My Turn: Message from the peace vigil

Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Upon hearing that the bombing campaign against Iraq was beginning, a group of peace activists held vigil last week for five days at the Dimond Courthouse plaza. I was one of the people who was moved to spend many hours there, hoping to remind the people of Juneau that when the bombs fall, people die. Many a passer-by stopped to engage us in conversation. Many were passionate, most were very respectful even when they had very different views, and only a few resorted to name-calling or flipping us off. Often, people approached me to ask what our group stood for. While Juneau People for Peace and Justice is a diverse group, I believe I have synthesized our common message into the following five points.

First, we believe that humanity is one family. The miracle that is life does not distinguish between Iraqi and American. With the awareness we are one global family comes the compassion for life no matter what a person's nationality. Americans are good-hearted people. We grieve for the Iraqi people who are first oppressed by a violent and destructive despot, Saddam Hussein, and on top of that suffer greatly at American hands.

Second, we believe this war is unjust for many reasons. It is unjust in that the U.S. tactic of "shock and awe" is disproportional to the aggression that has been manifested. Also, a just war is only to be waged in self-defense, not out of fear of possible attack. War is to be the last resort; we believe all non-violent avenues for achieving peace were not exhausted. War is to avoid the direct, intentional harm to non-combatants. We believe that in a general bombing campaign of Baghdad, too many non-combatants will die. Finally, in a just war, the expected good must outweigh the expected evil. We believe the consequences of this war will be dire for all concerned.

Third, we see democracy as a challenge that we are all called to rise to as Americans. For democracy to work, all citizens must be free and willing to express their ideas. It is particularly challenging in a situation such as this when passions run high and clear information is a scarce commodity. But we must persevere, we must continue to listen to each other, and trust that difference of opinion is healthy and that we can learn from each other.

Fourth, we advocate a deep inspection and introspection of the problems at hand and assert that our response as a country must be more geared to the long-term solutions to war and terrorism. We don't believe that violence perpetrated against the Iraqis will create an environment that will move them to embrace us as liberators. We fear that violence will increase terrorism rather than help quash it. We believe democracy is a social evolution of a nation's consciousness and cannot be imposed by a conquering power, no matter how well intentioned. We have seen this played out throughout history: Americans trying to impose democracy led to the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic, to Somoza in Nicaragua, and to Pinochet in Chile, just to name a few.

Fifth, we believe the U.S. government is not forthright about declaring its motives for waging this war and therefore decry the misinformation being leveled at the American public. We urge our government not to undermine the democratic process with its rhetoric of propaganda, and instead come clean about the real reasons leading it to wage this war.

The most frequent accusation leveled at us as we held our vigil was that we were not supporting our troops. We would like to be clear that the soldiers fighting in the Middle East are also our family and will be respected as such. While we cannot support this war, we have reached out to support the families of our troops, and sincerely pray for the safe return of our soldiers .

Rick Bellagh is an assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Alaska Southeast. He has lived in Juneau for 10 years.

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