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War Jitters : From 'I Hope We Go to War' to 'Let Mothers Make the Decision,' Views Run Gamut in O.C.


When Ralph Maciel suddenly died of a heart attack last summer, his 22-year-oldson and apprentice took over Ralph's Barber Shop in Huntington Beach--where you can still get a haircut for only six bucks, no appointment necessary.

Ray Maciel frequently applies a straightedge to sideburns of men three times his age--clientele once faithful to his father and now to him.

"I try not to get into political arguments because everybody has a different point of view and I could lose all my customers," said Maciel, a friendly fellow who trims dozens of heads a day.

But he would admit this much after Wednesday's deadlock in Geneva: "We've given Hussein a couple of chances. I think it's time for us to go in and show him that we're true to our word."

One of his old-timers, Hank Gargano, agreed. "Baker said that he didn't make any progress, so I suppose we might have a war--if you can call it a war," said the Anaheim resident, 72, a retired salesman. "I think it will be done from the air, like we did to Mr. Kadafi (when the U.S. bombed Libya in 1986). That sure did hush Mr. Kadafi up."

From barbershops to beauty salons to taxicabs, people in Orange County over the past few days have been talking about little else but war. And their sentiments, like those represented in opinion polls and in Congress, ran the gamut.

World War II veteran Stanley Greenwood, 73, of Huntington Beach, believes that the unproductive discussion with Aziz means military action against Iraq is probably right around the corner. "We can't negotiate with this guy (Hussein)," said the retired city employee. "He's a crackpot."

Otto Gruber, 73, a retired clergyman, believes that "sometimes war is the only answer."

"If we'd taken steps against Hitler earlier, we wouldn't have had a crisis of the gigantic proportions that we did," said the Irvine resident, who served as a chaplain during World War II. "You can't just withdraw to your own borders and let everyone do what they want to do."

Gruber harbors mild hope that Hussein will surrender Kuwait before Tuesday. But the person next in line to undergo Maciel's scissors expressed no such optimism.

"Definitely I think we're going to war," said Jerry Lindler, 49, a production supervisor in Huntington Beach. "Saddam is insane, and we're going to have to do something about him."

Lindler served in the U.S. Air Force in the early '60s but never saw active duty. "Vietnam was a senseless war, I believe," he said. "However, I think we're justified in what we're doing in the Middle East."

He predicted war would come sooner rather than later, dismissing reports that the U.S. military is not yet ready. "I think that's a ploy to catch Saddam off guard," Lindler said.

Ralph's is the kind of old-fashioned barbershop where customers such as David Felbob plop down in front of the mirror and say, "Chop it off, man."

In Felbob's view, invading Iraq is the United States' best recourse. "Personally, I hope we do go to war to teach Hussein a lesson," said the 44-year-old government employee. "We need to set a precedent here, to make an example out of him."

Robert Parra, a 32-year-old Marine Corps reservist, expects to be called to duty any day now. "I think we're going to war," he said. "I'm almost certain it's going to be soon after the 15th."

He requested a stylish cut--short on the sides, full on the top. "I was going to get a regulation (haircut), but then I decided there's no sense in that until I get a letter in the mail," he commented.

Two-year-old Chetarra climbed onto her dad's lap as he sat in the barber's chair. "I don't like the idea of leaving my family to go to the Middle East," Parra said, "but it's something that has to be done."

Robin Bowen sat on the sidelines as his two red-headed boys had their cowlicks pared by Maciel and assistant barber Arthur Castillo. "I worry about it (the Middle East crisis) every day," Bowen said. "It's the only reason I watch television--to hear the latest news."

"We're in a no-win situation. We can defeat Hussein, but we'll lose the rest of the Arab world," said Bowen, 50, a maintenance manager recently retired from the military.

Bowen, who fought in Vietnam, clings to the hope that Hussein will retreat: "He's no fool. It will come down to the line, but peace might be negotiated. Maybe he'll start to pull out his troops. It will be harder for Bush to justify invading once Hussein starts withdrawing.

"Of course, I'm not privy to either side's battle plans," Bowen allowed. "If we do attack, I think it will be right after Jan. 15. I won't like it, but I'll support it 100%."

As he bid Maciel farewell, Bowen joked, "See you in Baghdad."

"I'd go if I had to," said Maciel--who is, after all, young enough for the draft. "I'd cry on the plane all the way over, but I'd go. Think they could use a barber over there?"

But at the Aida Grey Salon in South Coast Plaza last weekend, not one woman believed that U.S. and Iraqi soldiers would be exchanging bullets next week.

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