Acts and threats of violence against Wheaton College stu dents for protesting the war against Iraq with an upside down flag are inexcusable. If the perpetrators are identified they should be charged, prosecuted and made to answer for their crimes in court.

We are pleased that the Wheaton students have removed their inverted flag — which many veterans and others find offensive — but deplore that they were intimidated into doing so.

Flying the flag upside down, a symbol of distress, has been used in anti-war movements past and present. It is a political statement protected by the Con stitution. We applaud the stu dents for replacing the flag at their student residence with a sign bearing the text of the First Amendment.

The anti-war Wheaton stu dents showed their appreciation for the larger issues by turning the flag removal into a demon stration to which they invited local veterans and town officials.

Death threat

Faced with a death threat, intimidation and a rock through a window, the students said they felt compelled to remove the flag for their personal safety. And then they made the point about the implications of such benight ed behavior.

”If you consider the removal of this flag as a victory for free dom, then you have no grasp of what it means to be an Ameri -can, and have absolutely no con cept of what it means to be a cit izen of a democratic nation,” said Michael Stein, a senior and member of the Wheaton Non-Violent Coordinating Council.

He called on local veterans and town officials to speak out against the attacks and intimi dation.

Selectman Butch Rich did so, saying veterans may object to the upside down flag display but support the exercise of free speech. He said the police department would do all it could to find the individuals responsi ble for the intimidation and threats, which the American Civil Liberties Union said may have violated the federal Civil Rights Act.

The war in Iraq has divided this nation and sparked many demonstrations. Though the two sides have been inflamed, the protests have largely been peaceful. In Attleboro just this week, peace advocates and vet erans went out of their way to avoid any confrontation.

That's an example we hope all will follow in the future.

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