More than 200 people braved the winter ice and chill to hear alternatives to a much colder possibility: war in the Persian Gulf.
At the Homewood Friends Meeting house on North Charles Street, Joe Volk, executive secretary for Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington, and Nancy Nye, the Quaker peace lobbying organization's field secretary, discussed non-military solutions to force Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein out of occupied Kuwait.
Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait Aug. 2 and took over the country. Since then, the U.S. has positioned more than 400,000 troops in Saudi Arabia to guard against further Iraqi invasion of Arab countries.
The United Nations has given Saddam a Jan. 15 deadline to leave Kuwait or face the possibility of the use of force.
Secretary of State James Baker was meeting today with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz in Geneva, Switzerland.
Volk, 45, told the capacity and receptive crowd last night that despite President Bush's explanations for a possible war, the American people just don't understand why U.S. troops are in the Middle East.
Volk said Bush at various times has said the troops are in Saudi Arabia to protect American lives; to liberate Kuwait; to restore regional stability and security; to maintain respect for international law and to protect oil fields.
He attacked Bush's comparison of Saddam to Adolf Hitler.
"Saddam Hussein is not Hitler and Iraq is not Nazi Germany," he said.
For each of Bush's objectives, Volk said, war isn't worth risking the lives of thousands of U.S. and Arab soldiers.
"More Americans would be killed than there are hostages to protect; Kuwait would be destroyed in the effort to liberate it, and more civilians would be killed than combatants on both sides," he said. "With such death and destruction of Arab people, the old resentment of Christian crusaders and imperialists would undermine security of regimes across the region and so-called stability would crumble.
"The oil fields could be turned to oil burners for months and take years to repair."
It appears the president is stubborn about the issue, Volk said. He defined Bush's position as: "Either war or appeasement. Which do you want?"
"They both are bad choices," Volk said.
Instead, Volk suggested de-escalation, disengagement, demilitarization and diplomacy.
The countries need to negotiate to come to a peaceful solution, he said.
Volk said Bush will weigh his options as he considers the election year in 1992, seeing the president faced with the question: "If I back out, will I look like a wimp or a statesman?"
There needs to be more community outcry about the situation as happened in this country in the Vietnam era, Volk said.
Nye discussed cultural differences between the U.S. and Middle Eastern countries.
"We have tried to apply a Western time frame to this conflict . . . not being patient to allow these people to negotiate their differences," Nye said.
America is seen as an outsider in the Middle East, she said.
"If anything could unify all of the differences in the Middle East . . . they will become unified against a common enemy -- the United States," Nye said.
However, regardless of what happens, Nye said, "Saddam Hussein wins."
Saddam either will be perceived as a hero for standing up to the United States or viewed as a martyr if killed in a war, she said. But Bush will be viewed as "a loser" if he pulls out or goes to war and thousands of U.S. soldiers die.
Edith Rogers, 49, said she attended the meeting to learn more.
"I've been concerned with this issue ever since George Bush sent troops," Rogers said afterward.
She said she especially was concerned about the non-white soldiers who would be placed on the front lines if there is a war.
"Now isn't it tragic, that they have to die?" Rogers said. "I know this country doesn't care about Saudi Arabia. This country doesn't care about what happens today in the Middle East.
"They can't find a good excuse for this."