A determined group of Colgate students marched through the campus in a peace vigil honoring the over 1,000 American soldiers that have lost their lives in combat since military operations began in Iraq almost two years ago. It was a spectacle of compassion for our troops overseas, dissidence for current US foreign policy, and mourning of lost lives. Colgate students managed to rally together in spite of unfavorable weather conditions and last-minute notification.
The vigil, which lasted for about one hour, started at the O’Conner Campus Center, made its way through the main quad, wound through Frank Dining Hall and the Edge Caf?e and ended at Whitnall Field. The participants yielded signs displaying phrases like, “war is not the answer,” and “support our troops-let them live!”
The event was organized by sophomore Bethann Weick. She was inspired to set up the vigil because of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ)-a coalition of over 800 local and international activist groups. The group opposes the government’s policies of “permeating warfare and empire building.” UFPJ helped launch an estimated 927 vigils held concurrently and similar to the one here at Colgate. They were meant to commemorate the 1,000 dead and roughly 7,000 wounded Americans in addition to an even greater number of Iraqi civilian casualties.
Weick is not a member of UFPJ, but is on their mailing list. She received an email late Wednesday informing her of the mass demonstrations that were to take place. However, it was really her own initiative that led her to organize the peace rally at Colgate. Weick had her own personal reasons for coordinating the event and questioned the moral implications of military action in Iraq.
She said, “By holding this vigil I want to commemorate those who died, but I also want to raise the following questions: Why did they die? What have their deaths accomplished? Can peace really come out of violence? Also, over 1,000 soldiers have now died; where do we draw the line?”
She also mentioned the alarming number of deaths that have occurred after the supposed end to combat operations. “More people have died since the war was “won” then in the time it was being “fought.” I don’t think this is a fact that should be glossed over nor forgotten.”
The participants had their share of reasons for joining the walk. Alison Watts, a sophomore, has a close friend in the army and worries he will be deployed to Iraq. She has felt the anguish of war and terrorism before. Nick Burg, an American who was executed by al-Qaeda in retaliation for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, hailed from her hometown. She admits that, “It has hit my home pretty hard.”
First-years Ed Kalish and Jessica Lester also had their reasons to push for peace in Iraq. Kalish had this to say about the war in Iraq, “I believe it is immoral; the grounds it was founded on were wrong. I think we should pull out because it’s too great a cost of human life.”
Lester concurred, “People have died for reasons that have not been correctly conveyed to the American public.” She added, “I think it is important for students to support or protest the issues that are meaningful to them.” Still other students, like Shirley Han, “thought it was cool.”
The event had no political affiliation, and partisan thought was supposed to be left at the dorm. Weick thought it was important to set it up this way. She said, “When asking to keep politics out of the vigil, I was referring to the left-wing/right-wing debates that I feel politics is commonly left at; asking for peace is definitely filled with political implications and ramifications. However, I feel that these implications/ramifications are of a different type than the political banter that is on campus.”
She furthered her argument by saying, “This is not to say those politics are not extremely important – they are, and ultimately it is a change in the administration and/or a change in our foreign policy that is necessary – but the call to peace is easily drowned out when surrounded by arguments of which political wing is correct. Additional, I think peace is something people of both a conservative and liberal mindset can agree on. I think in this time more than any other we need to first find those points of agreement, then use them as the starting point for a constructive discussion on how to address our differences, not vice versa.”