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Residents divided on Libya attacks

Support aims, worry about added role

‘‘This is what intervention should be about,’’ said Rodrigo Barahona. ‘‘This is what intervention should be about,’’ said Rodrigo Barahona. (Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe)
By Jenna Russell and Travis Andersen and Matt Byrne
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / March 21, 2011

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From suburban living rooms to the raucous sidelines of South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parades, the city and region watched closely yesterday as military strikes in Libya intensified, with many observers struggling to balance sympathy for Libyan rebels with unease about the likely strain on American forces.

Many residents across the political spectrum, with and without ties to the military, agreed that the cause in Libya — to prevent further attacks on civilians by the government of Moammar Khadafy — is worth supporting. But they disagreed about what it would take to accomplish that task, and what the consequences might be for a military already embroiled in two other nations.

“I don’t know if we can handle it,’’ said Frank Silva of Pembroke, N.H., a Vietnam veteran marching in a South Boston parade.

Active members of the military declined to comment on the Libyan action yesterday, citing respect for military commanders. Veterans’ views, and the views of the general public, ranged widely.

Doug “Doc’’ Fletcher, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy, said his son Erick, a machinist’s mate in the Navy, was involved in an attack against Libyan targets Saturday while aboard the submarine USS Providence in the Mediterranean Sea. Fletcher, who marched in the parade in South Boston yesterday, said he backs the air offensive because it will protect the Libyans from Khadafy.

“They need to stop the genocide of a tyrannical idiot,’’ he said.

But Tony Flaherty, 79, a Navy veteran from South Boston and an organizer with Veterans for Peace, called the air strikes as misguided as he said the 2003 invasion of Iraq was.

“Were the Iraqis coming over to Castle Island?’’ he said. “Are the Libyans coming over to Castle Island? It’s America’s war for empire.’’

Some of those hardest hit by recent US military action chose not to watch the unfolding conflict. Victoria Foley of Norwood, whose 20-year-old son, Alexander Arredondo, was killed in Iraq in 2004, said it was hard for her to express what she felt.

“It brings up a lot of emotions,’’ said Foley, whose son was shot by a sniper in Najaf, Iraq, while checking on the members of his squad. “I just think, what is going on? What’s next?’’

A poll conducted by Fox News last week, before the airstrikes started, found a majority of Americans, 65 percent, opposed to military involvement in Libya. The poll, of 913 voters randomly chosen from March 14 to 16, a majority of both Republicans and Democrats opposed.

Carl Johnson, 82, a retired construction supervisor from Brockton whose son is serving in Iraq, agreed that fighting in Libya will stretch resources, but said he sees no alternative.

“In my opinion the president should have taken action sooner, maybe two weeks ago, because rebels, civilians, were being killed, and he was doing nothing,’’ Johnson said.

Like some others interviewed, he said he believes the fighting could go on for some time, and that it is unlikely to be resolved without the use of American ground troops. President Obama has pledged that no ground troops will be used.

“I don’t think it’s realistic,’’ he said. “Someone’s got to bring it under control, and shooting missiles is not going to do it. Missile wars never bring the enemy down; the boots have got to get in there and do it.’’

In Andover, Anne Chay said she was too busy to pay close attention to the news, but she didn’t like what she had heard. Her 23-year-old son spent five years in the military and 15 months in Iraq; Chay said she worries about the other young people who will be sent to fight and about the consequences of increased military spending for public schools and other needs.

“I teach at an inner-city high school that’s falling apart at the seams,’’ she said. “People are out of work, people are working two jobs.’’

In Harvard Square, where newsstand headlines and photos were dominated by the Middle East violence yesterday, people on the street voiced mixed opinions. Sam Sampanthan, 26, a first-year student at Harvard Law School, said intervention by the United States is a tough sell.

“I thought it was ironic because [Obama] got the Nobel Peace Prize, and now he’s flying planes over [Libya],’’ he said. “I don’t want to get into a quagmire.’’

Others backed the current action but warned against future commitments to the region.

“This is what intervention should be about,’’ said psychotherapist Rodrigo Barahona of Watertown, 38. “It’s not a war. It’s not an invasion.’’

Luis Martinez, a 22-year-old American history student at Harvard, said the timeline of US involvement is a crucial question.

“What’s important going forward is that this isn’t a long-term commitment,’’ Martinez said. “It’s up to the commanders on the ground and the Obama administration to make sure it doesn’t turn into another Iraq.’’

Watching her grandsons, ages 5 and 8, play on a sunny afternoon in Copley Square, Marti Mirken lamented that another global conflict had to happen.

“This is what the world is supposed to be like,’’ the 60-year-old social worker said. “Little children having fun, not ducking bombs.’’

Globe correspondent Anum Hussain contributed to this report. Jenna Russell can be reached at jrussell@globe.com; Travis Andersen at tandersen@globe.com; and Matt Byrne at mbyrne.globe@gmail.com.

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