More than seven years have passed since Elaine Anderson-Frazier’s 22-year-old son, Sgt. Ian Anderson, was killed by a roadside bomb near Mosul while he was trying to bring stability to Iraq.
“‘This is something I have to do, Mom,’” she recalled him telling her when he left Shawnee Mission East High School to enlist.
As U.S. warplanes return to combat over Iraq for the first time since American forces left the country in 2011, the Overland Park mother — like so many others — finds herself filled with conflicting emotions and thoughts.
She had thought and hoped that stability would have come to Iraq long before now. She doubts now, with Iraq in its current chaotic state, whether the country will ever be calm enough for her to visit the site where her son was killed.
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But as a nurse at Children’s Mercy Hospital — and the mother of seven sons and daughters, four of whom have served in the military — she also believes that lasting peace takes time and, sadly, sacrifice.
“I know that our forces going over there is important,” said Anderson-Frazier, 58. “Global peace is in my heart. I don’t want any mother to lose their child.”
Others around the Kansas City area Friday told of similarly conflicted sentiments amid news of renewed American military activity in northern Iraq to quell the push of the Islamic State, sometimes known as ISIS.
Across the country, interviews, instant polling and social media revealed deep ambivalence in a country already weary of Iraq. Certainly the public is taking notice. By mid-Friday, four of the top 10 trending keywords on Twitter dealt with the Iraq crisis.
There’s no consensus, but there are impressions. One is that President Barack Obama has room to maneuver because Congress appears sympathetic for now. Another impression is that the reservoir of public support could be exhausted quickly in the face of a religiously motivated enemy.
Yet as some congressional hawks backed Obama’s decision Friday, some anti-war activists were hesitant to condemn the airstrikes.
“I do not think we are actually going to war,” said Henry Stoever, 65, chairman of the nuclear disarmament and peace advocacy group PeaceWorks Kansas City. “This is more like a peacekeeping mission in order to save human lives. I believe that what ISIS is doing is genocide because it is targeting certain beliefs and certain faiths and forcing them to choose between Islam or death.”
Stoever supports the U.S. flying in to provide food and provisions to Kurdish areas. Stoever, although against aggression, said he understands the use of force in this instance.
“These people are on the verge of starving,” he said. “They are forced to flee into the mountains. So airdrops of materials with the defensive use of weapons to keep others at bay is proper — just like a police officer would order someone not to advance and if they do, they would be subject to arrest or fired upon. I think it is more of a self-defense measure.”
Zachary Clark, 27, of Kansas City was deployed to Iraq for nine months in 2007 and 2008. He sees the airstrikes as the “best bet” for quelling aggression by Islamic State militants.
“Since we are not going to have anybody on the ground and there are no boots down, I say do it,” he said, adding that “it will let the enemy know there is no safe place.”
Clark believes troops were pulled out too soon in 2011. He cautioned that any action now, including airstrikes, is likely to inspire more hatred toward the U.S. Still, he would support returning with ground troops if they are needed and if the troops are seasoned.
“You have to get done what you need to get done,” Clark said.
Meanwhile, Jim Butler, whose son Jacob was the first Kansas soldier to be killed in the Iraq War in 2003, reiterated a long-held opposition to deploying ground troops.
“I don’t want to see any more men and women come back without any arms or legs,” Butler said.
Through February 2013, 4,409 U.S. military personnel were killed and 31,925 service members were wounded in action in Iraq.
Butler sees the airstrikes as both necessary and a “political stunt” by the president “to look good.”
Michael D. Miller, 50, of Atchison is left not knowing exactly what to think.
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” he said. “The whole world is confusing.”
Formerly in the U.S. Army Reserve, he volunteered for National Guard duty in 2005.
“After 9/11, I got tired of watching young kids get injured,” he said. “So what happened? The old guy gets blown up.”
In 2007, Miller was 42 and stationed about 50 miles south of Baghdad when a mortar explosion blew away part of his left calf and a shoulder and left him with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Miller said he wishes that Iraq had split into three separate countries for Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. He understands the humanitarian reasons behind airdrops and for defensive airstrikes.
“I suppose it needs to be done, but I’m not a big fan of it.” Miller said. “Airstrikes? You don’t even know who you’re hitting.”