[R-G] Military Families vs. the War
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Mon Mar 15 21:12:22 MST 2004
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> Date: 3/13/2004 12:05:38 AM
> Subject: Military Families vs. the War
> Military Families vs. the War
> Washington Post.
> March 11, 2004
> Organized Opposition Is Small, but Some See It as
> By Paula Span Washington Post Staff Writer
> EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- On the night last month he
> learned that his son had died in Iraq, Richard Dvorin
> couldn't sleep. He lay in bed, "thinking and thinking
> and thinking," got up at 4 a.m., made a pot of coffee.
> Then he sat down at the kitchen table and wrote a letter
> to the president.
> When the invasion of Iraq began, Dvorin -- a 61-year-old
> Air Force veteran and a retired cop -- thought the
> commander in chief deserved his support. "I believed we
> were destroying part of the axis of evil," he says. "I
> truly believed that Saddam Hussein was a madman and that
> he possessed weapons of mass destruction and wouldn't
> hesitate to use them."
> By the time Army 2nd Lt. Seth Dvorin was sent to Iraq
> last September, however, his father was having doubts.
> And now that Seth had been killed, at 24, by an
> "improvised explosive device" south of Baghdad, doubt
> had turned to anger.
> "Where are all the weapons of Mass Destruction?" Richard
> Dvorin demanded in his letter. "Where are the stockpiles
> of Chemical and Biological weapons?" His son's life, he
> wrote, "has been snuffed out in a meaningless war."
> His is not the only military family to think so. In
> suburban Cleveland a few days later, the Rev. Tandy
> Sloan tuned in to the "Meet the Press" interview with
> President Bush and felt "disgust." His 19-year-old son,
> Army Pvt. Brandon Sloan, was killed when his convoy was
> ambushed last March. "A human being can make mistakes,"
> the Rev. Sloan says of the president. "But if you
> intentionally mislead people, that's another thing."
> In Fullerton, Calif., paralegal student Kimberly Huff,
> whose Army reservist husband recently returned from
> Iraq, makes a similar point with a wardrobe of homemade
> protest T-shirts that say things like "Support Our
> Troops, Impeach Bush."
> The number of military families that oppose Operation
> Iraqi Freedom, though never measured, is probably small.
> But a nascent antiwar movement has begun to find a
> toehold among parents, spouses and other relatives of
> active-duty, reserve and National Guard troops.
> A group called Military Families Speak Out -- which will
> figure prominently in marches and vigils at Dover Air
> Force Base, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the
> White House next week -- says more than 1,000 families
> have signed up online and notes that new members join
> daily. Other outspoken family members -- Dvorin, for
> example -- have never heard of the group but, for a
> variety of reasons, share its founders' conviction that
> the war is a "reckless military misadventure."
> Most frequently cited, when military families explain
> their antiwar sentiments, is the absence to date of
> Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. "They'd have these
> inspections and they'd find nothing," says Jenifer Moss,
> 29, of Lawton, Okla. Her husband, Army Sgt. Keelan L.
> Moss, died in November when a missile downed his Chinook
> helicopter, leaving her with three children and the
> belief that "he was sent out there on a pretense."
> They are also angry at the Bush administration's
> insistence that its policies are nonetheless justified.
> Cherice Johnson's husband, Navy Corpsman Michael Vann
> Johnson Jr., was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade
> last March. "I'd love to say I back [the president] 100
> percent, but I can't," she says, weeping during a
> telephone interview. "How many more people are going to
> die because he can't say, 'I'm sorry, I made a terrible
> In interviews, families complained about the continued
> unrest in Iraq; worried about whether their service
> members had adequate equipment and supplies; feared
> post-traumatic stress syndrome. One mother who lost a
> son in Afghanistan last March took deep offense at the
> launch of a subsequent war when, she feels, the first
> remains uncompleted.
> And, of course, they all watch the casualties mount, to
> 553 deaths and nearly 3,200 wounded, the Pentagon says.
> In South Haven, Mich., Marianne Brown, 52, has joined
> the weekly peace vigil in front of the closest thing her
> small town has to a federal building: the post office.
> Most of the vigil-keepers -- who number 10 or 15 at
> most, shrinking to three or four stalwarts on the
> bitterest winter days -- hold a memorial photo of the
> faces of service members killed in Iraq. But Brown holds
> a photo of her stepson, Army Reserve Pvt. Michael
> Shepard, 21, an MP stationed west of Baghdad.
> South Haven has not been uniformly receptive. Brown has
> had her Jeep scratched with a key. She's been shouted at
> when she goes to the bank. She's been called a traitor.
> "It's kind of scary, but it's changing," she says. "We
> used to get a lot more attitude. Now we're getting more
> thumbs-ups. I think it's slowly seeping in that this
> [war] was based on something other than what we were
> A Way to Connect
> It's the power of the Internet that's allowed relatives
> in far-flung places to know that others are also
> suspicious, bitter or ready to march on Washington.
> "That kind of sentiment has probably been there in every
> war we've ever had, but this time they have a ready
> means of identifying one another," says John Guilmartin,
> a military historian at Ohio State University and a
> decorated Vietnam War veteran.
> Military Families Speak Out started before the invasion
> with two families, added 200 more when the first troops
> crossed into Iraq and another 200 when the bombing
> began. There were spikes in Web traffic and membership
> registration when the president declared the end of
> major combat and when he invited Iraqi insurgents to
> "Bring 'em on."
> Even those who aren't affiliated with a peace group
> (Moss and Johnson are not; Brown is) use the Net to
> bolster their opinions, stoke their outrage or find
> others who share their beliefs.
> When Seth Dvorin died, sympathetic Web sites picked up
> local newspaper stories about his divorced parents'
> outspoken responses. A few days after his funeral, his
> mother, Sue Niederer, was startled to get a call from a
> stranger in Columbus, Ohio. Jackie Donoghue has a son
> serving in the same region of Iraq and had looked up
> Niederer's phone number online. "I just wanted to
> console her," Donoghue says. "I wanted to tell her she
> wasn't alone, that other people with sons and daughters
> in the service feel the same way."
> Of course, most people with relatives in wartime
> service, a group historically more likely to express
> approval than distrust, don't feel the same way. Though
> public support for the war was found to have declined in
> the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, most
> military families say their support for the action and
> the president remains unwavering.
> They think the weapons he warned of may have been moved
> or may yet turn up. Some feel Hussein's tyranny was in
> itself ample justification for war, even if the weapons
> are never found. They believe that their loved ones are
> helping to liberate a tortured nation and that there's
> more good news from Iraq than the news media have
> The night before Pfc. Jesse Givens, a 34-year-old Army
> tank driver, left for Iraq, he sat down with his 6-year-
> old son to explain. "He said, 'There's a bad guy over
> there and he hurts mommies and little kids and he has to
> be stopped,' " his widow, Melissa Givens, 27, of
> Fountain, Colo., remembers. Now, "the times I start to
> feel like I'm against it -- because my husband's gone
> and he's never coming back -- I hear what he said."
> Christine Dooley, who's 22 and living in Murrysville,
> Pa., with an infant daughter, is mourning the loss of
> her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Micheal Dooley, 23, killed
> in June. "The fact that I lost Micheal does not change
> my feelings about what we needed to do over there at
> all," Dooley says via e-mail. "Many Americans forget
> that we were attacked on 9/11. . . . We need to kick
> some butt and clean up!"
> Another group of families can probably empathize with
> Cathy Neighbor. A 45-year-old truck driver in rural New
> Lexington, Ohio, she's too overwhelmed by grief for her
> paratrooper son to figure out what she thinks about the
> war that took his life. Army Cpl. Gavin Neighbor was 20
> when he was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade in
> "I still don't know what to feel," his mother says
> haltingly. Some days she questions why the troops were
> sent to Iraq; on others, she thinks they should have
> been. "I'm angry as hell and I'm proud as hell," she
> says. "And everyone says my son's a hero, and I didn't
> want him to be a hero."
> Yet even if the opponents represent only a sliver of
> military families, the emergence of organized antiwar
> opinion among this traditionally conservative group is
> something the country hasn't seen before, several
> historians and political scientists believe.
> During the Vietnam War, a handful of Gold Star Mothers
> who had lost sons in the war marched with Vietnam Vets
> Against the War and other antiwar groups, says David
> Cline, now president of Veterans for Peace and an early
> member of Vietnam Vets. But there were only at most a
> couple of dozen such mothers, by his recollection, and
> they never created a nationwide network. The National
> League of Families, formed to bring political attention
> to prisoners of war and troops missing in action, had
> considerable influence but was not critical of the war
> And those activists, like Vietnam Vets Against the War
> as a national group, arose years after the first
> American losses in Vietnam, by which point a
> considerable part of the public had already lost faith
> in the war. For military families to organize against
> the Iraq war beforehand and during its first year, Cline
> observes, is like "Vietnam on speed."
> "This is unprecedented," says Ronald H. Spector, a
> military historian at George Washington University. "If
> military families are having serious doubts about the
> war and don't see a reason for their relatives to go
> over there, that's quite significant."
> How much influence they may have is another question.
> Small minorities can have political impact, says Duke
> University political scientist Peter Feaver, a former
> National Security Council staffer. They can gain public
> and media attention because "they can presume to speak
> with greater moral authority. . . . The picture of an
> angry father can resonate in a way it doesn't when it's
> somebody else."
> Feaver doesn't expect antiwar military families to make
> much of a difference yet on their own. (For one thing,
> they don't all share the same goal. Military Families
> Speak Out has called for a full troop withdrawal, but
> some non-member families believe the best tribute to
> their lost soldiers is to ensure that Iraq gets
> stabilized and rebuilt.) But "if what we're seeing is
> the beginnings of a cancer of doubt," Feaver adds, "that
> could have serious consequences."
> A Sore Subject
> When Army 1st Lt. Jennifer Kaylor, stationed at Fort
> Myer, Va., gets together with her mother-in-law, Fairfax
> schoolteacher Roxanne Kaylor, they chat about their
> pets. They talk about Jennifer Kaylor's job and her
> plans to eventually continue her education. "I encourage
> her to think about her future," Roxanne Kaylor says.
> What they don't discuss is the war in Iraq, where Army
> 1st Lt. Jeffrey J. Kaylor, 24, Jennifer's husband of
> just nine months and Roxanne's only son, was killed in a
> grenade attack in April. "I honestly believe that this
> was the best way for us to prevent anything resembling
> September 11th occurring on our soil again," Jennifer
> Kaylor says via e-mail. Her mother-in-law, on the other
> hand, has grown so incensed about the war that she
> contacted a lawyer to see whether casualty families such
> as hers could bring a class-action lawsuit against Bush.
> (You can't sue the president, the lawyer told her.)
> That loved ones risked their lives -- or lost them --
> for an unjust cause, as some family members contend, is
> a difficult view for anyone with a military connection
> to express. Even those willing to march with placards or
> wear their antiwar sentiments on their chests try to
> tread gingerly.
> They don't want to undermine their service members,
> imperil their future military careers, or hurt other
> military families who are frightened or grieving. The
> military culture strongly discourages questioning a war
> while troops are in the field. Several relatives
> interviewed for this story asked that the names of their
> service members not be published, lest they suffer
> Jose Caldas, 44, a systems analyst in Atlanta, lost his
> nephew, Army Capt. Ernesto Blanco, 28, in December; a
> homemade bomb detonated as his Humvee passed. Caldas's
> son, Alec, 22, is in the Army Signal Corps at Fort Bragg
> and expects to be deployed to Iraq as well. Jose Caldas,
> a Navy veteran, has been writing his U.S. senators and
> representative to urge that the country's leaders be
> held accountable for what he deems a dreadful
> But he is cautious about what he says to his son.
> "You're asking a lot of these guys," he explains. "They
> have to believe in what they're doing. If you don't have
> faith that what you're doing is right, you can't be
> committed and risk your life."
> In Madison, Wis., retired psychologist Jane Jensen, 70,
> leads a military families support group that meets each
> Thursday evening at the United Church of Christ: mostly
> parents, one wife, some brothers, a grandmother. Her own
> son, Lt. Col. Garrett Jensen, 42, a Black Hawk
> helicopter pilot with the Army National Guard, expects
> to leave Kuwait for Iraq this month.
> Her group of about 25 regulars includes a number from
> families that back the war, Jenson says. They can
> probably tell, from the Kerry campaign button she always
> wears, that she disagrees. She plans to join a nearby
> antiwar demonstration later this month, but none of the
> other group members has agreed to join her.
> Still, they put such differences aside to talk about
> their service members, exchange information, pass around
> fresh photos. "Our group is very kind, very polite.
> Nobody wants to hurt anyone's feelings," Jensen says.
> Sometimes feelings get hurt anyway. Nancy Lessin,
> stepmother of a Marine who has returned from Iraq and
> co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, has gotten a
> number of nasty e-mails; she has also reported three
> death threats to the Boston police.
> Kimberly Huff, of the antiwar T-shirts, no longer
> attends meetings of the Family Readiness Group in
> Riverside, Calif., which supports relatives of her
> husband's Army Reserve unit. She was an active member
> for 10 months, until her shirts, and the interviews she
> gave at an antiwar rally in Los Angeles, made her "kind
> of a black sheep," Huff says. "They stopped calling to
> see how I was. . . . I was kind of ignored at meetings."
> Now she feels more alone, though unrepentant.
> And hurt feelings may increase as the presidential
> election nears. Many of these family members, even those
> with no history of political involvement, say they'll
> work to defeat Bush in November.
> John Bugay Jr., 44, a suburban Pittsburgh marketing
> writer and self-described conservative who hasn't voted
> for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1980, is
> sufficiently disillusioned by the war that he spent
> eight bucks to register the domain name
> republicansforkerry.org. "I felt betrayed by this
> president's administration," Bugay says. "He didn't
> count the costs."
> Such sentiments have caused a stir at his evangelical
> Christian church; they also caused a public argument
> with his wife, an Army reservist who spent five months
> in Iraq, at a neighborhood birthday party. Now they
> don't discuss the war either.
> Other antiwar families plan to register voters, write
> letters to newspapers, and volunteer for local and
> national candidates. First, they'll mark the war's
> anniversary this month by joining protests across the
> Richard Dvorin has not received a reply to the letter he
> sent the president about his son, Seth. He doesn't
> expect to. But Sue Niederer, Seth Dvorin's mother,
> eventually learned about Military Families Speak Out and
> will join its march at Dover Air Force Base on Sunday.
> It's one of the few places where she can say of her son,
> "He died a hero, but he died in vain" -- and people will
> understand how she feels.
> (c) 2004 The Washington Post Company
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