September 1, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Syrian images hang over peace protest

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Veterans for Peace, Code Pink and Peace Action Maine hold a rally against U.S. intervention in Syria at Monument Square on Saturday. Michael Anthony of Portland, right, joined the rally with other objectives.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Which brings us to the real conundrum hanging not only over Saturday's protest, but also the hearts and minds of a war-weary nation this Labor Day weekend: If Assad is in fact murdering his own people with weapons banned by most of humanity for the past 90 years, does the United States face a moral imperative to do something about it?

Put more simply, what about all those Syrian kids still living under the threat of deadly gas? Are we not obligated -- if not as Americans, then as fellow human beings -- to try to protect them?

The more I asked that question at Saturday's peace protest, the more paradoxical the whole affair seemed.

Staley-Mays, while noting "I don't support killing under any circumstances," said that if the chemical bombs were to keep falling, he'd opt for a more surgical strike similar to the one that took out Osama bin Laden.

"I would like (Assad) to personally die," Staley-Mays said. "And I would like the strike to be one that just takes him out -- him and not many other people."

Seth Berner of Portland, chairman of Peace Action Maine, conceded, "You don't ignore genocide. I would agree that at some point force does become necessary. But then the question is: By what process do you reach that point?"

President Obama announced Saturday that his process at least will include an authorization vote by Congress, meaning no military strike will occur before lawmakers return to Washington on Sept. 9.

That delay, of course, could lead to bigger and louder protests between now and when the missiles finally fly. Legitimate questions indeed remain about the long-term objectives, not to mention the unintended consequences, of what Obama promises will be a "limited, narrow" military strike.

Still, if Saturday's gathering in downtown Portland was any indication, this will be far from 2003 revisited. Denouncing a ginned-up attack on a bogus abstraction is one thing; advocating against military action while children are being gassed to death is quite another.

That didn't stop some at Saturday's protest from trying to ratchet things up with a little over-the-top messaging. One sign proclaimed "Obama is a Syrial Killer," while another declared "Silence is Violence."

But of all the handmade placards, one stood out -- both for its clarity and, however unintended, its irony.

"Save the Children," it read.


Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:



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