Jan Walker and Phil Kete, of Takoma Park, hoped to shield their two young daughters from the images of dead and dying children in Iraq. Yet their oldest, Joanna Walker, 8, still broods about the costs of the war in the Persian Gulf.
"I think about all the bombs that are exploding in Iraq, all the people who are getting killed," Joanna said. "I think about the Iraqi kids, and they are real young and innocent. They aren't doing anything in the war at all."
The Walker and Kete family is against the war in the Persian Gulf. Their neighbors, Jack and Gloria Mitton -- whose only child, a son, is of fighting age -- enthusiastically support American efforts in the war. Somewhere in the middle, genuinely confused, is Julie Matthews, who said she does not know which side to believe in sorting out the details of the Baghdad shelter bombing on Wednesday.
Those and other images of the bombing's aftermath -- small, blanket- draped bodies, heartbroken mourners and children with horrible burns -- reminded many Americans that one consequence of war often is the death of innocent civilians. Yet, over a three-day period of evaluating the episode and their reactions to it, a small sample of Takoma Park residents said their feelings about the war were fundamentally unchanged.
Gloria Mitton, a school librarian, and her husband, Jack, an accountant, felt forced to take an almost matter-of-fact view of the deaths, thinking that such killings are unfortunate, but inevitable in wartime.
"You're talking to an Army brat that grew up with Army and knows that there are certain things you have to do for peace -- and sometimes this is the only way for peace," said Mitton, 44. "I feel for the people if they are being killed. I don't want anybody to drop a bomb on me either.
"I don't like children dying," she added. "I don't like innocent people dying, but this is war, and their idea of war is very different from ours."
When Jack Mitton first heard about the bombing deaths before he left for work Wednesday morning, his reaction was quick and adamant.
"My first thought was that it was a lie that this shelter was for civilians," said Mitton, 51, an Army veteran and the past president of the Takoma Park Lions Club. "If it was a civilian bomb shelter, then it only became one in the past couple of days."
His opinion has not changed.
The Mittons fully support the war in the Persian Gulf. They believe that the U.S. government is correct in its aims.
"There are going to be accidents," Mitton said about the civilian injuries and deaths. "The battlefields today are not the same as they were in the Revolutionary War or the Civil War, when they were isolated.
"I would say my support goes all the way," he said. "To be real frank about it, I think we made a huge mistake at the time of Korea and Vietnam in establishing parameters beyond which we wouldn't go and establishing sanctuaries that were, in my estimation, abused by the opposing party.
"And I think the best thing that the president did was say, 'This will not be another Vietnam.' My interpretation of that was that he would not put any useless restrictions in the way of the military doing the job that needed to be done."
The Mittons believe Saddam Hussein capable of orchestrating the deaths of his people to court world sympathy. "He seems to do crazy things like that," Gloria Mitton said. "Who knows what goes on in that mind?"
Jan Walker, a nurse who sees the conflict as "unnecessary and unwise," said she felt terrible when she saw the televised pictures of suffering children in the aftermath of the bombing.
The images made her more determined, she said, to organize a children's "peace camp" to teach youngsters to take responsibility for the world. But she also wondered why everyone was reacting so dramatically to this single incident.
"Don't you think it would have been pretty hard for civilians not to be killed with all the bombs we've been dropping? It seems like they've been killed all along," said Walker, 38. "How can peace come out of this? I don't see how it can help Israel. I don't see how it can help anybody."
Phil Kete describes the civilian deaths as "the collateral damage" of the war.
"Part of the reason we're against the war at this time is that this sort of thing is absolutely unavoidable," said Kete, a lawyer specializing in employment law.
"When we were going into the war, the first week or so, the government told us how perfect and precise the bombs were, and talked down to people who said a lot of innocent people would be killed," he said.
"The conclusion I draw is that we shouldn't have the war. The conclusion the administration draws is that they talked the American people into endorsing a war, with the belief that there would not be massive civilian deaths. And then they will turn around and say, 'Aha, you endorsed the war, you can't complain if a couple of eggshells are broken to make the omelet.' "
Kete and Walker describe themselves as liberal Democrats, concerned with international human rights issues. But Kete said he differs with his young daughter's pacifist stance.
"Her position is that war by definition is unjustified," he said. "I accept the just-war theory, that you could have wars in which it is not only permitted but required to fight. But this just isn't one of them."
Julie Matthews said that while she remains ambivalent about the conflict, the war is never far from her thoughts.
"Since the war began, I have been haunted by ancient, childhood fears and sophisticated adult dilemmas, all a result of my overwhelming ambivalence. I'm not alone," Matthews said. "Many of my friends and family members also struggle with the morality of this war, with the contrasting images which leap from the television screen.
"Is our cause right and just, or is America's intervention just an attempt at world dominion?"
Matthews says all she knows is how awful she felt seeing the pictures of suffering and grief.
"It was very harrowing," said Matthews, 31, a technical writer for a defense contractor. "I saw burned, charred children lying in bed moaning. And I couldn't help but think, my God, what if that was my child?"
"It was really heartbreaking, terrifying to see the bodies on the ground with blankets on them," she said. "It makes the war real. This is war. It's not a skirmish. It's not a disagreement.
"Then I saw a survivor who looks like my little nephew," she said. "I want to remember that these people are suffering just like we would be suffering if they were bombing Takoma Park or Rockville."