year for all of its public education.
Operation Desert Shield cost $85 million per day, he said.
Deseret News writer Steve Fidel, who has covered Desert Shield in person, said, "As citizens of this country, we need to be in support of our country . . .
"You need to be involved, then consider what your position is and let it be known . . . The best time to be involved is before the conflict."
Noting that America is not shooting yet, he warned, "We don't know how much longer the clock's going to run."
Kevin Hofeling, a student at Salt Lake Community College and a member of the debate's sponsor, Inner-Direct Sect, said the American ambassador to Iraq said shortly before the invasion, in a meeting with Hussein, that this country had no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts like border disputes.
The next day, a news report said the United States would respond to an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait with verbal objections only.
The Bush administration sent signals to Saddam that the United States would take no action. But Saddam was more aggressive than expected, he said.
If Saddam gets nuclear weapons, he will launch a holocaust, said student panelist David Hebert.
Bruce Plenk, a Salt Lake lawyer who often represents homeless people, said it is obscene when there's never enough money for food, environmental protection, and even fundamental things like maintaining streets and bridges, yet "all of a sudden we're shipping out something like $400 (million) to $500 million per week on this little adventure in the Middle East."
Secretary of State James Baker said once that U.S. intervention is an attempt to protect jobs. Plenk said he would like to see the Bush administration spend $500 million per week to create jobs other than tank drivers and heavy artillery handlers.
"The only reason I can see that we're there is we're stupid - the American people are stupid enough to spend all this money . . . to keep the oil flowing."
Rep. Howard Nielson, who is about to complete his term in Congress, said, "This isn't a battle about oil. Iraq thinks it's about oil." It is also about aggression, he said.
If economic sanctions don't succeed, other means must be taken to stop Iraq's aggression, he said.
"It's easy to say we shouldn't fight for oil. Well, we'd be in pretty bad shape if we didn't have the oil."
He said more time should be given to let the sanctions work - perhaps as long as until April 1991. "I don't think we should go to war at all unless and until we have others involved, and have given the sanctions a chance to work."
But the congressman warned, "We might not be able to solve it without a war," he said.
If not checked, Saddam is "not going to stop with Kuwait." In fact, Egypt is the only country in the Middle East safe from Iraq, because it's far enough away, Nielson said.
In what looks almost like a flashback to the antiwar actions of the 1960s, several protests of the American military presence in the Middle East are scheduled for the next two weeks.
- Saturday, Dec. 1, starting at noon, a "plea for peace," including prayers, will be held at the International Peace Gardens, 900 W. 975 South. Organizers say, "Please, no uniforms, picket signs or posters."
- Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 4 and 5, at the University of Utah campus, the Utah Coalition against the War in the Middle East is sponsoring an antiwar teach-in, scheduled to last from noon to about 4 p.m. At 7 p.m. on each date, there will be a debate, say organizers.
- Saturday, Dec. 8 at 11 a.m., protesters will assemble at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the grounds of the Utah Capitol, and march to a rally at the Federal Building, 125 S. State St. "No blood for oil!" is the slogan of the demonstration, also sponsored by the coalition.