CRUCIBLE, Pa. -- For the moment, this tiny old coal-mining town in southwestern Pennsylvania couldn't have a more appropriate name.
In Crucible, home to one of the U.S. soldiers killed last week in Somalia -- in fact, in the small, hilly towns all up and down the Monongahela River valley -- heat and emotions are stirring over the recent bloodshed and President Clinton's decision to send more troops there.
"There is a lot of anger. And there are a lot of differences of opinion," said Larry Wainwright, a mental health counselor who lives down the road in Rices Landing. "I think it's somewhat justified. We weren't supposed to be fighting. We were supposed to be feeding people."
Like many Americans, the miners, nurses and teachers who live here, in the shadow of two giant slate piles that locals fondly regard as their mountains, are deeply concerned about how the nation should best proceed, with many favoring immediate withdrawal from Somalia.
To be sure, there is some support for the president's plan to beef up the operation, stem the chaos, protect Americans already there and then get out by spring. There is much concern about saving face, much interest in capturing Somalian warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, "showing him who the boss is," as coal miner Mike Wasko says.
But for many who live in small frame houses here, U.S. flags and yellow ribbons now join the landscape of clotheslines and United Mine Workers signs.
The grisly new images from Somalia -- and the killing of one of their own, 20-year-old Army Ranger Pfc. Richard W. Kowalewski Jr. -- have eclipsed Mr. Clinton's arguments for finishing the job. The killing has also eclipsed the heart-wrenching images of starving Somalian children that garnered public support for U.S. aid to the east Africa nation last year.
Time to pull out
Echoing the sentiment of their member of Congress, Democrat Austin J. Murphy, who favors immediate withdrawal, they believe it is time for U.S. troops to leave Mogadishu, whether the nation's credibility is at stake, as Mr. Clinton suggests, or not.
"If we stay there, how many more guys are going to die? How's that for credibility?" asked coal miner Sam Uveges at the four-seat counter at Stan-Lee's mom and pop grocery, the only store in this town of 600. "We have no business being there."
At Caputo's bar, a mile up the river in Dry Tavern, the president's speech played on two TV sets Thursday night. But few were swayed.
"I'm pretty well disgusted," said bartender Nancy Barno, who can't get out of her mind the image of the dead soldier being dragged through the streets of Somalia. "I've never seen anything like it in my life."
In an ABC poll after the speech, 53 percent of the 506 adults surveyed said they did not approve of Mr. Clinton's decision to pTC double the size of U.S. forces in Somalia. Only 36 percent approve of the way he has handled Somalia. The poll had a margin of error of 5 percentage points.
The same refrains kept coming up -- "We've got our noses in everybody else's business," "The Somalis are biting the hand that feeds them," and comparisons to Vietnam -- in Johnny's Barber Shop in Carmichaels and at the bowling alley across the river in Masontown.
"At one time I thought it was a good idea. Now I'd say our welcome is worn out," said Thomas Sinkovic of Carmichaels, whose fellow bowlers agree with him.
"I think our soldiers should come home before we get committed in another Vietnam. I know there are people [in Somalia] who do deserve and want our help, but how can you help them when other people are attacking and ambushing our troops like they did on Sunday? President Clinton has his hands full in this situation."
Many here in heavily Democratic Greene County, the state's poorest jurisdiction, say they're skeptical of these multinational U.N. peacekeeping missions that are presenting themselves with increasing frequency in the post-Cold War era.
Carmichaels banker Bob Stephenson, a Navy veteran, said he wouldn't want his son deployed on any such operation.
"Peacekeeping missions might look real good, but the concept of military comes across as aggressive even if you go bearing gifts. The U.S. cannot be the policemen for the world. There are places you can go and do the best you can do and come out of there, and you've made no difference at all. The military should be for the defense of this nation."
Another skeptic, Uniontown businessman John Pedro, said he believes that U.S. humanitarian efforts should be restricted to providing food and supplies. "I'm for humanitarian needs all over the world," he said over coffee at the Route 40 Diner, "but just like the guy said on a radio talk show, doesn't United Parcel deliver all over the world?"
Perhaps not surprisingly in a town where laid-off mine workers ponder the economics of going back to school, Mr. Pedro and others here have little interest in extending aid abroad -- financial or military -- when they see so much joblessness and poverty and violence at home.
In fact, many cite the recent spate of murders and heinous crimes that has hit nearby Pittsburgh, noting that it, too, could use some military policing.
With a crisis that seemed worlds away having hit so close to home, they admit that their good will is taking a back seat to personal considerations.
Mission originally good
Mildred Buskirk, a teacher in Carmichaels, said she applauded the mission early on, but now would like to see a quick end.
"It was important that we were there," she said. "But now my concern is for the safety of our boys over there. We sometimes don't look any farther than that."
Angelina Begovich, a grandmother in Crucible, has been trying to.
As she plasters the town with flags and red, white and blue ribbons in memory of her young dead neighbor, and as she tries to engage her reticent son, a Vietnam veteran, in conversation about the crisis, she grapples with the question of the right thing to do.
"They went over there to help those people and look what happened," she said on her way to a visit with the grandparents of Private Kowalewski.
"But then you think to yourself, 'Would it be wrong to pull out now?' When you see those starving children on TV and see our little chubbies around here, you don't know what to think. And I don't imagine our president does either."