Opposing forces on the Iraq War issue gathered at the Pillar or Fire, Pillar of Clouds in downtown Clarksville last night. The FreeThinkers for Peace and Civil Liberties held a peace vigil at 7 p.m. Monday acknowledging the end of the 4th year of the Iraq War, calling for an end to the conflict and the safe return of our troops from what they deem is an unwinnable war. Jeff Mackens and a half dozen pro-war pro-Bush supporters also gathered, waving flags at passers-by. Ironically, both groups offered the same basic message: support our troops. Their differences rest in issues of policy, not people.
At the center of the peace group was a large, stark white sign reading Every Life Is Unique, illuminated by a floodlight and clusters of candles at its base. The group also clustered candles on the marble base of the eternal flame to illuminate it, since the flame itself is not lit. Using songs, drumming, poetic readings and personal statement, the group spoke of their support for the troops and their opposition to U.S. policies and censured the official lies that launched the war. In a moment reminiscent of the Vietnam era, the sang Give Peace A Chance.
Carrie Strock, whose husband served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne, said they support the troops and the Constitution but feel this was entered into under “false pretenses.”
Gregg Schlanger, designer of Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Clouds, the city’s eternal flame memorial, attended the service and spoke about his design, which was intended to honor all soldiers rather than a single era, war or branch of service.
The common message from all attending the vigil was that the war needs to end, and our troops need to return home. Concerns were voiced about the aftercare of returning vets, in terms of both recovery from physical injuries and mental health issues, the latter emerging in some 40% of returning troops.
Now entering year five, the war has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 members of the U.S. military, including 180 soldiers from Fort Campbell. The 101st Airborne is readying for still another deployment this year.
President Bush recently ordered the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq to stabilize the country, and handle the insurgency in Baghdad, and the cost of the war has skyrocketed far beyond any original estimates. Democratic leaders are pushing a bill that includes a clause to pull troops out by fall of 2008, and public opposition to the war has escalated almost as fast as Bush’s popularity has fallen. Macken’s group indicated they would be present to oppose all future FreeThinkers rallies, while the FreeThinkers, who have been gathering peacefully since 2004, say they will continue to stage peaceful actions including memorial vigils.