[Last update: 4 October 2001]

Peace Signs Amid Calls for War

by Andrew Jacobs
September 20, 2001
New York Times

The drumbeat for war, so loud in the rest of the country, is barely audible on the streets of New York.

In Union Square Park, which has become an outdoor memorial to loss and grief, peace signs, antiwar slogans and pleas for nonviolence far outnumber demands for retribution. The equestrian statue of George Washington charging into battle has been transformed into a monument of antiwar sentiment, and although there are a handful of wanted posters featuring Osama bin Laden, there are far more that say, "Mourn the Victims, Stand for Peace" or "An eye for an eye creates blindness."

In interviews with two dozen New Yorkers, most people said the desire for peace outweighed any impulse for vengeance, even among those directly affected by the destruction of the World Trade Center. Many said they were worried that the rest of the country, encouraged by the White House and the news media, was driving the nation toward a large- scale conflict.

"I don't want to see more people go through pain and suffering," said Shannon Carr, 34, who teaches at St. Ann's, a private school in Brooklyn. Several children at the school have parents still buried in the rubble of the twin towers. "There has to be justice," Ms. Carr said, "but I don't think war is the answer."

While much of the country clamors for martial retribution, with polls showing nearly 90 percent supporting a military response, many New Yorkers who were interviewed remain ambivalent about President Bush's promised war against terrorism. Many expressed fear that any strike would spark another wave of mayhem in New York.

"It's easy to call for blood when you live in Des Moines," said Terrance Kincaid, 37, an insurance broker from Queens. "We have seen the horrific consequences of aggression. For the rest of the country, it's still just a bunch of television images."

Other New Yorkers said they had no wish to inflict misery on the civilians who would inevitably become victims of an American military assault.

"A few days ago I was saying, `Bombs away,' but now that I've calmed down, I don't want a war," said Jana Crawford, 29, a photo editor at Advertising Age magazine in Manhattan. "I don't want a lot more people to die."

Some of those opposed to military action say their voices are not being heard by Washington or the mainstream news media.

"The White House is demanding blood and the television is preparing us for war, but no one is considering alternatives," said Carol Thompson, a political science professor at Northern Arizona University, one of 530 academics who have signed a petition urging restraint. More than 1,200 religious leaders have added their names to a similar statement, as have a group of actors, authors and other celebrities who plan to publish their "Justice Not Vengeance" declaration in newspapers across the country.

This afternoon, a series of rallies on college campuses around the nation will strike a similar theme, and on Friday night, a peace vigil will wend its way from Union Square to the armed forces recruiting station in Times Square.

Of course, there are plenty of New Yorkers who believe that only war will end terrorism, including many liberals who have been surprised by their own emotions. "I've had blood lust from the very beginning," said Jackie Bayks, 38, a lawyer who has been unable to return to her apartment in Battery Park City. "It's strange because I'm not a patriotic person, but I've been feeling very patriotic this week. I just can't help myself."

Karen Senecal, a minister at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, said she had been trying to resist the temptation to join in the culture of jingoism. "Part of me realizes that violence brings more violence, but another part of me wanted retaliation," she said. "Many people are getting strength in that, and I felt I was missing something."

Some say they are reluctant to buck the tidal wave of patriotism by speaking about peace. "I feel like I can't talk about nonviolence because I'm afraid it will be perceived as disrespectful or un-American," said Madeleine Bloustein, 40, a voice-over actress from Brooklyn.

But a large number of New Yorkers are not sure where they stand. As shock gives way to anger, their thirst for revenge is only growing stronger; others say the opposite is true. But many, like Matthew Pack, a student at New York University, have been whiplashed by their emotions. A self-described pacifist who is "way to the left," Mr. Pack, 22, said he felt disgusted by his own vengeful fantasies.

"I'm not used to feeling this way," he said, "and every time my head starts to cool off, I see one of those missing person posters and all those emotions come back. The only thing I can say at this point is that I'll never be the same."

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