VALDOSTA -- While much of the nation's military force mobilizes for a potential war on Iraq, some students and faculty at Valdosta State University are determined to voice their opposition to the looming conflict.

A group held a peace protest Friday at Drexel Park with 15 faculty and students holding signs and chanting anti-war slogans.

"Don't arm a son of a Bush," "Read between the pipelines" and "Who would Jesus Bomb?" were among the signs on display.

The rally was the first event from the VSU Coalition for Peace, a group that is organizing in response to the potential Iraqi conflict.

The students in attendance repeatedly questioned the United States' motives for waging war on Iraq and clamored for a peaceful solution through continued negotiation and diplomacy.

"I just don't think it's for the right reasons," said Chris Raulerson, an art major from St. Mary's. "I think it's just for oil, for a monetary gain. We don't really care that (Saddam Hussein) is gassing rebels in his own country. ... I listened to Colin Powell and if that is supposed to be the final presentation, it did not sound convincing at all. I can see how France and Russia wouldn't support that."

Several people also worried about the loss of civilian life in Iraq and potential U.S. military casualties. They also questioned whether Hussein would ever use weapons of mass destruction -- if he even possesses them.

"Saddam Hussein is not going to use those weapons against anybody," said Jaime Martinez, a political science major from Atlanta. "It's important to recognize that we can get the weapons out of there if we work with him through negotiations rather than using military strikes."

Susan Wehling, a Spanish professor at VSU who helped organize Friday's protest, said it is important for people to understand that peace is patriotic, that opposing a war in Iraq does not make a person un-American. She called for a broad rethinking of how the United States carries itself on the world stage.

"We need to ask what can we do to make the world a better and safer place. War is not the answer. As a mother, I want a decent world for my children, but when you live by the sword you die by the sword. Violence begets violence," she said.

Wehling also noted that while a conflict looks increasingly likely, protests and rallies can serve to influence the duration of the war, the tactics used to wage it and the policies embraced in the aftermath. Calling for peace is not a tough sell, even in a city with a military base, she said.

"I love this town because once people know you or know the facts, they make very moral decisions based on that," she said. "People here have been in and around the military. They are very aware of how serious war is."

Organizers hope the rally will become a common event and plan to hold another protest next Friday. The Coalition for Peace will have an organizational meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 1951 E. Park Ave. Anyone from the community is invited to attend.

To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.

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