SECTION: State and Regional
LENGTH: 960 words
DATELINE: NASHVILLE, Tenn.
Peter Fossel, a 57-year-old former Marine, wore a Purple Heart he won in the Vietnam War as he joined more than 300 anti-war protesters outside the Nashville federal building Thursday.
He carried a sign that read: “Why War? Wage Peace.”
“This America is not the America that I bled for,” Fossel said. “This America is the aggressor, and this America is the type of nation that I risked my life to fight against.”
Across the street, three wives of Fort Campbell, Ky., soldiers deployed to the Middle East carried different signs, including one declaring: “Freedom and Rights are Guaranteed by Our Troops.”
Fort Campbell is on the Tennessee state line.
“The troops are concerned that when they come home they will be called murderers and baby killers,” said Jennifer Lively, 27, who declined to give her husband’s name or rank. “My child needs to see people supporting her father.”
Such were the contrasting viewpoints as Tennesseans – and the nation – came to grips with the war against Iraq.
As in Nashville, those opposed to the war rallied outside federal buildings in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Memphis – using the afternoon rush hour as an opportunity to draw people’s attention to “the need for peace.”
Sevier County resident Rick Brown – one of about 200 anti-war demonstrators in Knoxville – lay on the sidewalk in front of the federal building, his shirt and pants stained with red blood-like dye. “It is, no doubt, what is happening on the ground in Iraq,” said Brown, 56.
Among the 60 protesters who waved to horn-honkers in Chattanooga was 12-year-old Caitlin Altkruse, a sixth-grader who said the war is “harming other people’s lives who don’t want it.” She said one of her teachers was deployed with a military unit.
“I support my teacher a lot, but I still don’t support the war,” she said.
Dana Reynolds, 52, a Unitarian Universalist minister, carried a sign that read: “We support our troops. Stop the war now. Bring ’em home and send Bush.”
“If we can stop this now, if we have the political will to do so, it is the moral thing to do before more innocent lives are lost,” Reynolds said.
In Nashville, words were exchanged between some Nashville protesters and a man driving a van draped in U.S. flags and painted with messages such as “Support Our Troops!” and “Bomb Saddam!”
“You are disgracing the troops!” yelled Dale Hammersley, a 40-year-old construction worker who circled the block at least two more times and expressed his dismay at the protesters.
Some in the crowd played bongo drums, while a man with a loudspeaker chanted, “Drop Bush, not bombs.” Roughly 30 Nashville and federal police officers – some on horses – kept a close watch on the protest.
Matt Leber, director of Nashville Peace and Justice Center, helped organize the Nashville protest, which included a march and a candlelight vigil.
Leber said his group supports the troops but wants them safe at home.
“It’s not too late to stop the needless deaths of many worldwide,” he said.
American bombs and missiles found targets in Baghdad for the second straight night Thursday and ground troops bombarded Iraqi forces in the desert with artillery in a gradual escalation of the war to drive Saddam Hussein from power. President Bush gave Hussein until Wednesday night to leave the country or risk war.
Ralph Hutchinson, director of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, told the Knoxville crowd that Bush “is not God and he does not know God’s will.”
“This is not a war for liberation,” Hutchinson said. “The war is not for security. This war is for power.”
Albert Wiberley, 76, a World War II veteran who lives in Alcoa, waved a sign that said: “More War Breeds More Terrorists.”
“We have a president who is leading us away from real democracy. He is corrupting real democracy,” he said. This war “on a global scale, is not the will of the people.”
About 100 anti-war protesters turned out Thursday night for a peace rally in front of the federal building in downtown Memphis.
“Everywhere across this globe people are saying no to this war, and we need to continue to say no to this war as well,” said Peter Gathje, 45, a religion and philosophy professor at Christian Brothers University in Memphis.
The scheduled two-hour rally by the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center began breaking up after about 45 minutes with a strong, cold wind blowing off the Mississippi River.
“We may be few in number tonight, but we represent thousands and thousands and thousands of people all around the world who are standing up against a kind of globalization that is about domination rather than a globalization that is about liberation,” Gathje said.
Demonstrators waved signs saying “Peace Now,” “War is Terrorism” and “Stop the Slaughter” as they sang “Amazing Grace” and “Study War No More.”
There was not a heavy police presence, with two police cars parked about 50 yards away from the protest. There were no groups present backing the war.
Gerard Vanderhaar, 71, a retired Christian Brothers religion professor, said the war is “immoral, unjust and tragic.”
The claim of U.S. leaders that they are targeting only the Iraq’s military rings hollow, Vanderhaar said.
“They know full well they will be killing Iraqi men, women and children,” he said.
As the Knoxville activists sang “ain’t gonna study war no more” to the tune of “Down by the Riverside,” sister Margaret Turk, a 67-year-old nun from Knoxville, stood quietly with a bunch of daffodils in her hand.
“My concern is we have started a war that we should not have started,” she said. “So I peacefully came here to show that.”
AP reporters Duncan Mansfield, Bill Poovey, Russ Oates and Woody Baird contributed to this report.