May 27, 2008
‘We consider ourselves patriots’
War protesters continue weekly gathering downtown on Main Street
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
John Mackey, left, of Cortland stands with other protesters in front of the Cortland Post Office Saturday. Mackey first started protesting against war in front of the post office in 1967 during the war in Vietnam.
Retired doctor Ed Cummins and fellow city resident John Mackey remember protesting in front of the post office in the late 1960s, when passersby would spit on the protesters and call them nasty names.
Now, people walking or driving by shout encouragement or stop and talk politics.
Standing in front of the post office at midday Saturday, as they do nearly every weekend, a group of about 15 protesters talked about why opposing the war in Iraq fits in well with the Memorial Day holiday.
“It’s not opposition to your own country, but to what they (the government) are doing,” said Cummins, who lives on Tompkins Street. “Waving the flag is not the only way of showing your patriotism.”
The Saturday protests against the war were started more than a year ago and have been held every Saturday since, beginning at noon. The Cortland Community for Peace sponsors them.
Organizer Dave Narby of Miller Street said that “it’s a loosely-based group. All you have to do is buy a T-shirt or show up” at the protests.
Chuck Maxfield of Holiday Drive said the group has sent along two petitions to Congress asking for the immediate withdrawal from the war. Troop surges have not solved anything, Maxfield said, and he believes only clear deadlines would direct the necessary path for getting out of the war.
With the cost of the war hitting more and more American families — 4,083 American troops have died and 30,000 have been wounded since the war began five years ago — those in opposition said they have seen enough lost life.
“We’re here to help the military, not tear them apart,” Narby said. “We consider ourselves patriots.”
The causes given for the United States’ entry into the war in Iraq vary depending on whom you’re talking to — some say oil, others say it was for Iraqi freedom, some say war profiteering, still others claim engagement with terrorists overseas rather than on American soil; not many believe it was to find weapons of mass destruction, as President Bush said before the war.
No matter what, Narby said he did not want to see people dying for the wrong reasons. He believes the Bush Administration deliberately and knowingly destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure in an effort to destabilize it and justify the U.S. military’s presence.
There’s also a financial cost, said Steve Wilson of Clute Road, Blodgett Mills, pointing to figures that show the United States spends $3,860 every second in Iraq.
Wilson acknowledged that some wars have had to be fought, especially World War II to combat the growing threat to human rights embodied in the Nazi government of Germany and the Japanese military leaders. But losing young men and women for what he and Narby see as the profit of large military contractors is not a noble war.
“It cheapens the sacrifice — it diminishes the meaning of the sacrifice,” Wilson said, adding that he does not think that many of today’s youths would be willing to lie about their age in order join the Navy and fight, as his father did during World War II.
Cummins was just finishing medical school when World War II broke out but illness kept him from enlisting with his peers — like the rest of the country at home or abroad, he worked to help the war effort, though.
However, by the time Vietnam rolled around Cummins was not so supportive. Cummins said he believed the Vietnamese had already thrown off the oppression of French colonialism and were only beginning to embrace freedom.
That war took a more personal turn when his son Tom Cummins was drafted.
“I went to Canada in 1969,” Tom Cummins said as he held a placard. “I got a call, and my father said ‘I think you better go up and visit your brother … in Montreal.’”
As his father protested in front of the post office all those years ago, Tom Cummins lost a dozen friends to Vietnam and did not return to the country until the 1980s, after President Jimmy Carter had granted amnesty to draft dodgers in 1975.
“Someone has to do this. My father and my mother really inspired me because they took a lot of grief,” Tom Cummins said.
Paul Kalnitz and Nina Chasnoff of Cortland stopped and talked with the protesters as they passed on their way to a restaurant Saturday. Kalnitz, who had taken part in war protests in the past, described the loss of lives as “shameful.”
Chasnoff said the war is always close at hand, no matter what the calendar date.
“We’re thinking about it every weekend — I think about it every day. And even if I’m not thinking about it, it’s in the back of my mind, that people are getting hurt and killed,” for the wrong reasons, Chasnoff said.
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