TUG OF WAR

Country stars get behind the U.S. attack on Iraq – but not everyone is onboard

Actors like Sean Penn and Martin Sheen are against it. Pop and rock stars like Sheryl Crow and Shakira think it's a bad idea. But most country stars support the war on Iraq and stand squarely behind President Bush in his quest to disarm Iraq and remove dictator Saddam Hussein from power.

Montgomery Gentry's Eddie Montgomery states his case plainly. "All these people that are against it," he says, "can kiss my ass."

"If you have to fight, then I think you've gotta go in gung-ho," seconds Toby Keith, "and protect as many of us as you can."

Darryl Worley, whose current hit "Have You Forgotten?" has been taken up as a pro-war anthem and musical rallying cry, also agrees. "I support George Bush and what he is doing in this particular instance," he says. "I think Saddam Hussein is a lunatic, and we could be putting ourselves in a compromising position by waiting around."

"A lot of people have said that President Bush is after Saddam Hussein for revenge," says Lee Greenwood, whose patriotic anthem "God Bless the U.S.A." is enjoying a renewed airplay. "I think he's a man of character who wants to protect these United States just like his father did, just like presidents before him did."

For John Michael Montgomery, the issue is personal. "I will never feel that my kids are going to grow up in a safe country unless we take care of people like Saddam Hussein the way they need to be taken care of," he asserts.

Chris Cagle, too, fears an Iraqi attack on the U.S. and supports a preemptive strike by American troops. "I'm pretty scared about it, because my generation has never seen an actual war on this soil," he says. "If they came here . . . Oh, my goodness.

But there are a few dissenting voices to be heard. Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines' opposition to the war made headlines – and created a backlash.

"At some point in history, someone has to be willing to reach out and see the point of view of the other side – not to agree with it, not to condone it, just to see it," says Kathy Mattea. "It's our pride that keeps us from doing that, and I've got a feeling it's going to get a lot of people killed unnecessarily."

"I oppose the war absolutely, 100 percent," says Rosanne Cash, who belongs – along with Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and others – to an anti-war group called Musicians United to Win Without War. Rosanne, who lives blocks from the site of the World Trade Center disaster, thinks the government is focusing on the wrong enemy.

"Sixteen months ago, it was about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden," she says. "I never hear the president mention that anymore. I live in New York, and I want him to stay on message with that."

In the tense days leading up to the bombing of Baghdad, other stars found themselves with mixed emotions. "There's a side of me that says we're just trying to help," says Ronnie McDowell, who earned combat medals in Vietnam. "But there's another side of me that opposes any action at all. I would rather see us not go, to be honest."

Kenny Chesney said, "I see both sides. [But] I do support it, because I don't think the threat of biological weapons should be any threat at all – and they are a threat."

Some stars believe the threats are even bigger than we know. "I really do believe there are things that our government knows about Saddam Hussein that they're not telling us," says Ricky Skaggs. "I think it's watered down a lot."

"I feel the leadership is in a position to know more about what is going on than I do," says Mark Wills. "I think they are aware of the consequences of not responding to threats."

For many, the question comes down to personal faith in President Bush. "I must have confidence that the leader of our country has the interests and safety of the American people in mind," says Steve Holy.

"That's why we vote and put people in office," reasons Alan Jackson. "They're supposed to know how to handle that kind of stuff. If they don't, then we make a change. I'm just a singer of simple songs – and that's the truth. I don't know about all the other stuff."

There is one matter on which everyone seems to agree: No matter your stnce on the war, it's important to support the U.S. troops fighting it. After all, they're only doing their duty.

"These ladies and gentlemen are going to be the ones who make the difference for the world," says Faith Hill. "I want to support them."

"As soldiers, we don't concern ourselves with the politics or the decisions that have been made," says Craig Morgan, himself an Army Reservist whose unit was recently mobilized. "We obey the orders regardless of our political beliefs."

"I have a very close relative who is an airborne ranger in the Army," says Rebecca Lynn Howard. "It makes me feel very deeply for his family. He has a small child and one on the way, but he's willing to do whatever it takes to protect his family and his country."

With that in mind, many performers have played free shows for soldiers, both in the U.S. and abroad. "When you go do these tours, you always bring back more than you took," says Trace Adkins, who visited Afghanistan last Thanksgiving. "They leave you feeling fulfilled."

"Those men and women deserve a little bit of entertainment," says Lila McCann, whose planned Middle East trip was canceled right before the war began. "I don't feel I'm taking a political stance by performing for troops. Troops should be treated with respect."

Of course, many people wonder what business stars have weighing in publicly on any aspect of the issue – they're entertainers, after all, not experts on national defense, foreign policy or international economics. For example, figures LeAnn Rimes, "I think there are enough people getting their opinions out that I don't need to voice mine."

But according to Rosanne Cash, speaking out is a matter of conscience – something she says she learned from her famous father, Johnny Cash.

"We have just as much right as physicians or plumbers or anyone else to say what we believe," she declares. "If there's one thing I learned from my father, it's to have the courage of your convictions. If you don't say what you really believe, then what good are you?"

Superstar Clint Black, for one, is letting his music do the talking. His new release, "I Raq and Roll," sums up his feelings – and reveals exactly where he stands, longing for peace but knowing that combat is necessary.

You can come along or you can stay behind, Clint sings. Or you can get out of the way/But our troops take out the garbage/For the good o'l U.S.A.

Comments