Albert Lea residents stake out positions for or against war

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 13, 2003

As U.S. soldiers gear up for what looks likely to be war with Iraq, there is a different kind of mobilization going on at home: opinion mobilization.

At Bridge Avenue and Fountain Street a sign in a yard says &uot;Say No to War with Iraq, call your congress people.&uot;

The people who own that property, Gerald and Grace Skaar, put up the sign &045; which is owned by Albert Lea resident Paul Moore &045; to show that there is a presence of people against the war in Albert Lea.

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&uot;War is a terrible thing,&uot; Gerald said. He thinks there hasn’t been sufficient enough evidence or diplomatic discussion to make a case for war with Iraq.

Grace has 10 more signs, like the one in the yard, that she’ll be giving out at a peace vigil this afternoon.

Grace said she believes there are far too many problems domestically to spend money on a war.

&uot;Our economy is in terrible shape,&uot; she said. &uot;I don’t see how we can fund a war, but ignore the growing number of unemployed people and the massive layoffs.&uot;

They also said they don’t see a war as an answer to stopping terrorism.

&uot;We aren’t going to protect ourselves from terrorism by going to war,&uot; Gerald said.

Matthew Benda of Albert Lea, the co-chairman of the Freeborn county Republican party, says he thinks war needs to be an option if the country is pushed to that extent.

&uot;I feel it is the United States’ obligation to pursue efforts to limit global terrorism,&uot; he said. &uot;And that obviously involves a combination of aggressive diplomatic approaches and, if necessary, the use of force.&uot;

Benda said he thinks the signs protesting the war are an example of America’s great freedom, but said another thing to consider is that Iraqi people don’t have that freedom.

&uot;I think that’s the great thing about America, is the fact that they can make those statements,&uot; he said. &uot;Unlike in Iraq, where they don’t have that freedom.&uot;

An Eagan man began making &uot;Liberate Iraq&uot; signs to combat the &uot;Say No to War in Iraq&uot; signs. Benda said he’d put one up in his yard if he could get one.

He says he has seen enough proof to take action against Iraq if diplomatic means run out.

&uot;I don’t think that diplomatic efforts ever end,&uot; he said. &uot;But I can say that I think the U.S. has given Iraq many opportunities to explain where their chemical and biological agents have been removed to. If Sadaam Hussein refuses to comply, as he has continued to do, I think the world community has no choice but to take action.&uot;

Odean Berg, who served in the military during the Korean War, says he is against a war at this point.

&uot;I’m not in favor of it,&uot; he said, &uot;I don’t feel (Bush) has enough proof.&uot;

Berg said diplomatic avenues have not been pursued as thoroughly as they could be, and that war isn’t necessary.

Berg said the Bush administration is appearing to take to war too quickly.

&uot;(Bush) has got it in his head that he’s going to war,&uot; he said. &uot;A lot of innocent people will get killed in a war like this, both Americans and Iraqis.&uot;

Albert Lea resident Todd Brist said, he is supportive of military action.

&uot;Look, I’d love to see this thing resolved diplomatically,&uot; he said. &uot;Nobody wants to send troops into harm’s way, but I do think we owe it to the security of a free world to preempt any possible attack on ourselves or our allies. If that is through military intervention, then we owe it to our troops to support them in every way possible.&uot;

Brist says that protesting war is helpful to enemies.

&uot;What our troops need is our prayers, letters, and whole-hearted support. After all, it is those willing to defend freedom that have guaranteed your right to protest,&uot; he said.

But the Skaars disagree with the idea that protesters should instead focus their efforts on supporting troops. They feel those kinds of statements try to make protestors look &uot;unpatriotic.&uot;

&uot;I’m not anti-American or unpatriotic,&uot; Gerald said. He was in Vietnam with the military in the 1950s. He said he supports the military fully, but not the direction the president is taking it.

Brist said he Iraq’s ties with terrorism are too strong to ignore.

&uot;I heard a great quote: ‘People keep saying there is no evidence of a smoking gun. However, the problem with a smoking gun is it has just been fired,’&uot; he said. &uot;Guess where that gun is aimed? We must act to prevent that gun from going off.&uot;