By Elina Antoniou, 17, James Monroe Law Magnet
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Editorial cartoon by Emma Guerard, 15, Venice HS

Radical war-supporters were ready to get down and dirty with Saddam Hussein, while equally passionate students who were opposed to war with Iraq, prepared to join organized anti-war protests.

But how much did the teens at James Monroe High School really know about the United States’ relationship with Iraq? I surveyed more than four dozen students and found a diverse range of opinions and knowledge.

Some students could cite details of past U.S. conflicts with Iraq while others didn’t even know where Iraq is located. And of course, I came across teens who did not bother informing themselves because they felt that any problems with Iraq were not of any immediate concern to them.

But the truth is that this issue is very pressing because the decisions made have the potential to reshape our foreign policy for years. As senior Josh Maquindang put it, what we do will "affect our relationship with the rest of the world."

Last month, President George W. Bush threatened that if the Iraqi government does not comply with several strict conditions, mostly involving the removal of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, then military force would be our only option. He invited the world’s nations to support and aid the United States but made it clear that even without international support the United States would do what it feels is necessary to ensure that the Iraqi government is no longer a threat. Last month, the House of Representatives and the Senate were presented with resolutions that would give the President the power to wage war on Iraq if he feels it is necessary. After debating the issue, both the House and Senate granted Bush the power.

For some of the teens I spoke with, it was scary to think that regardless of whether the United Nations approves the use of force in Iraq, it may not have any effect on what Bush ultimately does.

Teens were somewhat aware

What impressed me about the high school students I spoke to was that even if they were a little unclear on the details, they still had insightful ideas as to how the United States should deal with the situation. And every teen I spoke with was at least aware that President Bush has threatened to use force in Iraq.

Of the 50 James Monroe High School students surveyed, some were worried about a boyfriend or brother being drafted, while others were concerned with the possibility of stray bombs hitting other countries. Others didn’t care because other than a lot of talk nothing has happened yet. Twenty-nine, or 58 percent, of the students surveyed were against a war with Iraq for various reasons.

Senior Carolina Herrera said that a war with Iraq "will affect many innocent people, both here and there," and does not think war is the answer.

While Iveht Pineda, a sophomore, opposed war "because they are going to kill civilians."

Some teens opposed to fighting were not convinced of the situation’s urgency.

"We could do more before taking military action," senior Jessica Wright said.

Some students, like Nick Morin, also a senior, are doing more than just talking about their opinions, they are making sure that others know how they feel. Nick will be attending several protests here in Los Angeles over the next few weeks to bring attention to, what he says "should not be a U.S. war."

Others wondered why dealing with Iraq is suddenly so important. But as Morin pointed out, "the conflict itself isn’t new; it’s the public’s interest in the conflict that is new."

The problem with Iraq has been going on for more than a decade now. Hussein, who came into power as Iraq’s President in 1979, has developed and, according to the U.S. government and previous weapons inspectors, is storing chemical and biological weapons. He has also been attempting to acquire the necessary materials to produce nuclear weapons.

Not only has Hussein been storing these weapons of mass destruction, but he has proved to the rest of the world that he is capable of and willing to use them. In 1988, Hussein’s forces used nerve gas on Kurds in northern Iraq. The United Nations, an international organization formed in 1945 to promote security and international cooperation by peaceful means, took issue with Hussein’s use of these weapons.

Hussein created further unrest in the Middle East when he invaded neighboring Kuwait in 1990. Iraq was stopped by an international military coalition led by the United States in early 1991, in what is known as the Gulf War. Since this time, Hussein has hindered weapons inspections required by numerous resolutions. His unwillingness to comply with inspections imposed as a condition following the Gulf War led to the U.S. and British bombing of Iraq in 1998.

Because the possible threat that Iraq posses has been such a persistent one, 23 percent of the teens I spoke to feel that it is necessary and justifiable to wage war on Iraq, with or without international support.

Maquindang raises the important point that "Iraq … which is led by a corrupt leader… had 12 years to rearm itself," and that yes, war with Iraq is crucial "in order to save democracy."

Another senior, Arutyun Madatyan, supports military action in Iraq because "if we don’t do anything we will look weak to other nations."
Nine percent of students said they support war only if other nations agreed to back us up.