Families of military personnel and veterans speak out against war

The world has been galvanized into action against the Bush administration’s drive to war with Iraq. This is no less true in the United States. In all sectors of the U.S. population you will find anti-war sentiment – including in the armed forces and their families.

The extent of that opposition became apparent at a Feb. 14 press conference at Manhattan’s Interfaith Center. There, parents of military personnel sharply condemned George W. Bush for placing their children – and the Iraqi people – in harm’s way and praised the UN for seeking an alternative to war.

A day earlier, several of the parents filed a suit “challenging President George W. Bush’s [and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s] authority to wage war against Iraq ... absent a congressional declaration of war.” Those filing the suit also include a number of soldiers (all listed as John or Jane Doe to prevent harassment) and members of Congress.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro dismissed the suit, saying there has to be a conflict between the president and Congress before the federal courts can inject themselves to resolve it. Lawyers for the plaintiffs appealed the decision and oral arguments were heard on March 4. A decision is expected shortly.

Just after the appeal hearing, 74 law professors filed a friend of the court brief in support of the military families’ suit. The professors said they filed the brief and urged the Federal Court to act “in order to protect the separation [of powers] which the Framers [of the U.S. Constitution] carefully constructed for the protection of liberty, a protection unquestionably intended to prevent any president’s exercising the kind of power now claimed by President Bush.”

“My son Jeremy deployed to Kuwait on the 21st of January along with his entire unit,” Jeffrey A. McKenzie, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out (www.mfso.org), said. His daughter-in-law, Nicole, is also on active duty and deployable to the Persian Gulf, McKenzie added. “While I love the U.S. and everyone knows I love Jeremy and Nicole, I am strongly opposed to a war with Iraq and the Bush administration policies,” he said.

War on Iraq will have “nothing to do with defending our shores,” McKenzie continued. “It has everything to do with settling an old grudge, with the interests of major oil corporations and controlling Iraq’s oil reserves.”

He blasted Bush’s “you are with us or against us” and his “axis of evil” doctrine adding, “Our policy of defending our soil is being scrapped and replaced with a policy of aggression. The U.S. is flagrantly ignoring international laws and arm-twisting allies and enemies alike to gain support while openly threatening to go it alone if it has to.”

McKenzie said his response was to join millions around the world who are patriots for peace. He warned Bush and his supporters, “I will hold you responsible should my son or daughter-in-law or anyone else wearing the uniform die while serving in Iraq under current administration policies.”

Charley Richardson held a poster-sized photo of his son, Joe, an Arab-language radio reconnaissance specialist in the U.S. Marines, who recently shipped out to the Middle East. “I don’t want any of our sons and daughters to die for oil interests and Bush’s political gain,” he said. “I certainly don’t want Joe to get hurt or to have to hurt someone else because George Bush’s ego and his financial backers won’t allow a reasoned, multilateral approach to the situation in Iraq.”

Paul Donnelly said his son, Brian, is also an enlisted man poised for deployment to the Gulf. “President Bush is taking Congress to the point of lunacy,” he said. “Let’s stop this crazy war before it begins. The American people are split right down the middle. It’s our job to try to sway them to the right side.”

Asked about the role of the UN in blocking Bush’s rush to war, Donnelly replied, “The message the UN has spoken clearly is that they are not going to support this war despite [Bush’s] bullying tactics.”

Julio Méndez, founder of Puerto Rican Military Families Speak Out, said his nephew in Puerto Rico has been ordered to report for duty in the Gulf. “I pledge allegiance to the Constitution and the republic for which it stands, not to Exxon-Mobil and Shell Oil,” Méndez said. “This war is about the total takeover of the government by these corporations and the stealing of democracy. There are billions of people on this earth who want peace.”

Michael McPherson, a U.S. Army veteran of 1991 Operation Desert Storm, said, “Most of my life I’ve been around the military. Although I did make the decision to go fight in the Persian Gulf War, I do not support President Bush and his ill-advised foreign policy.” McPherson disputed Bush’s claim of a connection between Iraq and the terrorists. “Al Qaeda has stronger connections to Saudi Arabia than to Iraq,” he said. “We are spending billions on a war that does not meet our security threats. Our leaders had better meet our economic threats before this turns into a depression. Bullying and military dominance will not lead to our nation being safer.”

Besides the MFSO members, other families have been involved in actively opposing the Bush administration’s war drive.

Dilenia Rodríguez, of Haverhill, Mass., told the World she got involved in the peace movement when her son was shipped over to the Persian Gulf. “I raised him in a non-violent atmosphere,” she said, stressing that she wouldn’t even buy toy guns. She said that if the bullets start flying, she wouldn’t fault the Iraqis from “defending their sovereign country,” adding: “We should not only think about the deaths that we will suffer, but also about the Iraqi mothers and people. They are human just like us.”

Rodríguez, originally from the Dominican Republic, said that while she feels sadness because of the war drive, she has confidence when she sees millions throughout the world demonstrating for peace. “The marches we have in the world is proof that we want a better life for the children we bring into this world.”

Daejanna Wormwood Malone, a peace activist in Boston who has a “severely dyslexic” son, questions why the Army would put him in a situation where others would have to depend on him. “When he joined the army, at the age of 20, I told him to choose [a job] where he wouldn’t be killing ... He became a nurse.”

Felícita Caminero of Lawrence, Mass., said “Bush is putting on a show. He is asking for ‘permission’ [of the UN] to do what he is already planning to do.” Caminero, a native of Puerto Rico, said that even if her son’s unit was not going, she would still be in active opposition to the war. “The U.S. is not in danger. Bush just wants to remove the head of a sovereign state for the oil companies’ profits. He wants to put a lot of people in danger for the benefit of a few. It is unjust. It is immoral. And as long as I have life in me I will fight this war,” she said.

Caminero, along with Rodríguez and others, has organized a weekly peace vigil in Lawrence. On March 8, the 40-plus activists involved in the vigil were joined by Buddhist monks from the New England Peace Pagoda who are marching throughout the state for peace.

Kyle McHall, a student at Harvard Divinity School, told the World his father, a retired Marine major, is against the war because “it is unnecessary to send so many soldiers” when Iraq is not attacking nor “directly threatening the United States. My dad supported the first Gulf War. He supported it the first time because Iraq invaded another country.” His father’s support the first time was “for humanitarian reasons, even though we didn’t go in for humanitarian reasons.”

According to McHall, his father thinks that today’s young soldiers have no idea about the reasons for invading Iraq and fears that “people might resent them when they come back, like in Vietnam.”

McHall participated in the Feb. 15 anti-war demonstration in New York. “My dad is fully supportive of my anti-war activities. My grandfather, who will be 89 in April, fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and saw some of his friends get killed in front of his face. When I told him I was going to the [peace demonstration] he said, ‘I’m with you on that, boy. I don’t want to go to war. I know what war is like. A lot of people will be killed.’”

Veterans Against the Iraq

War is organizing a veterans march and rally for peace on March 23 in Washington, D.C., where they will present a petition to the White House. The veterans will have “a solemn procession” past the memorials for soldiers and sailors who died in the Vietnam, Korean, and World War II wars. At each of the memorial sites they will lay a wreath “in memory of our fallen comrades.”

In their petition, Veterans Against the Iraq War, a coalition of veterans’ organizations and individual veterans say, “Although we detest the dictatorial policies of Saddam Hussein and sympathize with the tragic plight of the Iraqi people, we oppose unilateral and pre-emptive U.S. military intervention on the grounds that it would establish a dangerous precedent in the conduct of international affairs, that it could easily lead to an increase of violent regional instability and the spread of a much wider conflict, that it would place needless and unacceptable financial burdens on the American people, that it would further divert us from addressing critical domestic priorities, and that it would distract us from our stated goal of destroying international terrorists and their lairs.”

And it is not just former members of the armed forces who are opposing a war against Iraq. Tod Ensign, director of Citizen Soldier, said that active duty soldiers are refusing to serve in Bush’s war. “We have been hearing from a number of active duty soldiers and reservists asking what their options are,” he said. “It really takes a soldier to stand up and say on political and religious grounds ‘I refuse to deploy.’”

Already 200,000 reservists have been called up. “Bush extended their duty from one year to two years. These are men and women who could be deployed in the Gulf for two years. It creates enormous hardships and uncertainty for an unjustified war,” Ensign said.

José A. Cruz can be reached at jacruz@attbi.com

and Tim Wheeler can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com





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