Vigil honors lives lost in Iraq

JP Leider

AEVENT MARKS 2,000 KNOWN U.S. MILITARY DEATHS IN IRAQ WAR

Armed with signs, candlelight and feelings of outrage and sorrow, hundreds gathered at the Lake Street Bridge on Wednesday to protest the Iraq war and recognize the war’s 2,000 American military deaths.

Attendees gathered to mourn both American and Iraqi casualties, said Marie Braun, the event’s organizer.

“This is a vigil you never want to have,” she said. “But it’s important for people to have an opportunity to grieve publicly.”

“You mark certain events by a special protest, and this is one of them,” Braun said.

At last count, 2,001 members of the American military have died in the Iraq war. More than 70 percent of those were younger than 30.

In addition to the Lake Street Bridge vigil, opponents to the Iraq war have had other vigils and protests.

This week marks the anniversary of a report released by the British medical journal The Lancet that estimated at least 100,000 Iraqi citizens had died since the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

This week, in 100 cities around the United States, protesters are ringing bells and calling the names of the Iraqi dead to bring attention to the “terrible toll” Iraqi citizens are paying, said Sarah Standefer, a member of the anti-war group Women Against Military Madness.

One of the last in this series of protests, titled “For Whom the Bells Toll,” will be at noon Friday at the military recruiting office on Washington Avenue, she said.

A small group of citizens demonstrate at the center every Friday, she said, to discourage military recruiting.

“Recruiting is down, but we want to make sure it goes down even further,” Standefer said.

Earlier in the week, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a military spokesman in Iraq, called on major newspapers not to sensationalize the 2,000th military death, which he described not as a milestone, but “an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives.”

Nathan Paulsen, political science senior and officer in the student Anti-War Organizing League, said he wasn’t surprised that the Pentagon wanted to downplay the incident.

“The Pentagon learned lessons from the Vietnam experience,” he said. “It has done everything in its power to keep the American public in the dark about what’s actually happening in Iraq.”

Paulsen said it is “outrageous” that so many young Americans have been killed in Iraq since the war began.

“To me the outrage is that Americans are dying in Iraq every single day in an unjust and illegal war,” he said. “That’s what’s sensational.”

Karen Poortvliet, an organizer of a smaller, sister vigil Wednesday evening, said that 2,000 fatalities are worth recognizing because people can identify with the number.

“It’s an intentional marking of a milestone,” she said. “If we had time to do this in our lives every night, we probably should.”

The 2,000 deaths in the Iraq war might increase turnout in the college and high school walkout that’s planned for Nov. 2, said league officer Chris Basset.

High school and college students plan to walk out of school at noon Wednesday and meet at Coffman Union, where they’ll hear speeches on military policy and the Iraq war, he said.

Basset said one of the major components of the walkout is protesting military recruiting in high school.

After students hear speakers, protesters will march to the military recruitment office on Washington Avenue Southeast.

Basset said the event will end with protesters joining the College Democrats and College Republicans and signing posters supporting the troops abroad.

University students interested in participating in the walkout Nov. 2 should talk with their professors first, said Craig Swan, vice provost for Undergraduate Education.

The University endorses the right of students and faculty to express political views, but recognizes both have obligations, Swan said.

If a student walks out and misses a test, the student doesn’t have any automatic recourse, he said.

First-year student Kaisa Kerrigan said she thinks the walkout is important enough to miss one class.

“I don’t like Bush and don’t think he should have been elected,” she said.

At the same time, Kerrigan said, she doesn’t think teachers should be obligated to accommodate students who skip class for the event.

History junior Grant Grays said he’s not going to participate because he said a “bunch of kids leaving class is not going to sway political decisions.”

“Am I against the war? Yes. But they’re putting their energies to waste.”

Matt Graham and Nina Petersen-Perlman contributed to this article.