For eight years now, ever since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in response to the 9-11 attacks, the First United Peace Makers have been out on the front steps of the church at 848 Lake in Oak Park every Friday night.

This past Friday, the group gathered at 7 p.m. to observe the beginning of Advent – and the start of its ninth year of witness – by declaring “A Christmas Season of Peace.” First United’s lead pastor, Rev. Julie Harley, was on hand, along with regulars Bob Haisman, Emory Mead, Lois Love, Rick Aston, Bud Hayes, Jeff Olson, Henry Hulseberg, Sandy Jefferson, Tom Ferguson, Kris and Connie Ronnow, Gy Menninga and others, about 20 altogether.

Signs in hand (“War is not the answer”), the group listened to a presentation by Love and Harley on their recent trip to the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., then sang “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me,” and traditional Christmas carols.

We wondered what they thought of President Obama’s decision that week to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, so we asked several members for their reaction:

Bob Haisman: How about a long sigh? In fairness, he talked about Afghanistan throughout the campaign. I think people chose not to listen. I focused on the fact that this was a man who was speaking intelligently about Iraq and how silly that war was, and he didn’t really mean Afghanistan. Apparently he did. I’m very disappointed.

I don’t think [the plan] will work. I don’t think it’s enough. I don’t know how many men or women would be enough.

Gy Menninga: I think he has a difficult position. He’s inherited this problem, and it’s not as simple as just walking away from it. That’s not the right thing to do either. I’m not sure it will work, but I think the best thing he could do at this point is say, “We’re going to put more troops in there; we’re going to try to calm things down and get out of there.

I think it was smart, and he didn’t do it suddenly. He studied the whole issue. I don’t have a problem with it. I have a problem with war. It should never have been started. But once you start it, you can’t just walk away from it.

Connie Ronnow: War is not the answer, but we went in there and broke it, and now it needs to be fixed. I think [Afghanistan] is a country that the average person does not comprehend in terms of its history and its culture and how our military fits into that. I don’t think this is a problem the military can solve in a traditional way, unless they use the military in a different way. But I’m not sure the present military is prepared to accept operating in a different manner.

Lois Love: It’s a million dollars per soldier per year. What could we do with that? Invest it in a different way. I’m not sure war will solve the problem. That’s not the choice I would make.

Tom Ferguson: To me, it’s not a matter of approval or disapproval of his plan. To me it’s a question of, “Are you going to go along with war or are you going to go along with peace?” I don’t think about his plan. I just decided I’m not going to participate in that. So it’s not very complicated for me.

I’ve seen war, been in war. I understand war. I understand the reasons for war and why people think that. I’m just not playing anymore. I’m not going that way. It’s that simple.

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