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Published: Wednesday, 2/5/2003

An act of conscience

Mike Ferner's decision to travel to Iraq as part of a “peace delegation” won't win him many friends at American Legion posts around Toledo. And appearing even remotely to be on the same side as Saddam Hussein wouldn't seem to be a winning tactic for a future political campaign.

No, putting himself potentially in harm's way in the event of a U.S. attack on Iraq looks less like grandstanding than the act of a man of conscience.

Mr. Ferner, who came within 750 votes of being elected mayor of Toledo in 1993, is a proud, unreconstructed left-winger. A Vietnam War veteran, he dabbled in mainstream politics as a member of City Council and unsuccessful mayoral candidate but had been mostly out of public sight before revival of the anti-war movement.

Now he is in Jordan, seeking to enter Iraq and volunteer “to assist innocent victims” of a U.S.-led war that seems inevitable.

Mr. Ferner's principled opposition to military conflict with Iraq puts him squarely in a long traditional line of independent Americans ready to take action that conflicts with official government policies, mainstream opinion, or both.

Sometimes, they have been popular acts, as with the Yanks who joined the Royal Air Force for the Battle of Britain in 1940 while Congress debated whether to oppose the Nazis.

Other times, they were decidedly less popular. Roger Nash Baldwin, who served a prison term for refusing to be drafted in World War I, went on to found the American Civil Liberties Union. And 3,000 young Americans fought fascism in Spain during the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939 as part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, half of them lie buried today on Spanish soil.

Mr. Ferner's journey is in violation of current U.S. travel restrictions, and some Toledoans are certain to villify him and compare his trip to Jane Fonda's visit to Vietnam in 1972. But "Hanoi Jane" went to Vietnam long after the war started. Amercans were already dying; others were imprisoned. Mr. Ferner is promoting peace before violence erupts. Unlike Ms. Fonda, he served his country, before his honorable discharge in 1973 as a conscientious objector.

Moreover, polls indicate that his opposition to war with Iraq isn't markedly outside the American mainstream, although many will disagree strongly with his call for military personnel to disobey orders.

While most Americans are of a mind to go with the flow when it comes to issues like the war, Mike Ferner should not be faulted for carrying out what, for him, is a consistent act of conscience.



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