SHOULD WE MARCH FOR PEACE IN A TIME OF WAR?
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- War or peace, war or peace. Which side are you on?
A mother walked by the Brattleboro Post Office last Saturday as the protesters gathered for their march down Main Street. "Yeah," she said to her young son, "Nobody wants war."
But a young man in a beat-up SUV had patriotic music blaring from his speakers as, waving his fist and honking his horn, he drove by so many times that I heard two completely different versions of "American the Beautiful."
Then, poor guy, he got so carried away by his hatred and scorn for the protesters that he forgot to watch the road. He rear-ended a late-model Saab, and that was his last pass. Defending America against a bunch of Commies is one thing, but seeing a large increase in your auto insurance rate is definitely another.
Over 1,000 people turned out in our little town on Saturday to march against the war in Iraq. Some were dressed like death, with black robes and hoods. Some wore suits and fancy dresses as if they were going to a funeral. Some carried small caskets.
The old, the young, the very young and their dogs flowed onto Main Street in waves, a thrilling river of people softly chanting against invasion, conquest, occupation, empire and death.
Many held up signs. "I asked for universal health care and all I got was this lousy war," said one poster.
"$9 billion a month for war, how much for schools?" said another. A third asked, "How liberated is a dead Iraqi child?"
The protesters made their points with perfect clarity: "Peace is patriotic." "War is not a video game." "Impeach Bush." "A police state coming to a site near you." "War is good for business. Invest your child today." "Vermont sugarmakers against the war." "Cats for peace." "I want my country back."
One poster had a picture of an Iraqi child and the words, "More likely to be killed than Saddam Hussein."
"God is weeping."
"Everyone's blood is red."
"Thou shalt not kill."
Walking behind a police car with flashing lights, the marchers filled one lane of traffic and walked peacefully through the town's main shopping district, and then turned up High Street so as not to collide with a different, flag-draped group of people standing at the base of Main Street.
These people - about 20 of them - were holding signs saying, "Honk if you support our troops," "American heroes," and "God bless America." And many cars and trucks did honk as they drove past on their way to New Hampshire, Wal-Mart and the dog track.
This clear conflict of perspectives on Main Street last Saturday reminded me of what war correspondent Chris Hedges said about the enduring attraction of war.
"Even with its destructions and carnage it gives us what we all long for in life," Hedges said. "It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living... a black-and-white tableau of them and us. It suspends thought, especially self-critical thought. All bow before the supreme effort. We are one."
No one on Main Street that Saturday wants to see young American soldiers come home in body bags. All of us love our country. Yet in the name of patriotism, some of us honestly and passionately believe that we should support our president and our troops, no matter what. And, also in the name of patriotism, some of us - myself included - refuse to suspend our ability to think critically.
From the start, this war with Iraq has been clothed in noble ideas. "We go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in the world," said President Bush.
We are liberating Iraq and ridding its people of a foul and hated dictator. We are bringing democracy to the Middle East. Our soldiers will be met in the streets with music, dancing and flowers.
It is not turning out that way.
"It's as if the whole idea of the war was not planned militarily, it was planned politically, it was planned ideologically," British reporter Robert Fisk said in a radio interview from Baghdad on Tuesday. "It started with al-Qaida, it moved on to weapons of mass destruction, then we're going to liberate the people- and it's all going wrong. Whatever kind of ideological plan there was has fallen to bits."
"Are you brave enough to wage peace?" asked one of the signs on Saturday, and as the Battle of Baghdad and its potential for enormous tragedy looms over us, many of us are doubting our courage. Many of us are feeling helpless in the face of overwhelming scorn at home and unchecked American military might abroad.
Yet because we feel this war is immoral and illegal, we have no alternative but to continue our nonviolent protests.
"Nonviolence is not a passive approach to conflict resolution but rather a proactive approach that goes right to the crux of power relationships," wrote Thomas Naylor. "It can undermine power and authority by withdrawing the approval, support and the cooperation of those who have been dealt an injustice. It demands strength and courage and not idle pacifism. Nonviolence derives its strength from the energy buildup and very real power of powerlessness."
Or, as one poster at the march said, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.