Thursday, March 20, 2003

In war, people here turn to faith, family, TV news

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

People are turning to prayer, protest and one another.

In the Tristate, halfway around the world from where the bombs will drop, it is almost impossible to escape the anxiety that experts say is fed by 24-hour news networks and saturation coverage.

"There is no escape for people,'' said James Herman, professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati. "That little trailer line under the TV screen, `the crawl,' it's a very bad thing. You are not giving people an escape.''

What people need in times like these, Herman said, is a "period of time not actively engaging your adrenal glands and pushing the blood pressure up and you're not churning stomach acid.''

Two of every three Americans polled immediately after President Bush issued his ultimatum to Saddam Hussein said they support the president. They believe the United States has done all it can to avoid war, according to the Gallup Organization.

But , seventy percent said they were "worried'' about the possibility of going to war in the next few days and 48 percent said it produced a feeling of fear.

It is a fear that manifests itself in many ways:

Leading economic indicators. Sleepless nights. Short tempers, depression. Tough questions from a child.

Last month, consumer confidence - one of the most-watched economic indicators - fell to its lowest level since 1992. Analysts say it is at least in part because of war.

"Once the war starts, you're going to see consumers suffer the `CNN effect,' '' said Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation. "Basically, they'll be glued to their TVs watching war coverage.''

That translates into fewer cars in the mall lots and more empty seats at sporting events.

But the conflict has a much more personal emotional meaning to thousands in the Tristate.

Of 230,000 American troops in the Middle East, at least 1,000 of them are from this area .

Dan Dunlop, worship pastor of Hope Church in Mason, said his congregation has at least six people in uniform serving overseas.

"When you see that wife and kids walking into church on Sunday, and you think about that husband, that father being halfway around the world in Iraq, it hits home to you,'' said Dunlop. "It makes it all very real.''

"Having a church home helps,'' Dunlop said. "There is a confidence and strength that comes from faith.''

Turning to faith in times of crisis is the way thousands cope.

It is why some churches will hold special services over the next week. At Christ Church, an Episcopal church downtown, an interfaith service for peace will be held at 5 p.m. Sunday, followed by a 24-hour prayer vigil.

In Over-the-Rhine, the Franciscan friars of St. Francis Seraph Church will hold a peace service at 7 p.m. Monday that will include prayers for American servicemen and women and the Iraqis.

"We believe in the power of prayer,'' said Donna Graham, a Franciscan sister. "No matter what is going on in the world, we have a responsibility to use faith to make the world a better place, so we pray for peace.''

Jean Kumler of Springfield Township is a Navy veteran of the Vietnam era. Her son, Greg, served in the first Persian Gulf War. He came back and died of an unknown ailment a year later.

Kumler is convinced that the cause of his death, which was never determined, traced to his Persian Gulf service. It turned her into an opponent of this war with Iraq; she has been a fixture at local anti-war demonstrations.

Now, she watches other people's sons and daughters going off to war, and it is almost more than she can stand.

"I try my best not to watch too much of it on television; I'm in the middle of a post-traumatic stress syndrome,'' she said. "I've been going to the VA hospital for treatment. I've not been sleeping much.''

Despite her opposition to the war, Kumler said, "we must support our troops over there. They didn't create this. And I understand perfectly what the parents of those young people are going through.''

Cheryl Mandrackie of Colerain Township is one of those parents. Her son, Cpl. Ryan Taylor, is a Marine combat engineer stationed at Camp Coyote in Kuwait, 20 miles from the Iraq border.

"Being a mom is rough,'' Mandrackie said. "Every day is difficult. The uncertainty of it. I cope with it, though, because I know is he well trained and he is doing what he wants to do.''


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