As President Bush seeks to gain United Nations support to oust Saddam Hussein, an anti-war movement is gaining rapid momentum across the country and on college campuses. According to the latest polls from the Princeton, N.J.-based Gallup Organization, a growing number of Americans are against U.S. ground troops invading Iraq.
Domestic support for the war was highest near the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
But unlike the 56 percent of Americans currently supporting the potential war, the tragic events of Sept. 11 have motivated one woman to speak in favor of peace.
Rita Lasar is a founding member of Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an advocacy organization founded by family members of Sept. 11 victims.
Lasar said she received a wake-up call after Bush’s remembrance speech mentioning her brother – who would not leave behind his paraplegic co-worker in their World Trade Center office – as a hero.
“My brother’s death was going to be used to justify the death of thousands of people in Afghanistan who were as innocent as my brother,” Lasar said.
“Sometimes in my lighter moments, I think that President Bush made a big mistake because he unleashed me and now I’m dedicated until I die from saving people from all over … from being killed,” she added.
Lasar said she and other members of the organization have traveled to countries all over the world, including Afghanistan and Japan, in hopes of spreading the message of peace. She recently spent time in Ann Arbor speaking against war in Iraq.
“What we need are peaceful resolutions. We need to find ways to resolve conflict without killing millions of people. (Invading Iraq) will inflame the Middle East and there will be such chaos,” she said.
More than 100 students and Ann Arbor community members met Wednesday night at the first meeting of Anti-War Action, a newly founded group designed to organize the anti-war movement on campus.
LSA sophomore Matt Hollerbach, who said he hopes to become actively involved in the group, attended the planning meeting to see what he could do about the impending war.
“The reason the Vietnam War did not have the broad-based support the government would have liked is because of college activism,” he said. “We can get the ball rolling and other colleges will follow.”
Hollerbach said the general consensus at Wednesday’s meeting was for the group “to serve as an educational tool. Everyone wants to get out there and educate people and educate ourselves so that we know what’s going on,” he said.
Lasar said many Americans who are in favor of invading Iraq are unaware of the real truth.
“What we’ve been doing in Iraq since the sanctions is just unbelievably cruel and Americans don’t know. There are limbless children and adults because of depleted uranium,” she said. “Americans have got to learn from what they say in church on Sunday but don’t believe. All human beings are God’s children.”
Lasar cited the media as the major reason for the public’s ignorance on the issue of Iraq.
“The American press will not print what the peace movement is saying, what the rest of the world is saying,” she said. “If America doesn’t know what’s going on in the world, we will not be able to stop our government. And there will be many more terrorist attacks against us.”
Phillis Engelbert, a member of the Ann Arbor Peace Events Committee that Lasar spoke to, said her organization decided to hold a rally this Saturday after receiving numerous phone calls and e-mails calling for mobilization against going to war.
“All these people are just coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘We want to march, we want to march!’ We hope to add our voices to the chorus around the country of people saying no to war,” she said.
The rally, which is scheduled to take place before the football game against Iowa, will coincide with marches around the country and across the world, including Washington, San Francisco and London.
Hollerbach said Anti-War Action, which is co-sponsoring the rally, is a great example of “how broad-based the support for the anti-war movement could be.”
But LSA senior James Justin Wilson, a member of Young Americans for Freedom, said peace activists are operating without the facts.
“The peaceniks don’t have enough information to say what they’re saying. Of course questioning your government is necessary and that’s healthy,” he said. “But in a time of war when American servicemen’s lives are on the line, it seems inappropriate and treasonous.”
But to Lasar, those who think going to war with Iraq is patriotic are mistaken.
“Peace is patriotic, trying to keep Americans safe is patriotic. Violence begets violence. What (President Bush) is propagating is revenge. Revenge won’t bring my brother back and the victims of Sept. 11,” she said.