Feelings of Fear: Reflections on the Impact of War on UB



Almost a decade ago, with the United States facing the possibility of war in the Persian Gulf, the UB community's response was in some ways similar and some ways starkly different from its present state.

UB President William R. Greiner, who held the same post at the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War, remembers the campus atmosphere as having been "somewhat apprehensive, but nothing like it is now."

"The one thing I remember most was the impact it had on a rather substantial number of students and faculty. Specifically in the health sciences department, a whole bunch of our faculty and students that had signed up for the reserves, a lot of them during Vietnam, all of a sudden had to go off," he said.

At the end of 1990, as tensions between Iraq and Kuwait moved toward invasion and subsequent U.S. intervention, a small but focused anti-war sentiment arose within the student body. That year, Shaikh Saud Nasir Al-Sabah, a Kuwaiti ambassador to the United Sates, presented a speech at UB concerning the state of his country.

A student candlelight vigil held for peace in 1991 was among the few university responses to a war that occurred mostly between semesters.

"The initial buildup was during fall exams and the holidays, and then semester break, so much of the time on campus was quiet," said Dennis Black, vice president of Student Affairs. "Because there had been no attack on the U.S., just the takeover of a faraway country that people knew little of ... there seemed to be a real distance between the conflict and our campus."

Although an overwhelming sense of patriotism has unified much of today's student body and faculty, a decade ago another President Bush was faced with an altogether different situation. On Jan. 23, 1991, George Bush Sr. sent out a letter to universities across the country, garnering support for the Desert Storm effort and detailing a jarringly familiar scenario.

"If armed men invaded a home in this country, killed those in their way, stole what they wanted and then announced the house was now theirs - no one would hesitate as to what must be done," wrote Bush.

As a ground invasion of Iraq became imminent, students at UB began to worry about what the future would hold for them. In 1991, the Western New York Peace Center was overwhelmed with calls from frightened students worrying about the impact a draft would have on their lives. Although the draft was never put into effect, reservists were called up and deployed to the Persian Gulf; almost all were able to return the following semester.

"Because the air and ground war were so quick, effective, and resulted in fewer losses then expected, again there was a distance between that effort and our daily lives," said Black.

Following the attacks of Sept. 11, almost every national and collegiate sporting league cancelled its upcoming games. During the Gulf War, Black, along with Greiner, vividly remembered its impact on one of Buffalo's most significant sporting events: the Buffalo Bills vs. New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV.

"The one thing I do remember is Whitney Houston standing out there on the field, lip-synching the national anthem, while helicopters with all sorts of guns circled around the stadium looking out for terrorists," said Greiner.

While Greiner does remember a sense of solidarity a decade ago, "It wasn't the same kind of unified feeling that we have right now," said Greiner.