Peace Train Steams Forward Despite Controversy
Anti-war protestors gathered at the Dinky Station on Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The 'Peace Train' protest was staged as a prequel to the large-scale protest that occurred later that morning in Manhattan.
The Princeton Peace Network, along with the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action (CPA), organized the event decrying "pre-emptive strikes" against Iraq.
"One year later, after thorough inspections by the international community and by the U.S. itself, we know that there were no weapons of mass destruction," said the Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of CPA. "We were right to question that and anybody who says that we were not right to question a government leader doesn't know what real patriotism is about."
Mr. Moore said that invading Iraq only exacerbated the threat of international terrorism, adding that the war "doesn't make sense."
Dr. Sharon Weiner, of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, prefaced her remarks with a statement addressing the events leading up to Princeton Borough Mayor Joe O'Neill's withdrawal from the Peace Train. Mayor O'Neill had been scheduled to speak at the event, but chose not to when anti-Israeli fliers began to circulate on the University campus. The fliers, which were distributed by the national protest group, International A.N.S.W.E.R., used CPA's theme, "The World Still Says No to War," to voice its opposition to U.S. aid to Israel.
"Oppression is wrong because it's unjust," Dr. Weiner said, "I am obliged by reason and morals to speak in favor of Palestinian rights."
Mayor O'Neill later said in an interview that he thought the purpose of the rally was to oppose the U.S. effort in Iraq, and that once anti-Israeli sentiments began to circulate, he withdrew from speaking.
"What happened here was [CPA] and I got blindsided by an entirely extraneous event," the Mayor said. After receiving calls from Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand and former Township Committeewoman Roz Denard, Mayor O'Neill said that removing himself from the rally bill was the only option.
"It became clear that my presence would add a blessing that I didn't intend," he said.
Mr. Moore also distanced himself and CPA from ideals expressed on the fliers circulated on campus, saying that the "ideological" terminology of the flier was "unfortunate, because it turns a lot of people off." He added that the idealogies expressed in the flier are generally "not where most Americans are."
The tone did not deviate from the anti-war message, however. Elizabeth Wolfe, a sophomore at Princeton High School, spoke on behalf of the Progressive Action Club, a student group organized to speak out against the war.
"Teenagers and children here today have their whole future ahead of them in a world that now breeds so much violence and cruelty," she said. "Violence of today will only breed the violence of tomorrow, so the most important thing for the future is for children to have true heroes and true role models."
The PHS sophomore called for young people to take a more pacific look toward the future.
"America was built on a hope that we can transcend the bloody wars of the past and emerge as a peaceful example of the future," she said.
Dr. Zia Mian, also of the University's Program on Science and Global Security, stressed the importance of American protests because they are so widely scrutinized by other nations.
"War is not an acceptable option, and when the U.S., with its 10,000 nuclear weapons, and its military budget of over $500 billion, invades and occupies other countries, the world worries about where American people are in this picture," he said.
He cited the recent democratic ouster of former Spain Prime Minister José Maria Aznar, as an example of a country that has decided to change its stance on the war by voting out the government that supported it.
"In this coming election, not only will the future of America be at stake, but [also] the future of the world," he said. "If Bush wins this election, it will be the beginning of a period of darkness."
Dr. Mian, a physicist who has been with the University for six years, co-founded the first anti-nuclear group in Pakistan while teaching there.
The event, which was punctuated by the occasional Dinky whistle blow, precluded one of 250 anti-war protests around the country organized by United for Peace and Justice.
The Manhattan rally, which travelled along Madison Avenue between 24th and 42nd streets, was relatively calm and without incident, Mr. Moore said. Estimates for the New York City event hovered around 30,000, according to the New York Police Department. Protest organizers placed that figure closer to 100,000.
"As we walked to the rally, you could see the crowd literally getting bigger and bigger," he said. "It was very energizing and the diversity of the crowd was striking."
The Rev. Moore reacted guardedly to former counter- terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke's assertion that the Bush administration did not take seriously the threat of Al Qaeda before the attacks of September 11. While the Rev. Moore said he would wait to see both sides of that issue play out, he said it was "disillusioning and troubling" that another senior administration official has spoken out against administration policy.
"There needs to be a fully independent investigation of how we got neoconned into going into this war," the Rev. Moore said.