NEW YORK --
The mementos of death are everywhere. Fliers showing the missing hang from the fences around Union Square Park; wax from hundreds of candles melts onto the stone plaza. Photos of the World Trade Center's twin towers are pasted onto the lampposts, and piles of flowers wilt in the warm September sun.
But in this park--which once offered a clear view of the two skyscrapers reduced to rubble in Tuesday's attacks--mourning for the dead and missing mingles with yet another, more unusual sentiment: a call for peace.
The base of the tall statue of George Washington is covered with such messages as "Pray for Peace." Across the grass, a long cloth banner is strung on a wire fence: "Peace will not come out of a clash of arms but of justice lived--Gandhi." In this park on the edge of Greenwich Village, one of the city's most liberal neighborhoods, a loud chorus of dissent blends with the grief. Hundreds have flocked here to voice their pleas for restraint, fearful that the Bush administration's vow to take action against both terrorists and the countries harboring them will lead to further violence.
A couple embraces following a candlelight vigil at Union Square early Saturday morning Sept. 15, 2001 in New York. Throughout the city thousands of people gathered to remember the victims of Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Debora Goldstein knelt on the grass Saturday afternoon and carefully penned a message on the banner: "Will no one hear us who are crying for peace?"
"We cannot honor our dead by killing innocent people," said the 33-year-old administrative assistant. "That is not the way to find justice."
These pleas for peace fall within a tradition of New York dissent. Nearly every American military action abroad has met here with protests of one kind or another. But in a city reeling from the worst terrorist attack in history--widely believed to be at the hands of militants whose goal is to destroy everything Americans hold dear--most New Yorkers are loudly calling for a tough military response.
And so on Friday night, it was startling to see thousands of people pack Union Square Park for a candlelight peace vigil. To be sure, many came simply to mourn. But dozens wore fliers pinned to their backs that read: "Islam is not the enemy. War is not the answer."
Some say they are terrified that U.S. military action will only spark more violent attacks against Americans.
Others argue that the U.S. needs to reassess a foreign policy they believe has fed a hatred of America. Many admit to confusion about what the U.S. should do to respond to Tuesday's attacks, suggesting an international tribunal. They are resolute that bombing is not the answer.
"There is a really forceful hand winding up to hit somebody, and I don't know that it's going to hit the right person," said Kimberly Peirce, a writer and director holding up a large banner that read, "NYC wants Justice, Not Revenge."
"If we obliterate Afghanistan, who's to say that's going to make a safer situation?" she added.
Hoping to bring calm, peace activists nationwide have held prayer meetings and candlelight vigils. They've called the White House and members of Congress, begging them not to go to war.
"Often we counsel other nations that they need to stop and reflect," said Mary Lord, a Washington-based lobbyist for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group. "We've said that to people in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, and now we have to say it to ourselves."
But those calling for peace acknowledge that they are in the minority. In fact, recent polls show that most Americans overwhelmingly favor military retaliation.
"I think people are being consumed in this thirst for blood, for immediate revenge," said Karen Zraick, 19, a student at State University of New York in Purchase. "This is already a horrible tragedy. We have two choices: escalate the violence or de-escalate."
Union Square Park has been transformed into an odd tableau of patriotic symbols, memorials and 1960s-flavored symbols. Paper doves bob next to American flags. At the vigil, mourners held hands and sang "Kumbaya," "Give Peace a Chance" and the national anthem.
Strangers engaged in passionate arguments about what path to take. Osama Chahine, 29, and Dale Britton, 32, stood debating in the park for three hours. "My heart so yearns for justice," said Britton, a teacher of English as a second language. "I think the only way is to do it through the military. But I don't know what the target is."
"We have to make sure we're destroying terrorism and not just spreading more hatred and violence," responded Chahine, a student at Columbia University.
Around them, candles flickered in the dark as the crowd sang, "I ain't going to study war no more." Overhead, fighter jets streaked through the sky.
Times staff writer Sue Fox contributed to this report.
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times