Although organizers squeezed dozens of extra chairs into The Library Center auditorium, it was standing room only Wednesday at a panel discussion with former CIA analyst Ray McGovern.
The discussion, which followed a daylong series of films about the war in Iraq, clearly showed Ozarkers' interest in the issues being addressed.
Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern speaks to a packed house Wednesday evening at the Library Center. The discussion also included conservative talk-radio host Vincent David Jericho and attorney Joe Passanise. (Mark Schiefelbein / For the News-Leader)
"He dispels lots of the myths, so people can form their own opinions," said Ryan Foo, a student at Missouri State University. "It's something you need to know, because it affects the whole world."
The crowd of more than 200 appeared largely sympathetic to McGovern, who spoke about the "fixing" of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.
"I go along very much with McGovern," said Fred Walter, 80. "I don't think we're (conducting the war in Iraq) in the proper manner. ... We're gonna get in a bigger mess, and we're alienating our allies."
The crowd was less favorable toward panel member Vincent David Jericho, a conservative talk-radio host on local station KSGF.
Although Jericho garnered thunderous applause when describing America as "the greatest country in the world," he drew fire after suggesting the U.S. is also "morally superior."
Moderator Bob Ranney had to ask the audience to refrain from catcalling after several other comments from Jericho, including his contention that "Jesus wasn't some velveteen wuss, he was a man ..."
Jericho characterized the current war on terror as a religious war and defended past statements by the president that American soldiers are "Christian crusaders."
"The Bible isn't a book of peace," Jericho said. "Never has been, never will be."
Springfield attorney Joe Passanise, also a member of the panel, took a less controversial approach when describing the conflict.
"We are in a war not necessarily with a country, but with an ideology," he said. "These people want to kill us ... they want to do away with our way of life."
But Passanise later stressed that the conflict is not with Islam in general, but with a minority of religious extremists unwilling to compromise or negotiate.
"You can't sit down at a table with people who want to kill you ...," he said. "You can't discuss with that one percent."
Bill Belle Isle, 64, said the argument that terrorists want to kill Americans because of "our freedoms" or democracy misses the point.
"This thing that they want to kill us it's true," he said. "But it's because of our policy."
Although the overflow crowd included about a dozen twentysomethings, such as Foo, most of those in attendance were older residents.
Belle Isle said that's no coincidence.
"Most of these folks are old enough to remember Vietnam ... and remember the lessons of 40 years ago," he said.
Belle Isle said he's struggled recently to explain the similarities between that conflict and the current war to his children, to little effect. "It's not their fault they just weren't there."
The country's current leadership doesn't seem to understand, either, said Belle Isle, whose son recently returned from a third tour of duty in Iraq.
"I think their perspective might be a little different if they were sending their own sons, instead of someone else's," he said. "I just think this war is unjust and foolish."
Even those who disagreed with McGovern, such as Jericho and Passanise, praised the citizenship embodied in the lively debate Wednesday.
"I don't care if you hate my guts," Jericho told the audience. "(But) everybody needs to get involved."
© 2006 Springfield News-Leader