Terrorism survey from 1991

Ten years before the terrorist attacks of 2001, the Free Press asked students, “Are you concerned about the threat of terrorist action within the United States?”

Most of the respondents said they were not especially concerned, though a couple expressed mild awareness of the possibility. “I’m not too worried about it,” said Latin American studies major Chandler Johnson. “There may be a few isolated incidents but overall I think the threat is minimal.”

Business major Todd Baily and American studies major Gaintha Beransen were also skeptical about the threat, at least locally. “I really don’t think that it’s going to be a problem, because we’re in the state of Maine,” said Baily.

Economics and music major Alper Almeleh, though, was more pessimistic, speculating that Saddam Hussein would use terrorism as “one of the tricks.” He said Americans should not hold public events like football games because they could become terrorist targets.

The Persian Gulf War, 1991

The United States began its Persian Gulf War against Iraq on January 15, 1991, following months of military buildup in the region. On America’s college campuses, there was a great deal of anti-war sentiment, and protests were common.

But there were also those who supported military action, and some even seemed to find the war personally invigorating.

In response to a Free Press question of the week regarding the “State of the Union,” communications major Amy Watson said, “I thought we were worse off, until everyone pulled together for our troops. It’s great to see so much patriotism.”

Others contended that the increased patriotism was fabricated by a combination of government restrictions on press coverage of the war and blatant U.S. propaganda. “The U.S. churns out propaganda during wartime just like any other nation… Propaganda generates patriotism,” wrote Andrew J. Levesque in an opinion article.

Another article by Rebecca Donovan rejected the government’s argument that “logistical difficulties” were the reason for tight restrictions on press coverage. “The Pentagon is merely trying to stifle another graphically repugnant living room war, like the Vietnam War, that would force Americans to reconsider the human cost the nation is willing to shell out for a war based on tenuous reasoning,” she wrote.

Business major Michael Berube distributed fliers that urged war supporters to “protest the protests” and condemned open anti-war protests. Berube contended that expressing opinions against the war could wreck the morale of U.S. troops. He called on dissenters to “silently write” to their congressmen in lieu of public protests, so that the troops would not find out that some people at home were against the war.

Countering exhortations to “support the troops,” protester Jasen Hayden said, “You’d think that the troops would support us, since George [H. W.] Bush is the one who’s making them go to war and die.”

Fellow protester Rebecca Lelavrain agreed: “I feel like I am in support of the troops there, not the president.”

Hundreds reportedly attended a USM teach-in on the Middle East situation. Anti-war activists said the teach-in reinforced their beliefs and gave them verbal ammunition for debating with people who were for the war.

But conservatives, including the College Republicans and the Conservative Issues Association, charged that the teach-in was biased. The Free Press reported that an overwhelming majority of those who spoke at the event were critical of the war.

The idea that the war was essentially over oil was commonplace around the country, and President George H. W. Bush acknowledged that oil supply problems were a factor in an open letter to U.S. college students published in the Free Press. His letter framed the war as a “black and white” moral issue that hinged on “right vs. wrong.”

“I ask you,” Bush wrote, “to think about the economic devastation that Saddam Hussein would continue to wreak on the world’s emerging democracies if he were in control of one-fifth of the world’s [oil] reserves.”

USM teach-in panelist Prof. Zachary Lockman of Harvard University asked, “Can anyone imagine that we’d be at war if Kuwait exported carrots instead of oil?”

Brian O’Keefe can be contacted at [email protected]

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