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A Wish For Peace On Earth

In her year-end Political Points commentary, CBS News Senior Political Editor Dotty Lynch remembers two men of peace who died recently, the Rev. Phillip Berrigan and former Utah Congressman Wayne Owens.

The day after the November election, a group of CBS News producers and directors crowed around the election set with tape measures and critical eyes. They were looking at camera angles and seating locations for the next special event: the war with Iraq.

It was a chilling moment. Clearly, they were just preparing for a contingency–they had no special knowledge that hadn't been reported to the public—but the matter-of-fact nature of the measuring spoke volumes about how seriously we were anticipating war in 2003.

The Rev. James Donald, in a Christmas sermon at St. Columba's Church in Washington, spoke of a Kabuki dance that has been going on between the United States and Iraq, with the whole world watching, as the dancers play out their parts, knowing how it's going to end, and no one being able - or willing - to stop it.

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Every day a new act is played out; every day we get closer to war.

The voices of two men of peace were stilled in December and one wonders who, if anyone, will fill the void. The Rev. Phillip Berrigan, the 79-year-old anti-war activist, died on Dec. 7 and former Rep. Wayne Owens, 66, who devoted the last 10 years of his life to achieving peace in the Middle East, suffered a fatal heart attack two weeks later walking on the beach in Tel Aviv.

I had the privilege of knowing both men many years ago. I met Phil Berrigan in 1964, when he was the pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in Baltimore and I drove a bunch of college classmates from New York to volunteer in his inner city parish. Berrigan and his brother, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, were major forces in the Catholic anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s and they continued their resistance to violence long after it was fashionable to do so.

Phillip Berrigan was arrested over 100 times and spent about 11 years in prison for his anti-war protests. "Fighting the famine and the Crown," said his eulogist, Brendan Walsh. "He was that rare combination where word and deed were one."

I met Wayne Owens 10 years later when he was a young congressman from Utah running for the U.S. Senate and I was an analyst in the polling firm that was working on his campaign.

Two things stand out from those strategy sessions: Owens and his staff were extraordinarily smart and kind and had no tolerance of negative campaigning. And they held those meetings at 7 a.m., and since they were good Mormons ,they abstained from caffeine and had no coffee for the groggy pollsters from the Northeast!

Owens lost that Senate race to Jake Garn and went on to become the mission President for the Church of Jesus Christ of the Later Day Saints in Montreal.. He went back to the House in 1986 and then tried and failed again for the Senate in 1992 that time, too, refusing to let his staff engage in negative tactics, according to his longtime aide, Kay Christensen. But he continued his passion for public service.

In 1993, he became Vice-Chairman of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, a group he co-founded in 1989 to try to forge peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. His friend and colleague at the Center, Sara Ehrman said he called her the day he died in Tel Aviv, where he had brought a number of Congressmen and women to talk to local officials, and told her he still thought there was a glimmer in hope of getting Arafat back on track.

James Carville, the Democratic consultant who worked on the campaign of Ehud Barak in Israel, sent a message to the mourners at Owens funeral last week. "Tell the people of Utah," Carville said, " that he was a powerful man who took on two impossible tasks—running as a Democrat in Utah and working for peace in the Middle East."

Berrigan and Owens had great moral courage and lived lives of service to others. Tackling impossible tasks was second nature to both of them. As the kabuki theater plays on, how many left behind will try to stop the inexorable death march?

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