KEENE, N.H. — Presidential hopeful John Edwards said Monday that Americans should speak out against the war in Iraq this Memorial Day weekend, renewing an anti-war call that has been criticized by the leader of the American Legion.
Edwards also said all young people should serve their country, "not just poor kids who get sent to war."
The former U.S. senator from North Carolina and 2004 vice presidential nominee said the most patriotic position now is to end the war, and the best way to honor veterans this Memorial Day weekend is to bring the troops home from Iraq.
"There's another thing we need to do as patriots, to serve the men and women who are serving this country in Iraq, and that is to speak out this weekend," Edwards said.
The Edwards campaign launched a Web site, http://www.supportthetroopsendthewar.com, last weekend that calls on Americans to speak out against the war. His 10-point plan also asks voters to greet veterans, send enlisted troops care packages and volunteer at local Veterans Administration hospitals.
He said ending the war is key to repairing the damaged U.S. reputation abroad.
"America desperately needs to reclaim our moral position in the world, which has been so devastated," he said. "America has to be a force for good. ... The world thinks we're a bully and we're selfish."
At a later campaign appearance in Claremont, Edwards repeated his frequent call for the next president to promote patriotism beyond war. He also said the next president should be prepared to be a realist when dealing with the conditions in Iraq, even after U.S. troops leave.
"What do you do if genocide breaks out? Those are things we have to be prepared for," Edwards said in the courtyard of a senior center in Claremont. "The president of the United States should prepare a strategic plan for containment of a civil war."
As for the current president, Edwards said Congress should continue prodding him with legislation that would start ending the war in Iraq.
"The fact that we have a bullheaded, stubborn president who thinks he can do nothing wrong makes it more important, more imperative that we stand our ground against this president," Edwards said during a town meeting on the Lebanon town square.
He said it's past time for voters to "be the change you believe in," borrowing from Ghandi.
"We're not going to do it with baby steps," he said.
Last week, Edwards sent a Web notice asking his supporters to use the holiday to speak against the war. Paul Morin, national commander of the American Legion, called the request "as inappropriate as a political bumper sticker on an Arlington headstone."
Edwards also called for spreading the burden of serving the country by mandating national service.
"One of the things we ought to be thinking about is some level of mandatory service to our country, so that everybody in America — not just the poor kids who get sent to war — are serving this country," Edwards said.
After the event, Edwards said he had not meant to imply that only the poor go to war, only that everyone should serve in some way.
"We have people from all walks of life in America who are serving, including Reservists and National Guard," Edwards said. "What we want to do is to have all Americans to have a chance to serve their country."
Some leaders of local veterans' groups also have deplored Edwards' call for war protests on Memorial Day.
"I think the senator has the best of intentions," said Stephen Shurtleff, who was co-chairman for veterans outreach on Sen. John Kerry's 2004 campaign. "But I think (Memorial Day) is a time to reflect. I think all the presidential candidates want to end the war, but this Memorial Day is not the time."