2005-08-18 / This Week's Attitude

Mourning Mom’s Protest Spotlights AntiWar Sentiment

This Week
By Neil S. Friedman

Protesting the war has been rather low key since we invaded Iraq 27 months ago. There have been a few scattered demonstrations, but nothing in comparison to the range of massive nationwide rallies opposing the Vietnam War almost 40 years ago. The reserved dissent this time may be to avoid confusion that this war’s protesters wholly support American soldiers, unlike in Vietnam when some demonstrators condemned GIs as “baby killers.”

However, as pressure mounts on the Bush Ad-ministration to change the course of the chaotic war and popular support wanes as American blood continues to be shed, antiwar sentiment, along with in-surgent Iraqis, continues to escalate. Besides an unclear strategy for victory, insufficient manpower, and a lack of supplies, the number of American soldiers killed is fast approaching 2,000, which has stirred reaction from many who once believed we were engaged in a just war on terror to retaliate for 9/11. In fact, more GIs died in Iraq last month than any month since the war began.

Last week a group called United for Peace and Justice announced it was organizing Three Days of Action in Washington, DC, (September 24-26), which will be highlighted by a march, rally and three-day antiwar fair.

While the organized demonstration takes shape, one woman from California is making waves – and headlines — as she continues to stage a vigil outside the ranch in Crawford, Texas where President Bush is vacationing.

Cindy Sheehan’s 24-year-old son, Army Special-ist Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq in April 2004. Two months later she met with Bush and was content with his empathy for her loss. But, her feelings towards the president have obviously changed, as the direction of the war, for which she sacrificed a son, is going nowhere.

Sheehan has been conducting a virtual one-woman crusade to end the war and bring the troops home, telling her story and speaking out at every opportunity. She recently marched as close to the president’s ranch as permissible, and has camped out there ever since. Sheehan vowed on Sunday to continue her protest for at least three more weeks. At latest count she was joined by one hundred other demonstrators, including some who’ve also lost loved ones in Iraq.

She has demanded that Bush meet with her and that he bring the troops home from Iraq immediately. Sheehan has vowed to continue her vigil outside the White House when the president returns to Washington, D.C.

Sheehan is clearly the most visible protester, but when I was in Ohio two weeks ago, more than a dozen Marines from the state were killed over a two-day period, resulting in an outpouring of grief and a blitz of headlines and reports in the local media. One station interviewed the mother of a 19-year-old who was among the slain GIs from the Ohio reserve unit. The woman calmly said she was against her son enlisting for a war she opposed, but honored his decision “to fight for his country.” Now, as she mourned, she asked the president to bring home the troops so other families would not have to endure her anguish.

A 76-year-old resident from the town, a suburb of Cleveland, who voted for George Bush, last week told Newsweek, “All these GIs getting killed just ain’t worth it.”

That, essentially, is how most Americans now feel according to the most recent poll, which put support for the way Bush is handling the war at only 34 percent.

Nevertheless, the president remains resolute

about a premature withdrawal of troops claiming it would be a betrayal to the Iraqis. Sheehan, who is holding her vigil hoping the president will meet with her, before returning to Washington at months’ end, probably wants to ask him how many Iraqis voted for him last year.

Confusion even reigns between the president and his Iraqi generals. Last month the commander of the coalition forces in Iraq predicted substantial U.S. troop withdrawals would begin by next spring. President Bush, the commander-in-chief, subsequently rejected that strategy, calling it “speculation,” then adding that troop levels would likely increase before they were reduced. Bush insists we need to maintain our presence “until Iraqi troops have the ability to fight for themselves.”

That ill-conceived course — christened Viet-namization — never worked in Southeast Asia and it’s doubtful, due to divided factions and centuries-old hatreds, Iraqization’ll work anytime soon in South-west Asia.

This uncertainty, as much as mounting soldier deaths, has certainly fueled the protest movement. While there’s hardly a flicker of light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel, this grieving mother is the beacon for all opposed to Mr. Bush’s war.

Cindy Sheehan is not alone in demanding answers from the president, who maintains he will stay course to send a positive message to the people of Iraq.

But, what about the message George W. Bush is sending to of millions of Americans?

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