At Virginia School, Students Express Relief and Satisfaction at War's End

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In the staff lunchroom, one teacher related her class's sudden interest in singing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

In Room 326, the seventh-period senior seminar launched into a debate that offered opinions reflecting the entire spectrum of American popular opinion.

Such were the scenes here last Thursday at Potomac Senior High School, near the Marine Corps base at Quantico, hours after the cessation of hostilities in the Persian Gulf.

The disparate emotions expressed--not only relief, but also satisfaction with the prowess of the U.S.-led forces, a belief that God had favored the United States with victory, and hopes that relatives and friends overseas would soon be coming home--were as much a part of the day as acid-washed jeans and hall passes.

President Bush's announcement of the allied victory and his offer of a cease-fire to Iraq prompted similar expressions at schools around the country. (See related story, page 12.)

In Potomac Senior High's "media center," Charlie Driscoll said he was "extremely relieved" when he heard the President's televised speech the night before. The senior voiced confidence that U.S. troops returning from the Gulf would find a warm homefront reception, "unlike [after] Vietnam, where the whole country was against them."

Patrick Keith, a sophomore whose father is in the Marines, said the cease-fire had been a primary topic of discussion that morning at school. Students were enthusiastic about the allied victory, he said, greeting each other with "It's over. We won. We got them out of there."

Sean Jaehne, a senior whose father is a Marine colonel based at Quantico, said the war had hit home for him because he had lived in Germany for a year and had come to know members of the Army VII Corps who were deployed to the Gulf.

"I was really relieved" by the end of the fighting, he said, in part because he had wondered whether his friends "could handle it."

Another senior, Susan Hixson, said much of the discussion in her sociology class throughout the Gulf crisis has focused on current events and how the students feel about them. At the start of each class, she said, the floor is open for student comments.

"It's supposed to take five minutes," Ms. Hixson said. "But it always ends up taking the whole hour."

Christi McGee, who has two close friends serving in the Gulf, said she hoped that when the time came she could skip school and go greet the returning troops. But she expressed concern because "we don't know at this point when they're going to be coming home."

Ms. McGee, a senior, said she thought that because this was the first war she and her contemporaries had lived through, it served as a kind of galvanizing force for them.

"I think it made a lot of the students closer," she said.

In the staff lunchroom here, Louevenia Quash, a special-education teacher, told of how her class of 13 had enthusiastically recited the salute to the flag that morning. For the first time, she said, all the students were on their feet immediately, and each spoke the words aloud, which they have not often done.

"Today was the day they first learned the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance," she said. Recently, Ms. Quash said, her students have taken a greater interest in current events, and that morning several had expressed their eagerness to go to the Gulf if their service in the military had been requested.

"That gave me a sense of pride," Ms. Quash said.

Also that day, she said, her students all sang along with the national anthem on the radio and asked to spend the whole day singing. "They never wanted to sing before," Ms. Quash said.

For Dot McCabe, a counselor at the school, the end of hostilities will bring changes in her routine.

Ms. McCabe, whose husband is a retired Navy officer who served in Vietnam, has run an Operation Desert Storm support group for students since the war started in January. She said she would now disperse the group, which includes 30 students in grades 9 through 12 with family members or close friends in the Gulf forces. The group will hold one last meeting before scaling back to individual appointments.

In addition to offering emotional support, Ms. McCabe said, her group often ended up as more of a forum for the latest information on the war. Even beyond the group, she said, her office, with its radio tuned to Persian Gulf news, often drew students who wanted to stay informed.

"We had a lot of kids concerned with ... friends on the front lines--that they were going to die," Ms. McCabe said. "Now," she said, "the kids are thrilled."

No nuance about the war or the President's cease-fire speech seemed to escape the attention of 14 seniors during a 45-minute discussion of the events in Sally Vinroot's senior elective seminar.

Yet, according to the teacher, the intellectual gymnastics were business as usual for the innovative course that takes a multidisciplinary approach and aims to cultivate students' critical-thinking skills.

At the start of the war, Ms. Vinroot said, she "dropped our lesson plan" and threw the seminar, which touches on everything from social studies to mathematics and philosophy in two semesters, open to discussion of the Gulf crisis.

The Feb. 28 class discussion clearly reflected students' finely honed familiarity with the war issues and equally finely chiseled opinions.

Brian Sullivan, who is headed to West Point next year, praised the allied coalition for fulfilling its objectives and lauded the "putting of a little bit of wisdom" into the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.

"They did a hell of a job," he said of the forces that liberated Kuwait.

Steve Graham weighed in more than once on the prospect of continued instability in the postwar Middle East.

Iraq is "extremely unstable," he said. "The Kurds could easily revolt. There are so many different religious sects in Iraq [that the country] could be divided incredibly."

Meanwhile, Kris Smerick worried that Saddam would achieve martyrdom in the eyes of the Iraqi people.

Across the group of encircled chairs, Jeff Overand would have none of that. "They're not going to" make their leader a martyr, he countered. "He lied to them."

But Kris Attland seemed disturbed by many of the opinions being voiced around her. "We're saying Americans are always right," she said. ''We're not always right."

Later, Mr. Graham wondered what Israel's stand might now be, since that country has vowed to retaliate against Iraq for its repeated missile attacks. The Israelis are "going to retaliate," he predicted.

Other debate among the class members centered on Iraq's postwar military might, the United Nations resolutions, the role of the United States in helping maintain a geopolitical balance of power, and Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait.

In the end, the 2 P.M. bell brought a close to the discussion.

"When something like this comes up," Ms. Vinroot said, "they simply respond with all the energy and attention they bring to everything else."

Vol. 10, Issue 24, Page 1, 12

Published in Print: March 6, 1991, as At Virginia School, Students Express Relief and Satisfaction
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