As War Drums Grow, Peace Activist Stands Her Ground
The word courage often is used to describe an act of valor on a battlefield. But the word can also apply to a person standing up for peace.
So it was one Wednesday afternoon last summer when Aase Loescher arrived at the weekly peace vigil at the Monroe County Courthouse. No one else showed up that day.
Loescher, 74 and a grandmother of six, picked up her sign and stood alone as pedestrians and autos moved past in the late afternoon.
It was tough, but she did it.
"I don't like to be conspicuous," Loescher said. "When I speak in public, my heart beats so fast. Yet this is a cause I feel so strongly about that it gives me strength."
With thousands of U.S. soldiers massing in the Persian Gulf, the prospect for war seems to grow each week. And so are the numbers of peace activists who have gathered every Wednesday for more than a year on the steps of the courthouse.
Where once there were only a handful of peace activists, now there are as many as 100. Thirty showed up on Christmas Day.
The image many people have of peace activists lingers from 1960s: college kids with long hair and love beads. But those who have taken up a vigil in Bloomington come from all walks of life. Like Loescher, many are senior citizens.
"Several years ago I read a book about how middle-class women whose children are grown are among the most privileged people," she said. "We aren't struggling just to survive. We're smart. There are a lot of meaningful things we can be doing because we're blessed."
Loescher, a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from Norway, moved to Bloomington in 1953. Her late husband, Samuel, was a professor of economics at Indiana University. Although she was involved in civic service, such as a cooperative day-care center, Loescher never marched for civil rights or against the Vietnam War.
"We had strong social justice concerns, but at the same time we were middle America," she said. "I was in sympathy with the protesters, but it never occurred to me to protest."
Loescher's path to peace activism started in the early 1980s. Studying pictures from World War II of the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima, Japan, had a profound effect. She became involved in a week-long Ground Zero Week local project to publicize what would happen if a nuclear bomb hit the Monroe County Courthouse.
"We had been living with the Cold War for so long, we learned to accept it," Loescher said of America in the 1980s. "We'd lost track that the world was in constant danger."
Now, instead of the Cold War, it's the war on terrorism and the threat of nuclear attack that Loescher opposes. She argues that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan could have been avoided if the government had instead used international law to track down and prosecute terrorists who attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001.
Loescher said the best way to protect America from attacks is not through a strong military, but through extending the hand of kindness and generosity.
"We could do so much better if our goal was to reduce the suffering and deprivation around the world," she said. "The way of love is much more successful than the way of fear."
Some people find her actions threatening and unpatriotic. Loescher senses that from the drivers who occasionally squeal their car tires as they roar past the peace vigil.
"That doesn't happen very often," she said. "A lot of people honk their horns in support."
Loescher said she has seen no proof that Iraq has nuclear weapons or that it is planning to use them against the United States or our allies.
"There is no credible information that we are in imminent danger," she said. "This whole war thing is totally crazy."
You have to go below the political arguments, however, to find the foundation of Loescher's beliefs — her faith. In 1994, Loescher left the Baptist church to become a Quaker.
Quakers are a historical peace church found in England in the 1660s by George Fox. The church is "unprogrammed," which means there is no minister. Fox believed that was unnecessary because God spoke directly to people. At services, Quakers wait in silence until someone is moved to speak.
Because Quakers believe that part of God is in everyone, they oppose all killing and will not bear arms for any political reason.
"Some churches believe in just wars," Loescher said. "Quakers believe there are no just wars."
As the drums of war beat louder, Loescher vows to continue to try to silence them in the ways she can: through prayer and by attending rallies, distributing information and showing up every Wednesday at the county courthouse toting her sign.
"Some people say that the peace movement is not having an effect," Loescher said. "But I'm more hopeful. We were supposed to have a war before the election and we didn't. Now it's January. If enough people stand up, we can avoid this terrible thing."