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Rallies Draw 500 in Plea Against War in Middle East : Demonstrations: About 200 protesters meet in Van Nuys, and nearly 300 participate in a public prayer ceremony at the San Fernando Mission.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a display of the nascent 1990s protest movement, veteran peace and political activists rallied Saturday against the U. S. military buildup in the Middle East.

The rally at the Van Nuys Federal Building, sponsored by a San Fernando Valley coalition of religious and peace groups, featured giant peace symbols, a somewhat shaky rendition of “Give Peace a Chance” and a barrage of criticism of President Bush’s Persian Gulf policy.

One speaker, the Rev. Rick Davis of the San Fernando Interfaith Peace Council, quoted a proverb: “War is sweet to them who know it not.”

“We find ourselves wondering whether our President has forgotten what a terrible thing armed conflict is,” Davis told a crowd of about 200 people.

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“We are no less concerned than our President about the invasion of Kuwait. But we are deeply concerned about the continuing invasion of poverty and despair affecting many people in the U. S. and around the world. . . . Let us use our resources to feed, heal and educate, not to kill and destroy.”

Also Saturday morning, nearly 300 people participated in a public prayer for peace in the sanctuary of the San Fernando Mission.

“We don’t want to see war, and we pray for the soldiers that should we go to war that they will have the strength to go through it,” said Peggy Dykes, who said she was inspired to organize the special Catholic Mass in October.

Although military experts say thousands of young Americans could die in the desert if war breaks out, only a handful of the protesters in Van Nuys were under 30. The majority appeared to be more than 50.

Several participants described themselves as veteran activists of the Vietnam era. They said the Persian Gulf crisis has not stirred opposition among college students and other draft-age young people, even though it is they who could end up on the front lines.

“I think there’s a lot of momentum yet to develop among people of that generation,” said the Rev. Mary Jensen of Emmanuel Lutheran Church of North Hollywood. Jensen said that during a recent visit to Baghdad, she spoke to many Iraqis who said they are hoping for peace.

Jensen said growing anti-war sentiment nationally helped produce Bush’s recent call for high-level dialogue with Iraq. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s decision to release Western hostages is an encouraging first step toward reducing tensions, she said.

Although Jensen and others criticized Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, they were reluctant to advocate military action even if Hussein refuses to withdraw his forces and the present stalemate continues.

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“For me personally, the only time war is justified is in self-defense,” Jensen said. “This isn’t that kind of situation.”

Vic Dinnerstein, 40, took an emphatic view as he attempted to sell a potpourri of political posters with messages denouncing Vice President Dan Quayle, big oil companies, Saudi sheiks, Contragate and the Nixon “liebrary.”

“There is no situation which I see justifying war,” said Dinnerstein, who said he published a book of 80 blank pages in the 1970s entitled “The Wisdom of Spiro Agnew.”

“I don’t think we should die for these issues” in the Mideast, he said. “We do not have clean hands.”

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As the rhetoric abated and the crowd dispersed, a diminutive, animated man with a jaunty white goatee stayed to talk in the windy plaza. Nick Seidita said he was a World War II bomber pilot who flew 33 missions over Germany as well as a member of the Sane Freeze anti-war movement.

The major difference between popular reaction to the Persian Gulf crisis and the national debate over the Vietnam War, Seidita said, is that this time the opposition to Administration policy includes conservatives and Establishment figures.

“We’ve got an ex-head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff getting up and making statements that sound like a peacenik,” said Seidita, who supported the initial deployment of troops to Saudi Arabia but then grew disenchanted.

“If it takes years of negotiation, it takes years,” he said. “And out of that process can come something good.”

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The nation has rushed toward war instead of confronting deep societal problems at home, Seidita said. “Our country is going down the drain by every measure.”


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