Faith groups oppose Iraq war

Father Philip Berrigan may have died Dec. 6, but he was present in spirit Tuesday.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | WASHINGTON, D.C. | December 11, 2002

Father Philip Berrigan may have died Dec. 6, but he was present in spirit Tuesday as speaker after speaker cited his deeds and words at a midday antiwar demonstration of several hundred people here at Farragut Square.

Perhaps best known as one of the "Catonsville Nine"(who, in 1967, burned a pile of draft cards with homemade napalm), Berrigan was invoked as an exemplar of civil disobedience on International Human Rights Day.

The demonstration in D.C., held in protest of a possible war in Iraq, was one of more than 140 across the country Tuesday, organized by United for Peace in coordination with other groups, including the National Council of Churches, Peace Action, American Friends Service Committee, National Organization for Women, Black Voices for Peace, Not In Our Name, September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, and Veterans for Peace.

Protestors met at Farragut Square at 11:30 a.m. to listen to speakers and music, marched for a few blocks and then returned to the square for a concluding rally.

Gordon Clark, emcee of the demonstration, called Berrigan "a great soul," who, like Jesus, "didn't just talk the talk."

Clark is coordinator of the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, a nationwide petition to register opposition to a potential war with Iraq.

Berrigan didn't shirk from dramatic stunts in order to protest for peace; and a result, he spent a total of 11 years in jail for various acts of civil disobedience. Clark called on protestors to follow Berrigan's example, and to "fill the streets, and fill the jails."

The Rev. Phil Wheaton, of the Community of Christ Church in D.C., also called on protestors to heed the advice of Berrigan, "not by praying for peace, not by talking about peace, but by stopping U.S. war-making."

Several clergy were present at Farragut Square, as well as many members of the Unitarian Universalist Church and the Society of Friends.

Even clergy who said they were not generally associated with anti-war protests attended.

The Rev. John Wimberly, senior pastor of the Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, said the inclusion of more moderate voices in the burgeoning antiwar movement was significant.

"When the Presbyterians start protesting, you know that things are serious," Wimberly said. "We're really a bourgeois bunch."

Clark reminded the audience that many American churches have condemned a preemptive war against Iraq. The National Council of Churches, comprising more than 50 denominations, was among signatories on a Dec. 4 full-page ad in The New York Times acknowledging Saddam Hussein as a "cruel tyrant" but calling a preemptive war unjust.

Leaders from Church World Service and other faith-based disaster response groups have also voiced opposition to war with Iraq because the resulting humanitarian disaster will be both serious and difficult for international relief groups to address.

"Despite President Bush's assertion that this is a moral war," Clark said, "the major religions down the line in this country disagree with him."

Clark noted that Bush's own denomination -- United Methodist -- has publicly opposed such a war.

Pat Elder, one of the principle organizers of the event, called the demonstration "a real spiritual gathering...a real mix of mainstream religious folks and the real old guard peace activists."

A D.C. policeman, Elder said, estimated the crowd, during the height of the march, at 500 to 600 people. "But just consider that these demonstrations are taking place all over the world and in 140 U.S. cities."

D.C. lawyer Bruce Allan said the Tuesday demonstration "takes me back about 30 years," back to when he protested against the Vietnam War.

"A war makes no sense," Allan said, and could cause "a conflagration in the Middle East."

"This embodies an unending spiral toward disaster, perpetuated by people who are motivated by greed," added Jenifer Deal, a volunteer organizer for Code Pink and D.C. Anti-War Network. "We have madmen in charge, and they must be stopped."

"This is going to be a global disaster," said John Judge, a veteran antiwar protestor who works for the Washington Peace Center. "This attack threatens to inflame the entire Middle East."

Judge is a committed pacifist who is particularly opposed to modern warfare, which, he said, incurs higher and higher percentages of civilian casualties as technology advances.

Judge said that civilian casualties rose from four percent in WWI, to 25 percent in WW II, to 95 percent in the Vietnam War.

And he believes that the Persian Gulf War was anything but the antiseptic operation that some would like to believe; he cited accounts alleging that thousands of Iraqis were buried alive by U.S. forces. What may happen in the near future, he thinks, is likely to be even worse.

Erik Gustafson, co-founder of Veterans for Common Sense, said the Department of Defense hasn't even addressed one of the greatest problems of the first war with Iraq: Gulf War Illness. Gustafson said about 200,000 veterans reports symptoms of thie mysterious malady, more the Pentagon still has no idea what caused it, mainly because it hasn't tried.

"There is no indication that the Pentagon is going to do anything differently this time," he said.

Several marchers carried placards purportedly depicting deformed Iraqi babies.

Edward Qubain, of Rockville, Md., said he believes that thousands of Iraqi children were born with "birth defects we have never seen before," and that these defects were caused by depleted uranium munitions used in the Persian Gulf War.

"I see this as the worst possible policy imaginable," Qubain said. "We will open a Pandora's box."

One elderly woman said she has she has seen the effects of war firsthand during World War II, and she has been a peace advocate ever since.

"They don't know what war's about," she said of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. "I was in Holland during (World War II), and I wouldn't wish bombing on anybody."

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