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Small Lights in the
By Donna Baranski-Walker
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  1. 1. THE NEW YORK TIMES, MONDAY, DECEMBER 24, 1990 21 Small Lights in the Darkness By Donna Baranski-Walker LONDONDERRY, N.H. It gets dark early in New Hampshire now that winter has set in. The leaves have fallen since September, when I first began my quiet effort in direct diplomacy. My candle still shines out on Friday evenings with its silent message to the families of Iraq. The neighbors across the street keep their candle shining too — two small lights in the cold, deep darkness of the night. A candle in the window. It is a quiet message of reason and hope: “Understand that we do not want to be your enemy. Instead of fighting a deadly war, can we, as neighbors, build a just and honorable peace?” If the light extends beyond my home to houses throughout my town and then throughout the country, perhaps the people in the many lands affected by the crisis — Europe, Asia, India and especially the countries of the Middle East will also join in this quiet gesture. By itself this will not solve the problem, but what if families in Iraq, having already suffered eight years of great war, also place a candle in their window one night, for peace? Despite all the barriers of language, history and culture we are not so different on the most basic, fundamental level. We all have families — children, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters — whom we care about deeply. Surely we can work this out without rewarding aggression or being forced to war. A few hundred people in my town have joined this gesture, and I know of Friday night pockets of candlelight throughout the U.S. I have received letters from some 70 people in small towns like Centuria, Wis., Micanopy, Fla., and larger cities like Los Angeles, Kansas City and Winnipeg. I have received telegrams from South Korea, the only other place where the United Nations ever authorized the use of force. Thousands of Koreans are placing a Friday candle in their windows; some write to say that this idea moved them to tears. People in Japan, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Denmark and Poland have learned of it through computer networks. There is no “organization” spreading the message. It started with my family in New Hampshire and it is carried by the energy of the people who hear of it and take it to heart. People have spread the word in their church papers, faxed and mailed it to out-of-town friends and relatives. In this age of the “global village,” a news message can reach every corner of the world in a day. Surely we can use this network to reach out, while there is still time. Americans are not prone to national gestures. It must be difficult to imagine why such an effort holds any validity. Yet the Czechs and the Poles have shown the worth of national gestures as a mechanism for achieving one’s goals when other nonviolent means have failed. In the bleak years preceding their revolutions, they placed candles in their windows to voice their solidarity with those against the totalitarianism regimes in control. At the very least the window light showed individuals that they were not alone. One of my neighbors stopped placing a candle in his window. He sees negotiation as equivalent to concession. He believes we should just go in there, bomb Baghdad and get this over with quickly. It cannot be so simple. Once the killing starts, once innocent people die, there is little room left for talking and negotiation. Even when a war is “won,” the hatred and animosity left over festers for a long, long time. It is not a question of peace at any cost. The world community, through the deadline set by the Security Council, has demonstrated a readiness to use force if the international embargo proves unsuccessful. Have we demonstrated just as clearly how deeply we desire, how strongly we prefer, a just honorable resolution through peaceful means over resolution through force? The silent candle holds many voices in its message to the people of Iraq. It is a way to show that we, people of every type, belief, background and race offer our thoughts, prayers and support for a fair and peaceful resolution of the crisis. It is a symbol of support for our soldiers far away from their families: Please be safe and unharmed. It is a willingness to go the extra mile to find avenues of understanding. It is a quiet, determined belief that people of goodwill can triumph over violence. In my family, we will place our candle in the window this Friday evening, and every Friday evening as long as the crisis lasts. Across the street, my neighbors’ candle will quietly shine out once again to meet ours somewhere in the darkness of the night. And maybe, just maybe, the light will be bright enough. ❑