Army Town Draws Anti-War Protest

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Two years ago this weekend, Michael Hoffman, then a U.S. Marine, was marching across the border of Kuwait as the war in Iraq began. On Saturday, he marched through the streets of this military town with other veterans, military family members and anti-war activists protesting the invasion he now believes was wrong.

On the second anniversary of the war’s start, tens of thousands of people across this country and Europe took part in marches, rallies, peace vigils and protests designed to pressure the military and get attention from Washington.

The demonstrations came as national anti-war efforts try to regain footing after the re-election of President Bush. While protesters found a platform during the national political conventions last summer and the presidential campaign, these efforts have struggled to gain the spotlight since November.
That is partly why one of the larger events was in Fayetteville, home of Ft.
Bragg Army base, the Army Special Operations Command and the 82nd Airborne Division, now on its second tour of duty in Iraq. Police estimated that 3,000 people gathered in a park Saturday for Fayetteville’s largest anti-war rally since Jane Fonda protested the Vietnam War here in 1971.

For protesters such as Hoffman, marking the anniversary was personal.

"I was part of that shock and awe. I didn’t have to watch it on TV because it was right in front of my eyes," said Hoffman, 25, a former lance corporal who spent two months in Iraq with the 1st Marine Division out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. "While I was there, I also saw a lot of American casualties and a lot of Iraqi civilians and military laying dead on the side of the road. I saw towns destroyed. I helped do that, and it disturbed me deeply."

After his discharge, Hoffman returned to his home in Philadelphia and began organizing a group of veterans who, like himself, served in the war because it was their duty but increasingly believed it was unjustified.

Last year he co-founded Iraq Veterans Against the War, which has about 150 members, including active-duty and recently discharged troops. About two dozen of them marched Saturday in Fayetteville.

The participation this year of Iraq Veterans Against the War and groups such as Military Families Speak Out and Gold Star Families for Peace shows that the Fayetteville rally has growing appeal, said Bill Dobbs, spokesman for United for Peace & Justice, a New York-based coalition of peace groups.
`Broad movement’

"In 2003, people were criticizing us as being unpatriotic, even traitors, but as time went on people saw that the rationale for the war was an exaggeration or false. Now we have a broad movement that is charging further than it ever has to end this senseless and futile war," Dobbs said.
And he said the protests now are focused on the rising human and financial costs of the war. According to The Associated Press, 1,519 members of the U.S. military have died since the American-led invasion began on March 20, 2003.

Not all the demonstrators here Saturday were against the war. Across the street from the park, about 200 people gathered in support of it and claimed that outsiders had come in and stirred up the emotions of the troops and their families.

`Anti-American protest’

"They’re not holding an anti-war protest, it’s an anti-American protest,"
said Kristinn Taylor, spokesman for FreeRepublic.com, a conservative news and activism Web site. "They are trying to undermine the morale of the troops and their families."

But Lou Plummer, 40, co-founder of Fayetteville Peace with Justice, said he and Chuck Fager, director of the Quaker House of Fayetteville, invited national peace groups to Fayetteville to give people in the community a chance to speak out.

Plummer, a former National Guard member whose father fought in the Vietnam War and whose grandfather fought in World War II, said the rally was called by people in North Carolina and is not an "invasion force from New York City."

Elsewhere in the U.S., protesters rallied in San Francisco’s Mission district and then marched to City Hall. In New York, activists listened to anti-war speeches at the United Nations and then marched along 42nd Street to Times Square. Protesters also marched in Pittsburgh.

Across Europe, tens of thousands protested the war, with 45,000 Britons marching from London’s Hyde Park past the U.S. Embassy to Trafalgar Square.
British elections expected in May lent an added charge to the protest, as Prime Minister Tony Blair’s backing of the war has diminished his base of support.

In Istanbul, an estimated 15,000 people–some carrying signs reading "Murderer Bush, get out"–marched in the Kadikoy neighborhood.
In Poland, which commands a multinational security force in Iraq that includes 1,700 Polish troops, about 500 protesters marched to the U.S.
Embassy in Warsaw, holding banners reading "Pull out from Iraq now" and "Poles back to Poland."

And in Athens, about 3,000 unionists, members of peace groups and students, brought the city center to a standstill for about three hours as they marched to the U.S. Embassy.

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