Purple state, purple hearts

What do the deaths of 19 Ohio Marines mean for residents' support of the war?


Aaron Kinney
August 4, 2005 11:14PM (UTC)

Salon editorial fellow Aaron Kinney looks at what the deaths of 19 Ohio Marines mean for residents' attitudes toward the war.

The Cleveland suburb of Brook Park has been shaken this week by the deaths of 19 Marines from a reserve unit that is based there. Five of the marines were killed in an ambush Monday while 14 died Wednesday when a powerful explosive obliterated their amphibious assault vehicle. Both incidents occurred in western Iraq near the Syrian border. As friends and relatives grieve, we looked for indications of support for the war in a state that was critical in the reelection of the president who launched it.

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For many people in Brook Park, the political implications of Wednesday's devastating news were surely the furthest thing from their minds. But some were taking stock. The New York Times quoted 47-year-old Mayor Elliot as saying -- "When it hits home this much, I would expect people to say: 'How many more lives do we have to lose before we get our troops back home?' "

Charles Keller, on the other hand, thought criticizing the war would dishonor the Marines' sacrifice. "We don't want our guys over there, either," said Mr. Keller, 71, according to the Times. "But what are you going to do? We're either going to have to fight the terrorists over there, or fight them over here."

Keller has clearly absorbed the dubious message that George W. Bush propounded again and again on the campaign trail in 2004 and repeats even now. True, the United States has not suffered a major attack since 9/11, but last month's bombings in London would certainly seem to repudiate the idea that al-Qaida terrorists, who at this point constitute a highly decentralized network, cannot infiltrate and attack the United States while their brethren sabotage U.S. military efforts in Iraq.

But are a majority of Ohioans still with the president? The congressional campaign of former Marine Paul Hackett, who lost a narrow special election Tuesday in an overwhelmingly Republican district, suggests that support for Bush may be dropping even among the state's Republicans. But between the problems with the vote in 2004 and the scandals engulfing the Ohio GOP -- a third grand jury is apparently now required for Coingate's Tom Noe, and now his wife has come under suspicion of tampering with the vote count in November -- it's hard to get a firm read on how the citizens of this swing state feel about the president they elected.

In the wake of the Marine deaths this week, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has offered a measured but critical editorial on the Bush administration's prosecution of the Iraq war. What's more important, of course, is how the residents of the state are feeling about the war and their president when they go to the polls in 2006 and again in 2008.

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Aaron Kinney

Aaron Kinney is a writer in San Francisco. He has a blog.

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