Standing Outside Their Circle

Times Staff Writer

Jim and Kristy Hake hardly consider themselves hawks.

The couple met in yoga class 12 years ago. Jim, a computer software guru, has helped spread technology to developing countries in Africa and investigated human rights abuses in El Salvador. Kristy, an artist, spent two years living in Southeast Asia, helping resettle Thai and Cambodian refugees.

At home in Pacific Palisades, their social circle -- his poker buddies, her book club, the parents of their children's friends -- is decidedly liberal and antiwar.

But there was Jim at the microphone last week, chastising the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District for considering a resolution condemning plans to attack Iraq. And that was his byline in their neighborhood newspaper, on a column supporting military action and on another debunking the "No War for Oil" mantra of peace activists.

There was Kristy, falling uncharacteristically quiet with her book group -- odd woman out as her friends spoke against the impending war. And now that it has begun, there is Kristy -- a Democrat who "found myself defending Bill Clinton a lot" when his presidency was under fire -- hoping she won't have to defend his successor.

"It's hard for me," she said haltingly, sitting in the sun-dappled dining room of their hillside home last week. "I have these great friends. We drop off our kids at school, walk together to get coffee, talk about everything.... We think the same way on child-rearing, social issues, what charities we support. Then it comes to this. And it gets awkward.

"Nobody wants war," she continued, running a hand nervously through her blond hair. "But I'm not happy with 'liberals' who don't consider human rights and democracy things worth fighting for."

The couple said the war hasn't realigned their politics. "I don't consider myself a conservative," Jim said. But it has brought into sharp relief their notion of personal and collective responsibility, and even landed them, at times, as uncomfortably at odds with each other as with their friends.

Both support the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq and believe that war became inevitable. But Kristy spent the past months praying every morning that war could be avoided. "I'd light a candle and visualize alternatives -- that Saddam would be exiled or vanquished by his own people." Jim spent the past 18 months -- since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- studying the conflict in the Middle East and poring over news stories, reports by Amnesty International, transcripts of Department of Defense briefings, accounts of old interviews with Osama bin Laden.

The attack on Iraq was long overdue, he concluded. Keeping quiet -- effecting detente among his cronies -- would mean shirking his civic responsibility.

He's encouraged, not embarrassed, by the U.S. show of force, he said Thursday as missiles struck Baghdad: "It's quite clear to me that what's happening is the right thing for our country to do."

Still, "I'm not on some sort of crusade," he says, his eyes clear and serious behind black-rimmed glasses. "I don't consider myself an activist. The last thing I'd want is some know-it-all guy trying to shove something down my throat. But I think it's important to take a stand."

Jim's newspaper pieces surprised many and prompted an angry reader to leave an anonymous message on the Hakes' answering machine suggesting in obscene terms what Jim could do with his opinions.

Kristy admires her husband's passion. "He's this sweet, spiritual, idealistic guy," she said. But she conceded that his obsession with figuring out how he felt about war unnerved her, as she tried to sort out her own feelings. His dogged pursuit of the "truth" -- and insistence on sharing it with her -- frustrated her "when what I felt was mostly confused," she said. "He wanted me to know and I didn't know how I felt. I had to say to him, 'Why is it so important for me to have an opinion on this? You have an opinion. Let me be ambivalent in my ambivalence.' "

So Jim stopped trying to convince her. Ultimately, she came around on her own, drawing on lessons -- as he had done -- from her family and her upbringing.

Both Jim, 45, and Kristy, 44, are the children of military veterans. Jim's father fought in World War II. A wooden chest from his service tour now sits in the couple's family room, holding a jumble of dress-up clothes -- wizard gear, animal costumes, plastic swords and Ninja outfits -- that their sons play with.

Kristy's dad fought in Korea and Vietnam. He was a Navy pilot, as is her brother. She grew up in Asia on military bases, and protested the war as a teenager -- "right on my dad's base" alongside singer Joan Baez, she recalled with a grin.

After graduating from the University of Hawaii, Kristy went back to Asia to help refugees fleeing the deadly Pol Pot regime. "I saw the fallout, saw what happens when you stand by and don't do anything and you know that people are suffering."

She came back grateful for this country's freedoms, and amazed at what others take for granted: "I was in awe of how nobody here had gratitude for law and order, for the right to say whatever you want. You can go to a cocktail party and say, 'The president's a mass murderer,' and not be in jail the next day."

"I don't get it now when I see these signs that say we're just as bad as Saddam Hussein. People don't have any idea what it's like. The hypocrisy of it all ... that's what bothers me."

Jim, too, draws on an old-fashioned loyalty, a fundamental faith that his country is trying hard to be all that it aspires to. He grew up in suburban Philadelphia, a high school quarterback who went to Dartmouth, then to Stanford for an MBA.

His dad had only a high school education, but worked his way up from construction worker to business owner and taught his kids that no dreams were beyond reach.

Jim took that to heart. After college, he and two partners started a software company. Two years ago, he sold that firm and began looking for ways to spread the benefits of technology to underserved communities.

The '90s, he said, were "like one long spring break. I worked my tail off, but the economy was booming and we could coast along. Like a lot of people, I had blinders on." Then the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked, and the blinders dropped.

"That made me take a step back.... I realized that things weren't just what I thought, in terms of being hunky-dory for us. We had some serious challenges."

Now that the war is underway, "The most useful thing any of us can do is pray that it's over as quickly as possible," he said Thursday. "And as painlessly."

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