Voices of dissent: White House vigil

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WASHINGTON, March 22 (UPI) -- Participants at a candlelight vigil near the White House Friday night played down considerations of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction in expressing their opposition to the war.

"I think that we need to reframe the debate away from the good- or badness of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction," said Harriet Crosby one of about 20 war dissenters who gathered at the north edge of Lafayette Park. "I think the real issue is the new American foreign policy that's been called Pax Americana that involves global domination and America taking advantage of its power as the sole superpower and stepping in as the world policeman and putting a military occupation into a strategic location, allowing the control of Middle Eastern oil."


She said the real issue is whether this is a foreign policy the American people are happy with. "It's not consistent with the noble values of democracy and freedom and respect for the traditions of all people." She said such a foreign policy is inconsistent with the ideals of the Founding Fathers.


"I think if we had a national debate on these issues, the president would not have the support to go forward with Pax Americana," Crosby said.

All of those interviewed gave their place of residence as Washington.

Most of the women wore pink buttons saying, "Women for Peace," signifying support for an organization known as Code Pink.

Crosby, who is with Code Pink, said she was at the vigil because she is devastated by the "shock and awe" bombing campaign. "There is a visceral pain in my gut and in my heart," she said. "I know people in Baghdad who might very well be dead. ... I feel it's the bombing of our own brothers and sisters.

"I'm outraged by this president listening to people who benefit financially (from the war), that there already have been contracts by Bechtel and Halliburton to put out the oil wells (fires) and to build army barracks over there. I'm outraged that our vice president (Richard Cheney), who used to be the (chief executive) of Halliburton (Corp.), and Halliburton is one of the companies in there bidding. So our military destroys buildings, and the very companies that have put this president into power are benefiting financially from the rebuilding. And American taxpayers' money is being used to destroy a people and innocent civilians. .... I think this is going to lead to the dissolution of the Bush administration. .... I think the tens of millions of people protesting around the world are the beginnings of a massive movement that are really going to question the power of the corporate military industrial complex."


Howard Moreland said he has no fondness for Saddam. "He began his career as an assassin," Moreland said, "and if he has in fact been assassinated (by U.S. bombs), there's sort of a poetic justice since he's killed so many of his rivals and even close friends. But in Bush's posture toward Iraq, I wish he would admit that the CIA put him in power. We sponsored him. We supported him through eight years of aggressive war against Iran. And the rage that the Bush family feels toward Saddam Hussein is sort of like their attitude toward Manuel Noriega of Panama. When you've got a bad guy, and he's on your payroll, and then he start's going into business for himself -- trying to start his own crime family -- we just go into a rage and call a hit on him.

"If we're going to try to rule the world through force, we at least should own up to the mistakes that we made in the past and admit that Saddam Hussein is where he is right now with the help of the United States government. If our policy is going to be to put bad guys in power as dictators in places and then prop them up, we have to realize that there may be consequences down the road when we decide that he really was a bad guy and we don't like him after all. But to act like we are God's example of goodness and this guy came out of the woodwork and brought evil to planet earth for the first time is nonsense."


Moreland also expressed skepticism about the prospects of a democratic Iraq.

"This ignores the fact that when George Bush the senior asked the people of Iraq to rise up against Saddam Hussein (in 1991), the Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north declared independence from Iraq, and Bush said: 'That's not what we want. We want a henchman who's going to hold these warring groups together in one country and is going to answer to us.' And I'm not sure that's not still what we want. We want some dictator to take residence in one of the palaces in Baghdad and suppress the independence movements of the Shiites and the Kurds once again.

"And it's going to be pretty weird if the dictator of Iraq is some U.S. Army general, and U.S. soldiers are going to have to do what Saddam's soldiers did to keep the Shiites and the Kurds from separating. If we have a plan, I'd like to hear what it is." Moreland said he hears of no such plan from the White House or the Pentagon, but rather "wishful thinking."

Shira Keyes said Code Pink is an organized group, "but not along a hierarchal or leadership model."


Asked to give her views of the war, Keyes called it "illegal, immoral, unjust, violative of the norms of international conduct, preemptive and unilateral." Much of the opposition to the war comes from faith-based groups, which is evidence of its immorality, she said.

"The pope and religious leaders throughout the world have condemned preemptive war, including the bishop of the United Methodist Church, which is George Bush's church, and whom the president has refused to see," Keyes said.

In January it was reported that Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, chief ecumenical officer of the United Methodist Church, decided to make an anti-war television spot after church leaders failed to get a private meeting with the president.

"This is a tragedy for this country," Keyes said.

Leslie Aranha explained why she became part of Code Pink. "I realized as an African-American woman I needed to stand to represent those young men who went into the military to learn to defend the country, not to learn to offend the world. They're being used to perpetrate the ambitions of an administration that has destroyed the goodwill that we had in the world. It has attempted to make the United Nations irrelevant when it's probably the most relevant organization in the world for keeping the peace -- not making an invasion."


David Schroeder said he was at the vigil as a Quaker. Since 1660, Quakers have been called to talk about peace and peaceful solutions, the young man said. "I'm not here so much to dissent as to advocate peace and talk about peaceful and diplomatic solutions."

Gregg Mosson said he was at the vigil as a person of conscience and as an American taxpayer. "The mass bombing of innocent civilians in Baghdad in this illegal war is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen as a 28-year-old person, and Bush should be held accountable."

Roger Gorham said he had been heading off to the Eastern Trombone Workshop, but decided to come to the vigil instead. "After I saw the carnage on television today, I said there's no way I can go and do what I would normally do," he said. "I have to do something. I have to come out and be present with people who are filled with an overpowering sadness about the carnage that's going on in Baghdad for no purpose whatsoever other than this president and his advisers' political ambitions."

Julie McCall said: "Every night homeless people are sleeping right here across the street. Hundreds of thousands of people can't get health care in this country. Schools are being closed. Children are going to bed hungry every night. And this country is arrogant enough to say we're going to show another country how to run their society? I'm totally outraged. That's not where I want my money going." She quoted President Dwight Eisenhower to the effect that money spent on weapons takes food from the mouths of the hungry.


David Benzaquen said he was present in solidarity with the children of Iraq. "As I hear the news of the first bombings and attacks, everybody tells me that now is the time to support the troops and the president.

"We've done our work to try to stop the war. It's too late.' But to me it's never too late," he said.

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