Peace: it’s so yesterday

A peace group in Winona, Minnesota, says a decision to disband isn’t a reflection of the times, but it’s a hard notion to accept considering that the planet seems increasingly ablaze these days.

The Winona Area Peacemakers formed after the Sept. 11 attacks and were most known for demonstrations and protests at area intersections.

“It was so crowded,” Newman Center director Tom Parlin tells the Winona Daily News about that first meeting when the group knew it had to do something. “I had to sit on the floor, kind of in the middle.”

Like Parlin, Ray and Margaret Kiihne were active in the group from the beginning. For Ray, the beginnings of his pacifism go back to World War II.

He keeps a black cardboard box full of letters his mother’s brother sent the family at the end of the war. Serving in the Navy, Ray’s uncle wanted to come home, but paperwork delayed him. He reported instances of inhumanity, such as when American soldiers stood on a Japanese flag to take a picture as Japanese prisoners filed past.

When talk of war with Iraq began, Ray didn’t hesitate to take action.

There was an attitude then, he said, that policy could really change. “It wasn’t a given that we were going to war,” he said.

That’s just one thing that’s changed since then.

“That’s really why there’s nobody out there now carrying a sign,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people see a way out.”

When the group started back when being opposed to war was being unpatriotic in the eyes of many, the group encountered angry gestures and comments at its intersection protests. Then the wars dragged on and the reaction of people changed, organizers said.

But those involved slowly drifted away. Other causes — the environment, for example — took priority over peace.

From the beginning, it seemed, most of the group was older. And now they’re older still.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we were out there again,” Margaret Kiihne said. “There’s every reason to be.”