It is four decades after the Kent State shootings. And a U.S. president is, once again, escalating involvement in a long, distant war that his citizens are doubting -- a war that, like Vietnam, couldn't seem farther away from the campus of Kent State University.
Just about everybody who passes the memorial here at Kent State offers a conflicted view about the expansion of the nation's involvement in Afghanistan.
"It's been so long, you forget why we're there," says Mike Meszes of Elyria, Ohio, standing in the parking lot where Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheur and William Schroeder were shot dead in May 1970.
Here and elsewhere, people once again are confused about the mission and wary as the president dispatches more troops and considers an even bigger military commitment.
"Americans aren't conscious of Afghanistan," says historian Stanley Kutler, editor of The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War.
"You couldn't help but be conscious of Vietnam because of the draft," he said. But in Afghanistan, "The alleged reasons for going there have completely left the public consciousness."
Obama understands the fading memory and seeks to bring it back.
"I remind everybody, the United States of America did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan," he said. "Nearly 3,000 of our people were killed on September 11, 2001, for doing nothing more than going about their daily lives."
And he warns: "The world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos or Al Qaeda operates unchecked."
Recent national polls indicate slipping support for the war in Afghanistan. The latest AP-GfK survey finds that less than half -- 46 percent -- now approve of Obama's handling of Afghanistan, a 9 percentage-point drop since July. Interviews with more than three dozen people nationwide uncovered reasons for the slide -- deep uncertainty and confusion about the prolonged fight to root out terrorists in Afghanistan and its neighbors.
Eight years after Al Qaeda attacked Americans at home and the United States invaded Afghanistan in response, liberals, conservatives and moderates alike say they don't know what American forces are fighting for. They doubt that the U.S. will be successful and question what winning even means. Many also no longer seem to view the war through the prism of Sept. 11, 2001; few mention the attacks but many -- rightly or wrongly -- draw parallels to Vietnam."
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