President Bush, in an apparent effort to bolster student support for his hard-line stance against Iraq, has sent a letter to 460 college newspapers saying he may have to use military force in the "good vs. evil" conflict.
"There are times in life when we confront values worth fighting for. This is one such time," Bush wrote in the letter, which paints the conflict in uncompromising terms of "black and white" and "right vs. wrong."
Many college newspaper editors took the unusual four-page message from the White House as a sign that Bush was concerned about growing anti-war protests on campus.
"We're probably going to run this because it's the first time I've seen the president solicit direct support from students for a U.S. policy action," said Jeremy Bash, managing editor of the Hoya at Georgetown University.
Bash called the letter "simplistic" in its assessment of the conflict and a tactic attempting to "nip the anti-war protests in the bud."
"We've had a teach-in that drew a lot of students and there have been a lot of campus anti-war protests," Bash said.
"There were a lot of conspiracy theories about why he sent it," said Harvard Crimson Managing Editor Joseph Palmore. "We thought maybe he was preparing students for war or maybe he was trying to win college students to his side, because in Vietnam, college campuses were the centers of opposition to the war."
The Crimson, which did not run the letter because of an editorial policy against publishing letters by speech writers, instead quoted it extensively in a news article that began, "Appearing to prepare college students for the growing possibility of war . . . . "
Thousands of college students are expected to descend on Washington for anti-war marches planned for Jan. 19 and Jan. 26.
During Vietnam, the student movement was credited with helping sway American public opinion against the war. Some of the organizers of the Vietnam student movement, sparked by a 1965 University of Michigan teach-in after the first U.S. combat troops arrived in South Vietnam, are advising the current campus movement.
Since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait last August, anti-war demonstrations have been held on scores of campuses. Though the protests are generally smaller than those held during the Vietnam War, student activists claim greater participation than occurred before the United States entered combat in Vietnam.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said during a news conference yesterday that Bush's letter was another effort by the president to communicate his Persian Gulf policy to Americans as the Tuesday deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait nears.
In the letter, Bush requested students "to remember and support" servicemen and women, many of whom are college-age. He also asked students to "reflect on the terrible threat that a Saddam Hussein armed with weapons of mass destruction already poses to human life."
In tough language of "no concessions" and "no compromises," Bush said ousting Iraq from Kuwait is a "moral obligation."
"In the Gulf young men and women are putting their own lives on hold in order to stand for peace in our world and for the essential value of human life itself," the letter said.
"Many are younger than my own children. Your age, most of them. Doing tough duty for something they believe in," the letter continued.
At Howard University in the District, Jennifer Golson, one of the editors of the Hilltop, said the newspaper had not received the White House letter.
If it does, Golson said, the Hilltop would not publish it without long student comment.
"There is a completely negative response on campus" to Bush's policy, Golson said.
"The majority opinion is we don't belong over there," Golson said. Student anti-war activists said they viewed the letter as a small triumph.
"People aren't going to stop organizing against the war because the president writes this letter," said Hilary Diamond, a graduate student at San Francisco State University, who said the letter showed that campus protests have been heard at the White House.
Bush is "clearly worried about student protests and student uprisings against the war," said David Levine, a University of Michigan senior who objects to the U.S. policy.
Bash, the Georgetown newspaper editor, said that whether students on campus agreed with Bush or not, they should read what the president is saying, "especially since, if there is prolonged fighting, a lot of us may end up over there."