Military Families Unite in Protest

Saturday, 29 March 2003 19:47 by: Anonymous
By Nancy Cacioppo
The Journal News

Saturday 29 March 2003

SUFFERN Shirley Young's 20-year-old son, Jesse, is serving with the U.S. Army at Fort Lewis in Washington state, far from the Persian Gulf.

Her son's safe distance doesn't prevent her from objecting to the U.S. war against Iraq.

Young is the regional representative for Military Families Speak Out, a national organization of people who have family members in the military but who are against the war.

The group, which claims about 300 families coast-to-coast, offers mutual support, shares information via e-mail and says it provides an important voice that's not often heard.

Young, who has participated in teach-ins and antiwar protests from Washington, D.C., to the gates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, knows she is in the minority as a member of a military family.

Still, Young feels compelled to express her concerns publicly.

There was no formal congressional declaration of war against Iraq "which is unconstitutional," she said and "a pre-emptive strike is against international law."

She said it was hypocritical to go after Saddam Hussein, a dictator "we trained and armed with chemical weapons in the past."

"The president does not have the right to kill just to change the government of a rogue nation," Young said.

"Our tax dollars are going to fight the war, and we're not getting more jobs and schools. We could feed everyone in Iraq for $74 billion, and they would love us, not hate us."

Young said she considered herself a patriot and was proud that her son joined the military. But, she said, she doesn't want him to become the "hated aggressor."

Young recalled a recent demonstration outside West Point and a sign carried by a counterdemonstrator that read: "What about 9/11 and the people who died?"

"Is it 'getting even' for 9/11 if you kill the same number or nine times the number of people who died?" Young asked. "We teach our kids not to fight and hit each other. This war is only going to cause more terrorism in the world."

Boston residents Charley Richardson, the group's co-founder, and his wife, Nancy Lessin, have a 25-year-old son in the Marine Corps in the Persian Gulf. Richardson said Military Families Speak Out was started in November when several military families found they had common ground in their opposition to war.

"We were both in the antiwar movement during Vietnam," Richardson said of he and his wife. "I'm not a pacifist. But we have members who are pacifists, as well as people from long military traditions who say this war is wrong."

Richardson said he thought the war might be waged in large part because of oil, and he is certain it's also about power politics.

"Iraq is a key to the region," he said. "And the idea of taking it over as a power base has been around for a long time. But I would argue this war violates the Constitution, the U.N. charter and other rules of international behavior."

Although he thinks the war is unjust, Richardson said he supported the troops and wanted to bring them home safely.

"I support the warrior not the war," he said. "This is not about worrying about my son or getting him out of harm's way. It's about getting 250,000 other troops, Iraqi civilians and the world out of harm's way."

Members of the organization have felt a lot of pressure to be silent, he said, "as though speaking out against the war is somehow unpatriotic."

"We feel it's the most supportive, patriotic thing we can do for our troops and our country to stop the war from continuing," he said. "War is ruining international relations, creating enemies all over the world and undermining democracy in the United States. This war is setting a trend for U.S. foreign policy and a precedent for military intervention."

Richardson said he was afraid the United States would become the world's vigilante.

"My father said war is never a good thing, although sometimes it's necessary," he said. "But this is not one of those times."

For more information about Military Families Speak Out, visit, e-mail mfso@ or call 617-522-9323

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For Many US Vets, War Is Not the Answer
Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Saturday 29 March 2003

US veterans were invited to the White House on Friday to applaud President George W Bush's Iraq campaign but others who fought for their country vehemently oppose the war.

"It looked to me like he was taking advantage of selected veterans who were predisposed to his position," said Seth Pollack of Veterans for Common Sense.

"I wouldn't expect anything better from Bush. It was shameful."

Mr Pollack's association sent a letter, signed by about 1,000 veterans including two retired vice-admirals and actor Kris Kristofferson, to the President on the eve of the war rejecting the case for the use of force against Iraq and seeking a meeting to discuss humanitarian concerns.

The appeal was ignored, fitting into a pattern of behaviour anti-war veterans say is typical of an administration run largely by people with no war experience - starting with Mr Bush himself, who served in the National Guard in Texas during the Vietnam War.

Veterans believe they "have a vital role to play," said Mr Pollack, "especially in an administration like this which is so under-represented (by veterans) and so willing to send other people's kids to die when they haven't served themselves".

"Frankly, it's a dangerous thing".

With the war into its second week and US casualties mounting, combined with televised images of fierce attacks on US supply lines and the surprised reaction of soldiers and officers alike to the heavy resistance they have encountered, anti-war veterans are not the only ones questioning military strategists.

Adding to veterans' anger and fuelling a growing sense of betrayal, last week the House of Representatives voted to approve a $25 billion cut in veterans' benefits - including disability benefits - over the next 10 years at the same time as Mr Bush seeks massive tax cuts for a wealthy few.

"The President's words about supporting the troops are quite empty, on two counts," Erik Gustafson, who fought in the 1991 Gulf War, said of Mr Bush's speech on Friday.

"One, there has been a series of miscalculations that put a lot of people in harm's way unnecessarily, and secondly supporting our troops doesn't mean turning our backs on our veterans, especially when we'll be having a whole new generation of Gulf War veterans," he said.

Mr Gustafson is executive director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Centre, which he set up in 1998 with an emphasis on improving living conditions for ordinary Iraqis.

Mr Pollack said the cuts to veterans' benefits are "an indication of the lengths to which this administration is willing to go to fund their priorities, which are obviously aggressive wars and tax cuts for the rich".

As the noose tightens around Baghdad, fears are mounting that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is saving his suspected arsenal of chemical weapons for a last desperate stand against inevitable victory by US forces.

Yet, these veterans say, the troops risk exposure to the depleted uranium used in anti-tank munitions, which the Pentagon insists has no adverse health effects but veterans' groups charge was part of the toxic cocktail that caused Gulf War syndrome.

To those who say Gulf War syndrome is all in the mind, as a new Australian study has concluded, they point to the fact that the Veterans Administration has classified 164,000 Gulf War veterans as disabled - more than one-quarter of the 585,000 eligible for benefits.

About 9,600 Gulf War veterans have died of a variety of causes since returning from the war, according to Veterans for Common Sense.

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'Die-Ins' Target War and News Media
By Richard Cowen
North Jersey News

Saturday 29 March 2003

More than 200 people were arrested Thursday for blocking traffic in Manhattan during a day of civil disobedience called to protest the war in Iraq and the corporate media's reporting of the conflict.

Waves of protesters lay down in the streets throughout the day, conducting mass "die-ins" that city police broke up by hauling people away in handcuffs, sometimes by the busloads. The largest die-in occurred during the morning rush hour in the area around Rockefeller Center - home to such media giants as the CNN, NBC, and Fox networks.

And in an unusual turn of events, the showing provoked a public display of pro-war sentiment by Fox News.

The theme of the demonstration was "no more business as usual," and the estimated 500 demonstrators at Rockefeller Center did their best to ensure that this would be no ordinary workday. The police set up barricades along the sidewalk to enable people to pass to their offices, but shortly before 8:30 a.m., about 150 protesters hopped the barricades and swarmed onto the street, stopping traffic. Police were right behind them with handcuffs.

The protest, which took place in the shadow of St. Patrick's Cathedral at Fifth Avenue and 50th Street, slowed traffic for an hour. The NYPD was able to keep one lane of traffic open while removing the protesters. Around noon, about 600 New York University students suddenly walked out of their classes and into Washington Square Park.

Aaron Unger, one of the coordinators of the protest for a group calling itself the M-27 Coalition, said demonstrators broke the law to drive home a point.

"We believe the war against Iraq is a violation of international law," Unger said. "And the media is not telling people the whole story. I know people see what we're doing as a nuisance. But what's happening to the people of Iraq is much more than a nuisance."

Fox News had its own response to the demonstrators. The news ticker rimming Fox's headquarters on Sixth Avenue wasn't carrying war updates as the protest began. Instead, it poked fun at the demonstrators, chiding them.

"War protester auditions here today ... thanks for coming!" read one message. "Who won your right to show up here today?" another questioned. "Protesters or soldiers?"

Said a third: "How do you keep a war protester in suspense? Ignore them."

Still another read: "Attention protesters: the Michael Moore Fan Club meets Thursday at a phone booth at Sixth Avenue and 50th Street" - a reference to the film maker who denounced the war while accepting an Oscar on Sunday night for his documentary "Bowling for Columbine."

The protesters said Fox's sentiments only proved their point: that media coverage, in particular among the television networks, is so biased as to be unbelievable.

"They're all bad, but Fox is the absolute worst," said Tracy Blevins, 32, a New York City resident. "The people who report the news aren't journalists. They just say what the government tells them to say."

Reached for comment Thursday afternoon, Fox spokeswoman Tracy Spector was unaware of the messages on the news ticker and said she would look into it. Spector said the network "didn't mean to insult anyone."

Spector did not return calls for further comment by early Thursday evening.

Media experts said what Fox did Thursday morning was not shocking - Fox was openly hawkish about the war long before it began. But, they said, the display - tagged with the Fox News logo threw journalistic objectivity out the window and also ridiculed the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

"Fox tries to position itself as 'the real American network,'" said Michael Hoyt, executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. "But real Americans believe in democracy and freedom of speech. I think what they did was cynical and bush league."

Barbara Reed, an associate professor of journalism at Rutgers University, said she wasn't surprised by Fox's action, given the fact that the network is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the Australian media mogul and ardent conservative whose publications have been hawkish.

"Fox isn't the only news outlet that has shown bias, but I think Murdoch and Fox are over the top on this one," Reed said.

NYPD spokesman Lt. Brian Burke said about 150 protesters were arrested at the Rockefeller Center demonstration. Protest organizers said about 50 others were arrested blocking traffic later in the day in the Chelsea section of Manhattan and in Chinatown. Burke said the protesters would be charged with disorderly persons offenses and probably would be released, "unless they don't have proper identification."

The protests came as the war against Iraq entered its second week, with President Bush telling the nation that the fighting might take longer than expected. Members of the M-27 coalition say they will continue their civil disobedience if the war continues.
"We believe extraordinary measures are required," said Kim Flynn, a spokeswoman for the M-27 Coalition. "We feel compelled to act out of conscience."

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