Ordinary Americans React To Calls For Strikes On Syria As Congress prepares to take a vote on whether to launch a military strike against Syria, opinions vary widely among voters. We'll get a sampling of opinions from Fort Campbell, Ky., Los Angeles and State College, Pa.

Ordinary Americans React To Calls For Strikes On Syria

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Before we hear from President Obama tonight, let's hear from the people today. The president will go on television this evening to ask for support to press Syria to stop using chemical weapons.


We'll hear from several parts of the country this morning. We begin at a place where residents know a lot about overseas conflicts: Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Here's Blake Farmer of member station WPLN.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: Just outside this sprawling post which stretches across the Tennessee-Kentucky border runs Fort Campbell Boulevard. Businesses along this strip have signs that read: Welcome Home the 101st Airborne. It's an air assault division that's been in near-constant rotations since 9/11. While there's been no talk about sending a unit like this to Syria, many folks here would rather not see another conflict in the Middle East.

GERI PHILLIPS: Our military is tried. We're sick of it. We don't need to be involved in any more countries.

FARMER: Geri Phillips clutches a camouflage purse that says, Army Mom. She says she's proud of her son's three tours of duty, even though she's not sure they've accomplished all that much.

PHILLIPS: We can't always constantly get involved in other countries and make them democratic like us. It's just not going to happen.

FARMER: Only if the U.S. suffered a direct attack would Phillips support a military strike. For the men and women in uniform, it's difficult to have a public opinion, since the commander-in-chief has spoken. Staff Sergeant Darius Duncan served in Iraq during the invasion in 2003.

STAFF SERGEANT DARIUS DUNCAN: I thought this was going to be a cooling off period for us for the next couple of years, but whatever is necessary, I guess. That's kind of how I feel.

FARMER: But only from a distance. Duncan sees no role for ground troops.

DUNCAN: We can send Tomahawks from my grandmother's backyard. So I would say let's keep boots off the ground and hit them hard, where it counts.

FARMER: Other soldiers say they've been so busy training for what will likely be another trip to Afghanistan, they've hardly paid attention to Syria. A few who have tell me - off-mic - they hope Congress blocks the White House from going ahead with airstrikes.

DEBORAH PIERCY: I'm afraid this is just the beginning.

FARMER: Deborah Piercy runs a shipping and greeting card shop just off post. Her husband fought in the first Gulf war. She says Congress needs to consider steps two and three before pulling the trigger in Syria.

PIERCY: We have to show them that we're not afraid to do what we have to do, but I certainly hope they have thought long and hard about it.

FARMER: Piercy worries a U.S. strike will only prompt retaliation of some sort from Syria. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: And this is Nathan Rott. I'm standing just outside of the convention center in downtown Los Angeles, which is where the AFL-CIO is holding their annual convention this year. Now, President Obama was actually scheduled to speak here to the thousands of labor organizations and union delegates that have gathered. It was an appointment he obviously wasn't able to make. For a little bit of background, the AFL-CIO endorsed Obama in both of his last elections.

So you'd think that most of the people streaming in and out of here would support the president and his call for action. Well, I've been finding that the first is true, and the second, eh, not so much.

DALE MOERKE: What are my thoughts? My thoughts are I think we should stay out of Syria, you know. I support my president. He's commander-in-chief, but he's wrong on this one.

ROTT: Dale Moerke voted for Obama twice. He's a Minnesotan, a union member, and a veteran, and he says he agrees with most of the president's decisions. But with this...

MOERKE: We have to agree to disagree on that.

ROTT: Moerke, like most of the people here, doesn't see a point in intervening. But Beth Soto, another convention goer, and a New Yorker, disagrees.

BETH SOTO: If we just watch 1,400 people get gassed and we don't do anything about it, we don't stand for humanity, then.

ROTT: She says that the world needs to do something, that the Syrian government should be punished in some way to, if nothing else, uphold international law. If that action falls to the United States alone, Soto says the same holds true, but that any action should be limited and light.

SOTO: You know, I don't want it any stronger. I don't want us to go in there like we did with Iraq and take out the, you know, the president and topple the statues and things like that. I don't want a shock and awe.

ROTT: She thinks that's possible, and that the threat alone may be enough. One of her friends, who's been following the news on her smartphone during the convention, says that the new reports that the Assad regime may be willing to cede the control of its chemical weapons is proof of that. But most of the people here - people like Paul Wilcox - aren't that optimistic.

PAUL WILCOX: Well, this is just going to be a few bombs, and that's it, and we're just going to kill the bad guys, so-called, and that's it. And that's not likely to happen.

ROTT: He thinks that any involvement would lead to more involvement, and Wilcox says the U.S. can't afford something like that. He, too, is a supporter of Obama, but he thinks the commander-in-chief should be focusing on America, on the economy.

If I was President Obama, and you had one thing to tell him, what would you tell him?

WILCOX: I'd say, look, you've made a lot of promises to people here around jobs and around ending wars, and you should keep those promises.

ROTT: He says it's keeping those promises that people here want to see. Nathan Rott, NPR News, Los Angeles.

EMILYI REDDY, BYLINE: I'm Emily Reddy in State College, Pennsylvania, where the third week of classes at Penn State University is already underway. Hundreds of students stream through the HUB-Robeson student union. They're rushing to class or eating and studying at long rows of tables.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I have a venti unsweetened iced coffee with milk for Lizzy.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Nicole, your pumpkin-spiced latte.

REDDY: Justin Perez is waiting in line for a coffee. Perez is a graduate student in English, and considers himself very left-wing. He hopes Congress will vote down a strike on Syria.

JUSTIN PEREZ: We have bigger problems at home to worry about, such as figuring out the Obamacare situation, before they go overseas and spend money there.

REDDY: At a table across the room, David Heineman is doing physics homework. He says reports the government used chemical weapons against its own people don't factor into the decision for him.

DAVID HEINEMAN: Well, I mean, he'd been killing people with conventional weapons for a long period of time. I'm not absolutely certainly why there's such a great distinction with the chemical weapons.

REDDY: But, for the most part, students asked about Syria say they haven't been paying attention to the news. That didn't surprise John Smerbeck, who's eating lunch with his wife on the patio outside.

JOHN SMERBECK: Students, they worry about what's immediately in their face. So unless Syria comes here to Penn State University, no one's really going to pay attention.

REDDY: Smerbeck has done three tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. Now he teaches ROTC students. He says his job won't let him say what he thinks Congress should do. Nearby, Penn State employee Bob Mills is plotting out where to put in a fence. He thinks the United States should protect its own borders and stay out of other countries.

BOB MILLS: Unless we want that country, there's no sense going in and picking fights. We donate our kids' lives for their kids, and there's no gain by it.

REDDY: He says wars have been going on in Syria since Bible times, and U.S. involvement won't make a difference. For NPR News, I'm Emily Reddy, in State College, Pennsylvania.


INSKEEP: Emily Reddy is with our member station WPSU. We also heard from NPR's Nate Rott Los Angeles and Blake Farmer of member station WPLN, reporting from Kentucky.

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