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Friday, April 16, 1999 Published at 05:44 GMT 06:44 UK

World: Americas

Kosovo: The view from the US

America's Kosovo Albanians rally in support of the Nato strikes

By Washington correspondent Tom Carver

The little town of Emmett, Michigan, population 299, has been holding its spring dance to raise money for its tiny volunteer fire service.

Kosovo: Special Report
Many of the older men who crowd the bar of the village hall are veterans of Vietnam.

Despite - or perhaps because of - their experiences, they retain the belief that America should act as a force for good in the world.

The men believe that America should "support free peoples who are resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."

The Truman Doctrine, as it became known in the Cold War, remains alive and well in Emmett.

"That man Milosevic is forcing thousands of people out of their homes. We can't just stand by and watch," said the town's fire chief, Ed Johnson.

"Are you prepared for American casualties?" I asked.

"You can't have war without casualties," he answered.

Dan Greenhia, another veteran, chipped in: "I don't think we should be the world's policeman, but now that we're in we must finish the job. I think we will have to send ground troops and I, for one, support that."

Aid efforts

Small town America is not as isolationist as you might think. True, most people hadn't heard of Kosovo two months ago, but when presented with the nightly pictures of desolation on their television screens they want to help.

In a Detroit suburb, Cathy Campbell and her friends have been trying to fill a rental truck with donations to give to the refugees.

I asked her about ground troops but she refused to be drawn. She won't even express an opinion.

"I don't know enough about the situation," she said, "except that every side has committed some atrocities." Americans seem to absorb fair-mindedness with their mothers' milk.

They also have a considerable faith in their leaders. It has only been two months since the curtain finally came down on the Lewinsky charade which everyone said had degraded the office of the presidency, and yet time and again people said to me, "If the president thinks we should do that ...," or, 'If Clinton wants to send in troops then I will support him.'

But this conflict is still a long way away for most Americans. Lulled into a false sense of security by the weekly air attacks on Saddam Hussein, they think that perhaps there is such a thing as a casualty-free conflict.

There are only three towns in the United States which have been touched directly by Kosovo and those are the home towns of the three American soldiers being held by Belgrade.

Support could evaporate

I asked Jamie Powers, a university student who thinks America has a national interest in Kosovo if she would be willing to let her brother go there to fight.

'Oh well, that's different,' she said, 'I mean I don't want to sound hypocritical or anything but ...' and her voice trailed away.

In Washington, they are only too aware that support could quickly evaporate at the first sight of American dead which is why the politicians are less gung-ho.

They are reluctant to enter into a conflict which has momentary support, only to be blamed for dragging the country into it when things turn nasty.

For the time being, America is willing to go along with the air campaign. The agonising tales from the refugees have struck a chord.

They do not like what Milosevic is doing, and they want to see justice done. But the truth is that Americans are as hypocritical in their attitudes as everyone else. They like the idea of helping the disadvantaged until it starts to seriously disadvantage them.

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