Outside the Mug & Brush, an old-style barbershop in Muncie, Ind., a floodlight cast a warm glow on a billboard that proclaimed: “We’re proud of our armed forces.” Inside, talk of the Persian Gulf War was whipping up emotions as thick as the white foam that barber Ron Jones had smeared on a customer’s beard. “Saddam Hussein’s a madman and he needs to be stopped,” said Jones, 50, of the Iraqi president. “We should go there and nuke ’em.” Customer Donald Lewis agreed. Mimicking the sound of exploding bombs, “pow, pout,” hitting his open palm with a clenched fist, he declared: “We need to drop the big one.” Added Lewis, a tool engineer at a local auto plant: “Just like Japan—drop the atom bomb. Then they should go after Saddam and kill him. Then it’s over.” Although not all Muncie residents talk as militantly, the war fever that has struck the Indiana town reflects the overwhelming popular support for the Gulf battle across America.
Muncie (population 77,200), located 80 km
northeast of Indianapolis, came to national attention in the 1920s, when sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd called it “Middletown” because it typified America's industrial heartland. In a late-1970s update of the Lynds’ classic study, half of the Muncie residents interviewed agreed that the Bible was a “sufficient guide to all problems of modem life,” while 75 per cent proclaimed the United States to be the “best country in the world.” Marketing experts routinely use residents of the average American city to test new products. And last week, as U.S. soldiers fought their first ground battle with Iraqi troops, flag-waving Muncie was embracing America’s new war effort with crusade-like fervor.
Support: The signs of that support were almost everywhere. Town meetings start with a prayer for U.S. troops. A local basketball team wears American flag patches on its uniforms, and yellow ribbons, symbolizing support for the 202 Muncie servicemen in the Gulf, flutter from trees and car aerials in the chill Indiana air. In fact, when Phyllis Zimmerman, a history professor at Muncie’s Ball State University, called Bush “trigger-happy” in a frontpage article in The Muncie Star on Jan. 17, many local residents denounced her as unpatri-
otic in letters to the editor and demanded that the university dismiss her. “It is an unthinking and an unexamining kind of patriotism,” said Dwight Hoover, the director of the Center for Middletown Studies at Ball State. “Bush’s call to kick Saddam Hussein’s ass has a great resonance here and an appeal which really works.”
Birthright: In the heart of the American rustbelt, where cheap gas is considered a birthright and many jobs are linked to the auto industry, Hussein’s bid to take over some of the world’s richest oilfields—and the assumption that Iraq has nuclear weapons—have hit a raw nerve. “A madman controlling oil preys on the £ American conscience,” said university ^ provost Warren Vander Hill. “But the 1 most frightening thing for Americans I is an absolute madman having his hand 5 on the nuclear trigger.”
At the Full Gospel Temple, the 450-member fundamentalist congregation collected nearly $3,000 to help buy 55,000 pocket Bibles for the frontline troops. Wearing a Stars-andStripes lapel pin, Rev. Denny Helton, 49, declared: “The dropping of the atom bomb on Japan was horrible and many thousands died, but millions more were saved.” Added John Helton, the minister’s 25-year-old son: “God is in control, not Saddam Hussein, not America. I pray that God will remove Saddam and destroy the evil in him.”
At the Timber’s Lounge restaurant, most of the blue-collar patrons seemed to favor a more direct course of action. “I am true American,” said truck driver Carl Upchurch. “Do something to me and 10 Iraqis ought to pay for it.” Exmarine Robert Brown, wearing silver rings with skulls and eagles on his fingers, predicted a long and gruelling war. “The U.S. has to be willing to sacrifice whatever blood it takes,” said Brown, 42, who is plagued by skin cancer and respiratory problems that he attributes to Agent Orange, a defoliant used by the Americans to kill the dense Vietnamese underbrush. He blames what he calls the “bleeding hearts” back home for the disastrous outcome of the Vietnam War, which cost more than 58,000 American lives.
That call for an all-out war effort echoed even among the 200 members of MASH— Mothers, Mates and Muncie Against Saddam Hussein. “I don’t think you can put a price on peace,” said Mary Lou Ashby, 44, whose son Philip, 21, is a soldier with a cavalry regiment in Saudi Arabia. Another MASH member, Tara Long, proudly displayed a button with a photograph of her 23-year-old son, Mark, who drives ammunition, missiles and troops to the front line with the 24th Mechanized Infantry. “I’ve never feared anyone as much as I fear Saddam Hussein,” she said. “Even if it costs my son and many others, Saddam Hussein has to be stopped.” For many of the people of Muncie, sacrifice is plainly a patriotic duty.
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