SHELBYVILLE -- In this community known for manufacturing pencils and breeding walking horses, it does not take very long to figure out why Tennessee is called the Volunteer State.
All one needs to do is visit the Bedford County Court House to hear the voices of a region that appears to be backing President Bush's response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait almost without reservation.
Old and young, retired and working, affluent and not, residents of Shelbyville and neighboring Tullahoma do not seem to share the festering doubt about U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf that began cropping up elsewhere Nov. 8. That was the day Bush announced his decision to nearly double U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, giving them an offensive capability.
Here, comparing Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler is not regarded as hyperbolic, and the need for the United States to take the lead in containing Saddam in the volatile Persian Gulf region -- even if that means war -- is an article of faith.
"If you leave that man alone, he'll take all those countries," said Leonard Faulkner, 79, a retired maintenance worker at a local pencil plant. A Navy medic in World War II who says "war is the last thing to do," Faulkner nonetheless said he believes Saddam must be stopped by force.
"It's better to do it now than wait five years and have a bigger war," he said.
Nor is it considered particularly bad form here in south-central Tennessee, a largely rural area where people drive long distances to work and farmers have tractors to fuel, to cite the economics of oil to justify the gulf deployment.
Asked what he considers the U.S. interest in the gulf, Sam Arnold, 58, a county veterans service officer, did not hesitate. "The oil, the petroleum," said Arnold, a retired member of the Army's 101st Airborne Division who served three tours each in Korea and Vietnam.
"I'm for protecting our oil supply," agreed Lytle "Jug" Landers, a Shelbyville insurance agent, after last week's meeting of the local Rotary Club. "This country moves on oil, and I'm not ashamed of it."
Some Shelbyville residents said Saddam's announcement Thursday that he is prepared to release hostages in Kuwait and Iraq vindicated Bush's resolute stand and the administration's insistence on having international agreement through the United Nations to use force, if necessary, to expel Iraq from Kuwait.
"I'd like to think the U.N. involvement, with major U.S. backing, has influenced that," said Bob Jackson, a plant manager for a truck component manufacturer. "Maybe it's starting to get across to Saddam."
Jackson's younger colleague at the Easton Corp., Tom Nykamp, 29, a human resources manager, said the United States is in the gulf for the "right reasons" but admits to skepticism about how much America's love affair with the automobile is driving foreign policy.
"Unfortunately," Nykamp said, "Americans have this passion for cars and cheap oil, and they are willing to fight to keep oil prices low."
Such strong support for the Bush administration in this area, not far north of the Alabama border and about 60 miles southeast of Nashville, is consistent with a state that has always been strongly pro-military. Tennessee derived its nickname from the 30,000 volunteers who in 1847 signed up for service in the Mexican-American War.
Operation Desert Shield also has a strong Tennessee flavor. A spokesman for the state National Guard said more than 3,000 Guard members from Tennessee have been called to duty for the gulf operation.
They have not lacked support. When the 180-member 251st Service and Supply Company of the Guard in Tullahoma was called up in September, 2,500 people turned out to wish the troops well as they headed for Fort Campbell, Ky., en route to Saudi Arabia.