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Four in 10 speak with conviction: No war

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By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 13, 2002


About 55 percent of Americans support a ground invasion of Iraq, according to a current poll. Only 39 percent oppose one.

One way of looking at that support is that it is a decisive majority.

Another way is that if support dips a few points, and opposition jumps a few points, the universe is a lot different.

Even now, with four in 10 Americans saying no, it's not as though the existing opposition is a lunatic fringe.

Yet the traditional U.S. media (big newspapers, TV networks, news magazines) have been slow to explore the depth and breadth of antiwar sentiment in America. Antiwar efforts have been downplayed while reporters focus on the prospect of bang-bang.

This failure is based on a collective editorial misjudgment -- writing off the dissenters as irrelevant kooks. It also is based on a subconscious reluctance to appear "disloyal."

Nonetheless, there arguably is broader opposition to war with Iraq today than there was opposition to the war in Vietnam even a few years into that enterprise. Some of the protests have been comparable.

On Oct. 26, for example, somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans (the lower estimate might be more realistic) marched in Washington, D.C., surrounding the White House and clogging the streets.

But the march did not even make some of the nightly newscasts. In this newspaper, we took note of "thousands of protesters from across the country" back on page 16A.

The New York Times the next day on page 8A also vaguely referred to "thousands" of protesters. Not until the following Wednesday did the newspaper give its readers a better feel for the scope of it:

The demonstration on Saturday in Washington drew 100,000 by police estimates and 200,000 by organizers', forming a two-mile wall of marchers around the White House. The turnout startled even organizers, who had taken out permits for 20,000 marchers. They expected 30 buses, and were surprised by about 650, coming from as far as Nebraska and Florida.

You don't need to go to Washington. On Thursday morning, the St. Petersburg City Council heard a request from citizens to pass a resolution opposing the war. These citizens wanted St. Petersburg to become the first city in Florida to join a handful of such places around the nation.

Despite publicity on the community radio station WMNF-FM 88.5, there were only about 30 people in the audience, 18 of whom spoke in favor of the resolution. No one came to speak against it.

They were not kooks. Okay, maybe a couple. At least two were not even previously antiwar activists, just folks who had heard about the resolution the day before. One had taken personal leave from her job.

At least three were veterans of the military. One was the son of a World War II veteran, himself a Navy veteran who served on an aircraft carrier, and the father of a son who lost a foot to a land mine in the Gulf War.

Don Nettlow, who is 20, said he was recently discharged from the U.S. Army after being stationed overseas, including in Kuwait. "It is friends of mine who will die if they go over there," he told the council.

Rosemary Gould, who was a first lieutenant in the Army during World War II, told the council that Americans needed to speak from the grass roots up. "There will be no peace until it happens at a local level," she said. "We need your leadership."

The council listened politely but in the end took no action. Only member James Bennett promised to take the issue to his district in the city, asking neighborhood groups and other organizations whether there is sentiment for such a resolution.

I walked away with my hands in my pockets hoping that President Bush wins a victory over Iraq without a shot fired -- that his strong hand and his work with the U.N. can force Saddam down. I walked away still believing that if there is hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction, then the world must act.

But also I knew I had watched a few of those four in 10 citizens who oppose the war go down to their City Hall and speak their minds, fully expecting and receiving the attention of even the lowest level of their government. It was a classically American morning.

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