Aiming for sympathy

Saturday, April 27, 2002

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Rick Braun sat alone in his barbershop penciling in appointments for the upcoming week.

Just a few blocks from the state Capitol, the shop typically is filled with customers chattering about local and national issues while they get their hair cut.

When Braun heard that a Springfield-based F-16 jet had mistakenly bombed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, he figured his shop would be abuzz with conversation.

But his customers -- as well as others in Springfield -- have been eerily quiet on the subject. Braun wasn't surprised, calling his countrymen "an apathetic bunch."

"We as Americans ... just pay attention to our own neighborhood and go about our business," he said.

The silence has been deafening to Canadians, whose outpouring of grief and nationalism has been very public.

There, since the April 18 bombing killed four Canadian soldiers and injured eight others, the story has topped headlines. Live television has carried the funerals. Makeshift memorials similar to those after Sept. 11 have appeared at the unit's base in Edmonton, Alberta. Canadian reporters descended on Springfield to gauge reaction to the country's first combat-zone deaths since the Korean War.

Strong reaction

Publicly, the reaction in Springfield was immediate and swift. The local paper made the incident its top story for several days. Its editorial page carried an image of a 183rd jet pilot saluting a Canadian flag at half-staff. Friday's paper included an address where condolences could be sent.

The day after the bombing, the Illinois National Guard released a statement of condolence to the families of the soldiers.

"Every military unit shares a sense of loss when one of its own or its allies is killed in the line of duty," Maj. Gen. David Harris said in the statement.

The city continues to pledge support to the pilot, although officials have not said whether the plane's navigator also is from the 183rd. A newspaper editorial empathized with Canada and the unknown pilot who dropped the 500-pound bomb.

Some residents get defensive when accused of indifference -- or worse. One Canadian columnist wrote, "We went to help out the Americans with their war -- and they used us for target practice.

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