New Yorkers React to Start of War

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In the city where an unprecedented attack started the American war on terror, people greeted military action against Iraq with both support and sadness.

"It's about time," said Irving Levine, 71, who has lived in Battery Park City for 21 years and spent a year displaced from his home near ground zero because of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We've been ready for it for a while. I think our soldiers are prepared, we'll go in quickly and give the Iraqi people maybe some of the freedom that we have," he said.

"I'm in favor of this," said Leslie Gelb, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served in two presidential administrations.

"It represents an opportunity to make a major Arab country a better and safer place if we stick to it. ... It's the best medicine for anti-Americanism around the world I can imagine," he said.

Not everyone agreed.

"It's a sad day in the history of the world. Our president is in violation of international principles," said the Rev. Lucius Walker Jr., pastor of Salvation Baptist Church in Brooklyn in Fort Green and executive director of New York-based Pastors for Peace.

"We're creating enemies tonight, we're not creating friends. We're not creating freedom, we're creating world hostility against us as a nation -- at the very time we ought to be building alliances. This attack did not need to happen," he said.

Ghazi Khankan, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the start of the war "a sad moment."

"I just want to pray for peace to come back. I was hoping that Mr. Bush would follow the teachings of Jesus Christ -- which is peace, not war."

Near the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan, the reaction was mixed.

"I'm all for it. You had to live here to understand it. We lost everything you can imagine," said Vince Diamonde, 55, who was walking with his wife and son near Battery Park City. The family, who live a block from the World Trade Center site, lost their car and the contents of their apartment in the attack. He and his wife, Judy, said they also lost their jobs in the aftermath.

"Let's get it over with," she said, "and let's get back to the economy."

One woman said the war made her fearful.

"It's very scary. I can't imagine what the people are feeling in Baghdad," said the woman, who declined to give her name, as she walked near the World Trade Center site. "Perhaps it's what we felt here."

Though Iraq was not implicated in the Sept. 11 attack, the strikes set President Bush on a course to combat terrorism across the globe -- which eventually led to military action against Iraqi Leader Saddam Hussein. The attacks on the World Trade Center leveled the twin towers and killed nearly 2,800 people.

"It's a big reaction to 9-11, but it doesn't have much to do with 9-11. I don't see a direct link," said Harold Dixon, 54, of Tucson, Ariz., who was visiting Times Square Wednesday night.

"I'm not supportive of what the president has been doing," Dixon said. "He came into office with this agenda; it's been unfinished business since 1991. This is a manufactured crisis."

Tom Gallagher, 42, a Manhattan attorney, said he supported the military action, saying "it's appropriate after 12 years of stockpiling weapons."

He, too, said the Sept. 11 attack propelled the country on the course to war. "I don't think it would be happening without 9-11. I think it would be the status quo."

Andy Mastoros, 23, of Brooklyn, visited ground zero Wednesday night with friends after hearing the war had started.

"We figured we'd pay respects. ... You've got to back up the country," Mastoros said. "The economy's going to take a hit, we're all going to suffer, but I guess you've got to eliminate the threat."

Despite residents' firsthand knowledge of terrorism, New York was home to some of the strongest anti-war demonstrations. In February, 100,000 or more people gathered near the United Nations to protest any attack on Iraq. Those protests continued to the day the war started, and activists were prepared to carry on after military action commenced.

"My hopes are just dashed because I really didn't think there was going to be a war," said Victor Marshall, 46, who was glued to a television set in his Brooklyn deli. "I am ashamed to know I live in a country where the leader is so ... addicted to violence."

His brother, Richard Marshall, was also watching the coverage, but said the president is "doing the right thing."

"Nobody really wants war," he said, "but it's something they have to do."