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THE EVE OF DESTRUCTIONBEHIND THE SIGNS, THERE ARE HEAVY HEARTS

There were lots of clever signs at the January 15 antiwar rally at the Federal building in downtown Phoenix. The crowd of 500 that had gathered by sunset, just a few hours before the U.S. government's deadline for Iraq to leave Kuwait, still hoped that war would be averted. In attendance were aging hippies and yuppie couples guiding designer strollers. But there also were plenty of older people, including World War II veterans. Many protesters had a dark sense of humor. The protest placards were cute in a caustic way, like "Kuwait is Arabic for Vietnam," "Missiles: Let them rust in peace," "Fight . . . kill . . . death . . . how manly!" and "How many lives per gallon?" One sign proclaimed, "Elvis says: No war."

One of the organizers, Deanna Lebeau, was thrilled that even a few cops and bus drivers were among the many motorists who "honked for peace" that afternoon while driving past the demonstrators on busy Van Buren Street. Lebeau was still feeling upbeat enough to trace the origin of her protest to the skepticism of a younger generation. "My son opened my eyes," recalled Lebeau, who is fifty. "Like most people, I had trusted my government."

Protester Bill Thompson had a similar story of his peacenik roots. "My kids educated me--thank goodness," said Thompson. He worked for Volvo in Detroit before retiring to Sun City fifteen years ago. Now eighty, he has also participated in antinuclear protests in Nevada. He has thought out his views, but the results are often uncomfortable to him. "I don't like to criticize our country," he said.

Elizabeth Boyer, an educator who was an active protester in the Vietnam War era, was grimly amused as she recalled an incident earlier in the day when a fellow protester burned his parking ticket--not his draft card. "It did smell like the Sixties," Boyer noted.

Boyer was born in January 1942, and her father, a U.S. Navy pilot, was killed in Okinawa three years later. "I know he believed deeply in what he was doing--I have his letters," she said. "But this is not the same."

Standing quietly was protester Frank Blackford, reflecting on the ten months he spent in the Persian Gulf during World War II. "I had serious reservations about the Vietnam War, but nothing compared to my indignation over this," said Blackford, a retiree from Michigan who lives in Fountain Hills. "I'm 71 and I can't believe the American people are standing still for this."

Blackford spelled out his logic: "We were nakedly aggressive in Panama and Grenada, Israel was in Lebanon, and Russia was in Afghanistan. We vetoed the Security Council's action over the Palestinians. It's hypocrisy. Iraq has a better claim to Kuwait than we had to Panama."

While horns honked for peace and some protesters explained their political views, Olivia Murrieta cried. She stood at the back of the crowd, clutching framed photographs of her sons Eddie and Dave. They went to college to be all they could be, and both wound up in Saudi Arabia.

If 25-year-old Dave Murrieta hadn't been called up from the Marine reserves to become a grenade launcher, he would have graduated from Arizona State University this spring with an art degree. Eddie, 22, was attending Phoenix College when his army transportation unit was called up.

"They wanted an education, but they were tricked," said their mother, who has four other children, too. "We raised our children to be good. We didn't raise them to kill. We should take care of our drugs, the homeless, the abortions, instead of invading other countries. Why doesn't Bush send his son?"

Two days later, the living room at Olivia Murrieta's home in Tolleson was dark, except for the TV.

She wanted to hear the news, but at the same time she didn't. Now that the war had started, any news was like a harsh light that could help you see but might hurt your eyes as well. The news reports were optimistic. Iraq was being bombed, and a ground war hadn't started. "When you have two sons over there," Olivia Murrieta said, "you're afraid to be hopeful. You're afraid to think that way."

Atop the TV in the sparsely decorated living room was a well-worn Bible. The living-room walls were practically bare, except for photos of the six Murrieta children. Propped against the walls were Dave Murrieta's skillful oil paintings of everyday objects--one of his combat boots, another of his fatigues, and a third one of his father's car jacks. Eddie's also a talented artist; so far, though, it's just a hobby for him.

"I keep pushing my kids, telling them to get an education--I didn't," says Olivia Murrieta's husband, also named David. "They needed money to go to school, and I couldn't help them. I don't have the money. I used to when I worked for Texaco, but now I work for the City of Tolleson and I just don't have the money."

The elder David Murrieta grew up in Tolleson and worked with his father as a cotton picker. He and his wife, neither of whom have much formal education, drill school into their children's heads. Framing an imaginary diploma with his hands, David said, "I don't care what it is--just get that piece of paper. That's what I tell them."

He wasn't interested in accompanying his wife to the protests a hundred blocks to the east in downtown Phoenix. "The uncertainty--that's what I relate to with my kids," he said. "I was in the service and I got activated in September 1961. I think about the fact that an artillery round could go off and get one of my kids. But I just can't protest. I was in the military. The protesting didn't do a thing--the war's going on. The protesting--I don't know, I can't. Call it patriotism."

Olivia Murrieta wouldn't agree with that.
She grew up northwest of Phoenix in the El Mirage area. Her grandfather had a dairy farm where the retirement city of Youngtown now sits.

"We didn't suffer, and we always looked out for the poor, for people less fortunate," she said, crediting her strong faith in Catholicism and her parents. "I grew up very conscious of social justice."

She added, "There are a lot of ways of being patriotic. You know those people who go work in other countries to help people? The Peace Corps? That's patriotic, too."

Olivia Murrieta shares with her husband a fanatical interest in their children's schooling. She recalled that in her own childhood, higher education seemed unreachable.

"When I was going to high school in the Fifties," she said, "they'd say, `You're not going to college, so you don't need algebra.' We Mexicans, when we heard the word `algebra,' it was like we heard it and knew automatically it just wasn't for us."

She wanted her children to get algebra--and more: "I tell my kids, `If you go to school, it's not only so you can make money. You learn how to make better decisions for yourself in your life--and also for your community and your nation.'"

As the war continued late last week, Olivia Murrieta continued to drive downtown to protest. By the end of last week, the mood of the rallies was much more somber. "Maybe it doesn't help," she said, "but I vent my anger that way. I have a lot of anger inside me. And whenever you protest something, it wakes people up. It might not help the situation at the time, but it opens people's eyes."

As she followed the news, she also asked a lot of questions, trying to educate herself about the Middle East. At the same time, the situation seemed simple to her.

"Life is too short for killing and fighting," she said. "Why do we fight over land? When we die, we don't take land with us. We take only the good we do."

"It's hypocrisy. Iraq has a better claim to Kuwait than we had to Panama."

They went to college to be all they could be, and both wound up in Saudi Arabia.

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy