26 September 2004
FORT GREELY--Fifteen-year-old Emily Tredger says the United States' missile defense system is a topic frequently debated during current event discussions in her Whitehorse, Yukon, school.
The more Tredger learns and talks about the system in class or other venues, she said, the stronger her opposition grows.
"I'm really concerned that it will start an international arms race, kind of like the Cold War," she said.
Tredger was one of 14 Whitehorse residents, including one of her teachers from Vanier Catholic Secondary School and a group of fellow students, who traveled to Fort Greely to join in a protest Saturday at the entrance to the base where U.S. Army contractors have loaded the first four of the system's interceptor missiles into launching silos.
The protest, which drew a total of about 50 people, was held as part of the fourth annual Fort Greely "peace camp," an event that brings together opponents of the missile defense system, mostly from Fairbanks, for several days of discussion and protests.
This year's event carried an international flavor as the Whitehorse residents made the 10-hour drive to the base just outside Delta Junction and carried protest signs with messages such as "Canadians support health care, not warfare."
Reporters with the CBC and Yukon News also tagged along.
Many of the Whitehorse residents who joined the protest are part of a group that calls itself the Yukon Peace Coalition, said Scott Herron, a member of the group.
As work on the missile defense system has accelerated during the Bush administration, he said, Canadians have become increasingly concerned with both what their country's role should be and what effects worldwide the system will bring.
"We just had a federal election this spring and it was probably one of the top three issues," he said.
Driven by a directive from Bush, the United States plans to have six missiles at Greely and another four at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base readied for launch by the end of this year. Another 10 will be installed at Fort Greely by late 2005 for a system designed to shoot down in mid-flight missiles that are launched at North America from other continents.
The installation of the first missiles at Greely this summer has been hailed by Army leaders on the base as a crucial first step in fulfilling the United States' need for protection from ballistic missile threats.
"Today we have nothing," Major Gen. John Holly, director of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Program, said in a July ceremony to mark the end of major construction at the base. "When we put that system on alert, that will be a significant improvement. Anything is better than nothing."
Canada and the United States agreed in August to a treaty amendment that allows NORAD, the Canada-U.S. continental defense organization, to pass on target information to the U.S.'s anti-missile sites, according to an Associated Press story.
Canadian Defense Minister Bill Graham said in the story that the decision was made to preserve NORAD's status in continental defense but that it doesn't amount to a Canadian commitment to join the missile project.
Missile defense critics in Canada, according to Herron, often cite points such as the system's unproven status--the Army says it has hit five of eight practice targets under controlled conditions--and the billions of dollars it takes to build the system.
Herron said that the proficiency factor isn't an important issue for him. Even if the system were 100 percent effective, Herron said, he still would be opposed to it because of the threat to world stability, partly through isolation of North America from the rest of the globe.
"It's not the reliability of the system; it's the whole approach of global seclusion," Herron said.
Mark Connell, who teaches religion, politics and world issues at Vanier Catholic, said Canada's national debate about missile defense has spilled over into the classroom.
"In our social studies program, every day they're looking at what's in the news," Connell said. "So it's been talked about quite a bit lately."
The classroom discussions have produced a variety of student opinions, including support for the program, as well as important dialogue, he said.
Connell said he made an announcement at school about the opportunity to participate in Saturday's protest and that going on the field trip was voluntary. Many of the students who chose to participate helped pay for gas, he said.
Once there, they blended in with the American crowd as they held their protest signs and waved to the traffic entering and exiting Fort Greely.
For Tredger, who joined many of her classmates in painting a peace sign on one of her cheeks, the protest served as a method to draw more attention to the missile defense issue.
"When people are protesting on an international level, it makes a difference," she said, referring to the "Keep Space for Peace" events scheduled for several other sites around the world Saturday.
Seventeen-year-old Paul Carrido said the students' participation also counters the stereotype that young people are apathetic about world events.
"We're here to just let people know that we do care about what's happening and we do have a stake in the world," he said.
Stacey Fritz, one of the organizers of the peace camp, said that several other Fairbanksans opposed to the missile defense system chose to stay in town Saturday to participate in protests against the war in Iraq.
Saturday marked the two-year anniversary of the group's weekly protests at the corner of University Avenue and Geist Road, she said.
"They would really like to go home and have their Saturdays back," she said. "Maybe that can happen if we vote out Bush in November."