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War protest grows on Whidbey

Clyde Johnson, Patricia Brooks and Jack Tingstad make a statement on the corner of Main Street and Highway 20, Coupeville. - P. Christine Smith
Clyde Johnson, Patricia Brooks and Jack Tingstad make a statement on the corner of Main Street and Highway 20, Coupeville.
— image credit: P. Christine Smith

One person can start a movement. One person can get others thinking.

One Coupeville man is doing just that, standing on a street corner, sending out a message that is so intensely important to him that he felt compelled to find a tangible way to make others aware of his point.

It doesn’t matter to him if people agree with him or not, as long as they’re thinking, he said.

Jack Tingstad has been a Coupeville resident for 32 years, and he’s a retired Coupeville Elementary School teacher. He’s not generally known for rocking the boat or taking a strong political stand. In fact, he describes himself as “apolitical.”

But the stance of the Bush administration to possibly declare war on Iraq is so appalling to Tingstad that he took to a quiet, small-town street corner with a simple sign in protest.

“No Iraq War.”

Tingstad began his vigil Tuesday, Sept. 3, and has stood on the corner of Highway 20 and Main Street in Coupeville every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning since.

His cause is gaining momentum, attracting supporters who now have joined him on the corner, passersby largely honking their car horns in support, the protesters say, and a few verbal and sometimes obscene comments from motorists who disagree with the protesters’ message.

“Someone drove by the other day and said ‘You’re old enough to know better,’ ” Tingstad said Saturday. “And that was really curious to me. What am I old enough to know better about? That peace is not a way to deal with people, rather than destroy them?”

A few moments later a carload of young men made a left turn off North Main Street and proceeded south on Highway 20. The driver, with his window down, screamed something about fallen soldiers dying for the protesters’ freedom, tossing in an obscenity for emphasis.

“He’s got the right to do that,” said protester Clyde Johnson, a semi-retired engineer and Coupeville resident. “And basically our standing here (is our) right to ask and protest … anything, for or against.”

Tingstad and Johnson draw parallels between the current difficulties in the U.S. and United Nations’ dealings with Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. The men say that diplomacy worked then to avert a crisis, and it should be given every chance now.

“I feel that there’s more to be done by talking and internationally. … secret negotiations, such as the Cuban missile crisis,” Tingstad said. “Most people don’t remember that it was the agreement of the U.S. to pull our missiles out of Turkey that got Kruschev to pull his missiles out of Cuba.”

The similarities Tingstad sees between the two events 40 years apart hit him close to his heart. His son was born during the Cuban missile crisis and he remembers how he felt then.

“We lived through that, not knowing if it was the last day for our family and the whole world. And, that kind of feeling came back...the feeling that people might have been thinking that bombs were going to be falling on their heads at any time,” Tingstad said. “I really think of myself as a world citizen, and so I’m very concerned about how people, children, everyone feels, on the entire planet.”

Johnson agrees that diplomacy worked well during the Cuban missile crisis, and that the current administration needs to try again with Iraq’s leadership to come to a peaceful agreement.

“President Kennedy and Premier Kruschev had at least the courage and the vision to risk, and I mean risk, diplomacy, from the Cuban missile crisis in ‘62. And thereby they diverted a war that would have been absolutely catastrophic,” Johnson said.

Getting Saddam Hussein to agree to and abide by the U.N resolutions regarding chemical and nuclear weapons inspections is worth the effort, the men agree. Bush has not been able so far to gain the support of U.S. allies, other than Great Britain, for an attack on Iraqi targets.

“I guess there’s some reason why 63 percent of the people in Europe, in a BBC poll, apparently thought the greatest threat to world peace is George Bush,” Johnson said. “Now, if this is true, let’s listen to what they have to say.”

Johnson said he understands that sometimes war is necessary, but only after all parties involved have tried peaceful steps first.

“War should be our last, last option,” Johnson said. “What about all the intermediate steps?”

Johnson, whose sign reads “No Oil War II,” says standing on the corner is his way of prompting people to look into the situation with Iraq before rushing to a decision to support a first strike.

“Mine is a plea for people to start asking hard questions, and not just go marching down the road blindly without questioning,” Johnson said.

Patricia Brooks of Coupeville, a former journalist, joined the group on the corner Saturday with her sign, which reads, “Bombing Arabs = A terrorist attack. First strike is Un-American.” It is important to Brooks, she said, to let people know that they can do something if they don’t agree with the president on this issue.

“I can’t believe that that many people are actually thinking that we should make a first strike. That’s so against what America is about,” Brooks said. “Call, write, e-mail your congressmen and tell them that (war) is unacceptable, and to be bullied into doing this sort of thing is just without excuse.”

Darrel Berg, a retired United Methodist minister, of Coupeville stood quietly holding his sign, reading, “Pray for Peace.” Berg waved back as passing motorists honked in support of his message, and took it in stride when others drove by, calling out, “Boo.” He even seemed unphased by the f-word man.

“I’m here because my soul tells me to be here,” Berg said Saturday. “When I say ‘Pray for peace’ that’s what I’m preaching. Pray for peace,” he said with emphasis.

“The life and teachings of Jesus are all in the direction of peace and understanding and forgiveness, and not in the direction of retaliation,” Berg said. “So that’s why I’m standing here with a sign.”

While the group says that most of the feedback they receive is favorable to their message, there may be a fear among some Americans that disagreeing with the president on this matter would be anti-American. People can be against military action and still love America, they say.

“You can be for peace and still be patriotic,” Johnson said.

However, others say that the protesters are naive.

“I don’t think they understand the whole picture,” Bob Barber, of Oak Harbor, said Monday, as he ran errands in Oak Harbor. Barber retired from the Navy after serving nearly 23 years.

However, Barber agrees that a first strike on the country of Iraq is not necessary.

“War is like a street fight,” Barber said. “Take out the instigator and it’s over.”

Barber favors a strike on Saddam Hussein himself, using special forces.

“Most service personnel don’t want war. They just don’t. They know they’re putting their life on the line,” Barber said. “There’s certain cases when things have to get done, and Hussein is one of them. Saddam Hussein is a problem. He’s proved he’s a problem. Bush Sr....should have went in and got him when he had the chance,” Barber said of the Persian Gulf War.

Other veterans, their watch now over, relaxed over a beer and a game of billiards Monday afternoon at the American Legion Hall on SE Barrington Drive. They have strong opinions and hesitate somewhat before thinking about it and revealing their thoughts on war, terrorism and protesters.

Mike Abraham of Oak Harbor agrees that Saddam Hussein has been a recurring problem for the past decade. Abraham served in the military two years in Vietnam.

“I thought we should have finished the job in ‘92,” Abraham said.

One man is even less sympathetic to those that view diplomacy as an option. Bill Gregory, of Oak Harbor, served for 24 years in the Navy, and he thinks something needs to be done about Saddam Hussein. Gregory supports President Bush’s call for military force.

“I think they ought to slow down a little bit and give Hussein a chance (to cooperate),” Gregory said. “But then I really think what they should do is let the bombers have a chance first at the people who are demonstrating, then maybe they might not be so interested in protecting Hussein.”

Both Abraham and Gregory think that Iraq, under Saddam Hussein’s leadership, has already developed weapons of mass destruction, and even getting U.N. weapons inspectors back in there won’t help.

“(Hussein) ran them around and wouldn’t let them do the job they were sent there to do,” Gregory said of the inspectors.

Gregory said he favors an attack on Iraq, because it is the best, most thorough solution to the Iraqi threat problem.

“I think the president is doing what he thinks is best,” Gregory said. “He might not be totally right, but who else is going to make the decision?”

You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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