Not a war protest, they said

LIHU’E — Their numbers were small, but the sentiment of the vigil participants was emphatic and strong.

Between 15 and 18 residents gathered for a candlelight vigil earlier this week in front of the historic County Building on Rice Street here to honor 2,001 U.S. service personnel who have died since the Iraq conflict began in March 2003 to destroy Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Though some of the folks at the vigil spoke about how they thought the war was unjustified because no such weapons have been found, they focused their energies on remembering the fallen American soldiers.

“This is not about a protest,” said Judie Hilke-Lundborg, a Lihu’e businesswoman. “This is about remembering.”

The vigil participants also were there to remember anywhere between 30,000 and 100,000 Iraqi men, women and children, mostly civilians, they said have been killed in the same conflict.

The Lihu’e vigil was held between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesday, about the same time similar vigils were held on O’ahu.

Those held on Kaua’i and other spots around Hawai’i were among more than 1,350 vigils held across the United States Wednesday night to remember fallen soldiers, Marines, sailors and service personnel, according to HilkeLundborg, who coordinated the Kaua’i vigil.

All the vigils were sponsored by leaders of the American Friends Service Committee, which has headquarters in Washington, D.C., and the MoveOn.Org political action group.

Members of the American Friends Service Committee have urged leaders in the U.S. Congress to halt the funding of the war in Iraq.

Hilke-Lundborg said the growing number of American troops killed has become a “wake-up call for a lot of people. Even though we have tried to focus on honoring these young people who have died in Iraq and all the Iraqis who have died, they all have died unnecessarily,” she said.

“And it becomes more apparent with information coming out about the lack of information on the weapons of mass destruction.” Hilke-Lundborg said she feels a lot of Americans are angry because they feel they have been misled by leaders in the Bush administration, who have insisted at one time or another that Saddam Hussein had such destructive weapons.

Barbara Elmore of Lihu’e said members of the Bush administration have advanced three reasons to justify America’s presence in Iraq and their decision to prolong the military occupation of that country.

“The war was fought on the premise that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. When that proved false, we were given reasons that, well, we were really there to get rid of this horrible man (Saddam Hussein),” Elmore said.

Once the dictator was “taken out, another reason came up to keep us there — to bring democracy to the Middle East,” Elmore said.

“And as people know, you can’t force democracy on people by war,” she said. “Democracy arises because the people in whatever country rise up and want democracy, not because some other country comes in and invades them.”

She said the best way to encourage people to embrace democracy is to set a good example, and from her point of view, Americans have not been good role models.

Elmore said reasons for American intervention in Afghanistan and that in Iraq are vastly different.

“I think the reaction to 9-11 (the loss of thousands of lives after terrorists slammed airplanes into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001) was justified,” she said.

“I think 100 percent of the county was behind the idea of going into Afghanistan to track down this Osama Bin Laden, who was the cause of 9-11.”

The Iraq conflict is not cut from the same cloth, she said.

“But all along, they (officials in the Bush administration) have combined it (military action in Afghanistan and Iraq), and call it ‘war on terror,’ as though it was the same thing,” Elmore said. “And they aren’t the same.”

Elmore also said that more American troops have died in the first two years of the Iraq conflict than in the first two years of the Vietnam conflict, and that situation is unacceptable to her.

“At the two-year mark of the Vietnam War, there were not nearly 2,000 deaths,” Elmore said.

She said “indications are that, the longer the war goes on, the worse it will be. It will be worse than Vietnam.”

Elmore said the point of the vigil was to recognize the deaths of American troops and Iraqi citizens.

For Americans, the death of the soldiers has special meaning.

“It is traumatic to the country when we see our young people going off to die over there,” she said.

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