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Updated with Video: North Country Forum: Dialogue with the Patriots and the Peace Group


“A Community Forum on Iraq”, was held this evening at the Setauket Neighborhood House. It was an interesting and invigorating evening. For 5 years, the North Country Peace Group has stood vigil every Saturday on the corner of 25A and Bennetts Road to demonstrate against the war. For some of that time, a counter-demonstration has gathered across the street.

When a local resident, Bruce Stasiuk, wrote a letter to the paper, wishing that the two groups could dialogue, the seeds for this evening of passionate public discourse were planted. I told Bruce that I believe this event was the most interesting and productive political event I have ever been to. There was so much power in the fact that two sets of people with opposing viewpoints were willing to sit down together and have a genuine discussion.

Photo above is the “Peace” side of the forum: Bill McNulty, Pam Burris, Jim Navarre, and John. The side that chose to call themselves the “Patriots” included 3 members–Jim, who has been a Queens College professor; Graham A. Kerby; and Matthew, a college student. There is a web-site where people with the pro-war point of view posted an announcement of the debate. Bill Zimmerman, formerly of ABC and of News12 was the very capable moderator. Photo above by Kimberly Wilder. (more text and photos at jump)

Above: Two photos of the scene. Photos by Kimberly Wilder.

The chairs were set up “theater style” at the Neighborhood House. And, every chair was full, so that people had to stand up and give seats to people who needed them. Definitely standing room only, with people weaving in and out through the photographers and videographers. Probably around 200 people there.

The media presence included several photographers–including Bob Kelly, a fine art photographer who covers the peace and justice scene and a woman with a big media badge. There were 5 videographers–including 4 with tripods, and 2 with very serious looking cameras. Guessing there will be at least some mainstream coverage. Our videotape is above.

Some highlights of the evening:

-Pam Burris’s opening statement was so calm, composed, and interesting, that people really took note. Pam described the history of the vigil, and made a list of concerns that her and her neighbors were standing in protest of. She said that the diverse group that stands on the corner decided to take up the vigil, after they felt they had to do something more than writing to public officials and going to their offices.

-There was a somewhat tall man who called out a few times during the meeting. Kind of jeered about 9-11, meaning that it should cause us to justify the war. At one point, when a line was politely forming for questions, this man stood up and yelled very loudly. When he would not sit down, the moderator Bill Zimmerman stood right up to him, and very assertively asked if he had a question to state it. It was a very brave moment, and calmed things down for Bill to be so on-point. Very good that the man stayed around a long time after that and continued to participate.

-Best question of the evening: (paraphrasing) A young man asked: If you throw out all the moral and legal arguments against the United States invading other countries, and you say that the United States can start a war because it is in our interest and we have the power, than what is to stop other countries from starting a war with us, when it is in their interest?

-The Patriots side was skilled in classical debate. Which, in some ways, the peace side just ignored. But, in playing strategy games, the Patriots side, at the very beginning, basically admitted: The war is for oil (they said three things–oil, suspected WMD, and to fight against the jihad); The war is not successful right now; Bush is not that competent. It was odd to hear someone on the pro-war side confess all of this so bluntly.

-After the official discussion and question-and-answer time was over, people actually stayed a long time and talked with each other. Many discussions included people from opposite sides.

A very worthwhile evening.

North Country Peace Group can be contacted at: ncpeaceg@gmail.com. They hold a vigil every Saturday from 11am to noon at the corner of Bennetts Road and 25A in Setauket.

Dozens of photos of the event, by local photographer Robert A. Kelly, can be found at his on-line gallery. Some selected photos by Robert A. Kelly:

Both sides and organizer/host Bruce

Above: Full panel, with organizer/host Bruce making opening statement. Photo by Robert A. Kelly.

Above: Audience members at the North Country Community Forum on Iraq. Photo by Robert A. Kelly.

Above: Included in this photo are two public access producers, at least two greens, and at least 3 peace activists. (Ian Wilder, co-blogger, pictured with camera in hand.) Photo by Robert A. Kelly.

Again, many thanks to Robert A. Kelly for the wonderful photos!

8 Responses

  1. wow! you guys dont waste any time – many thanks for covering our event so thoroughly. super job on the very accurate (imo) write up.

  2. Nice job, thank you. I checked out the GOE story, they had a slightly different conclusion, but I think the NCPG was more prepared.

  3. Dear Sir,

    I have just read your account of the Iraqi War debate that was held in Neighborhood House last night.

    Firstly, my name is Graham Kerby. I am not a professor at Queens College. I have a Phd in history from Trinity College, Cambrige, England.

    You didn’t quite capture what I was saying. I never said Bush was incompetent. I said there had been critical errors in the beginning of the Occupation. I would praise Bush for his perseverence. I’m not sure Kerry would have done any better. Bush should probably have been more demanding
    of his generals and staff. I also didn’t say that the Occupation was not successful. I think it is successful in the sense that we are still there,
    there is no civil war and Al Qaeda is being defeated. Progress is being made, if not as fast as one would like. I don’t know if we will ultimately be successful (whatever that means), but we must persevere.

    Yes the our involvment in the Middle East is basically about oil – the world economy depends on the smooth flow of oil from the Middle East. If the Middle East only had dates the world would no more care about it than it does about sub-Saharan Africa.

    The question that you paraphrase as: “If you throw out all the moral and legal arguments against the United States invading other countries, and you say that the United States can start a war because it is in our interest and we have the power, than what is to stop other countries from starting a war with us, when it is in their interest?” was indeed a
    good one and not one to which I gave as adequate and comprehensive answer as I should. If you know the young man I would like to give him the answer I should have.

    Basically in the sense that law implies a force to enforce it and a formum to adjudicate it, I don’t think there is such a thing as international law
    (this is what my interlocuter was really talking about). Yes, nations have agreements and there are rules of accepted practice and behaviour. In our
    dealing with Europe we should generally follow international such as it is. However, I what would be called a ‘realist’ view of international relations: the world is a Hobbesian world. There is no sovereign power to settle disputes between nations. Every nation should suspect that other
    nations might wish them harm. Interests will clash. Depending on the costs nations may go to war to preserve their interests. Accordingly, each
    country needs to secure its own security through armed might rather than rely upon signatures on pieces of paper.

    America can rely upon its treaties with Belgium. It cannot rely upon any treaties it concludes with the likes of Iran and North Korea. In the 1970s America signed an agreement with the USSR to reduce the possiblity of nuclear war. The USSR violated it as soon as the ink was dry.

    It is foolish not to think that a nation will not do whatever it has to in order to ensure its survival. International law was irrelevant to the decision to invade Iraq. It was in America’s (and the developed
    world’s) vital interest to depose Hussein. America has a vital interest in stopping Iran developing a nuclear bomb. It should do whatever it has to.
    International law, such as it is, is for law abiding nations. It has little application to tyranies and rogue states.

    What is to stop another country going to war in pursuit of its own interests (China over Taiwan, Iran over Israel)? Simple. Not signatures
    on pieces of paper, but the armed might of the United States. Better that the US is the world hegemon rather than China the raper of Tibet or Russia the butcher of Chychnya. Certainly, America should use it hegemony lightly,
    but like it or not only America can mitigate the evil in the world (the remnants of communism, Jihadism, rogue states, nuclear proliferation,
    to name just a few things).

    You missed the other good question of the evening. This was, if the basic cause of the Iraq war is American capitalism and its imperial/colonialist
    drive for raw materials to feed its ravenous corporations (this is McNulty’s [and probably Burris’] basic frame of reference), why then
    weren’t the Iraqi oil fields occupied in 1991 or in some way or other brought under the control of America? Bill McNulty’s answer that it wasn’t
    the right time was incredibly lame.

    I was also incredulous at John Robinson’s claims that Iraq was better off (at least in terms of security) under Hussein than today and that there
    will not be chaos, deaths in the hundreds of thousands and a massive refugee crisis, if America withdraws.

    The biggest problem with the debate, and you do allude to this, is that while we came to talk about Iraq and the future of the Occupation, the peace groups came to talk about civil liberties in the context of the War on Terrorism, the growth of an imperial presidency under Bush, and the malignancy of Bush. I feel that they never addressed the arguments that we made in our presentation e.g. it was reasonable to think in 2003 that Hussein had WMDs.

    Let me know if you will post my comment on your site. As I said I would like the young man who asked about international law to hear my considered reply. I am more than ready to debate this and other issues with your site visitors. I assume you will correct your mistakes about my name and occupation.

    Best wishes,
    Graham A. Kerby

  4. Graham,

    I think the reference was in relation to Jim as the Queens College (City University of New York) professor, not yourself.

    Good comment though!

    Dan Maloney
    New York State Coordinator
    Gathering of Eagles

  5. Hi

    Just stopping in to say hi to y’all as a new member.


  6. Hello my friends :)

  7. Hey there!
    Just wanting to say hi to everyone since i’m new in this community!

  8. […] Director, LI Immigrant Alliance; Pat Young, Attorney with CARECEN and Hofstra Law School professor; Bill McNulty, LI SOA Watch Suffolk Coordinator; and  Mara Bard, LI SOA Watch Nassau […]

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