Caravan: Iraq war diverts needed resources

Cindy Sheehan and several dozen other Gold Star family members, military families and veterans closed up their Crawford, Texas, encampment last week and fanned out in three whistle-stop tours across the nation, headed to the nation’s capital with the message, “No more lies, bring the troops home now.” They will join thousands expected in Washington, D.C., for a national Bring Them Home Now rally Sept. 24 and congressional lobbying Sept. 26, where they will press lawmakers to put a stop to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Sheehan and others traveling the Bring Them Home Now Tour echoed what many Americans have been saying: the Hurricane Katrina disaster underscores the urgency of getting the U.S. out of Iraq.

“From diverting money to Iraq that was intended to shore up the levees and make New Orleans safer, to sending over 30 percent of the National Guard from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to Iraq in a war that never has made sense, George Bush has failed this country,” Sheehan wrote. “By his actions in the first few days of the Katrina tragedy, he has also demonstrated that he doesn’t care about Americans whether they are in Iraq or in America.”

A Veterans for Peace bus headed from Crawford to Washington took a detour Sept. 2 to set up a relief station in Covington, La., just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, where the veterans and other volunteers are providing food, clothing and medical care to hurricane victims. Camp Casey Covington, like the earlier Crawford camp, is named in honor of Sheehan’s son, Casey Sheehan, who was killed in Iraq last year. They have made several trips to New Orleans to pick up survivors huddled along the highways, and say they will stay as long as necessary.

“The Louisiana National Guard is supposed to provide relief and rescue efforts, but they are all fighting Bush’s illegal war in Iraq,” VFP member Patrick Tate told the World in an e-mail message from Covington. Louisiana Guard members are scheduled to return in about two weeks, he noted, “but they will come home to a home that will look more like the combat zone that they are returning from.” In their absence, Tate said, local workers and volunteers have cleared roads and are working on schools and public areas.

With half of Louisiana’s Guard in Iraq, National Guard troops have had to be brought in from other states. “Bringing in 30,000 National Guardsmen from other areas doesn’t work if they have no clue where in the hell they are,” said Tate. “The first NG arrivals required several days to adjust to a different climate and just swallowed up resources. The National Guard is trying, but they do not try to distribute food, only ice and water. This recovery will take years and they are here for only a short while. They will be in Iraq if the war is not ended.”

In Chicago, the Bring Them Home Now Tour stopped for an afternoon rally at Senn High School on the first day of school, Sept. 6. Parents, students and teachers there are battling the imposition of a “Naval Academy” that they say is sucking up scarce resources and militarizing youth.

As Senn students held a banner declaring, “Teach Peace,” Al Zappala, a member of Gold Star Families for Peace from Philadelphia, told the crowd his son, Sherwood Baker, had joined the National Guard after working with them loading sandbags to combat flooding in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. “He thought, ‘Wow, this is a good way to serve my country,’” Zappala said. Instead, his son, like other working class youth who joined the Guard for similar reasons, was sent to Iraq, where he was killed last year at age 30. If they were home, they could have saved lives and homes in New Orleans, he said. “It just shows you what this administration thinks about poor and working-class people.”

Military families and others point out that billions of dollars worth of military vehicles and equipment, now deployed in what they are calling “a war based on lies,” could have been used in hurricane relief.

In addition, while the Bush administration has spent $200 billion to fund the Iraq war, it repeatedly cut funding for flood protection measures on the Gulf Coast. The Army Corps of Engineers district headquarters said in May that funding shortfalls were preventing the Corps from addressing “pressing needs” for hurricane protection in the region.

Meanwhile, Louisiana taxpayers will pay $1.7 billion for what Congress has allocated so far for the Iraq war, Mississippi will pay $919 million, and Alabama will pay $1.9 billion, the National Priorities Project reports.

Gold Star mother Karen Meredith, whose son Ken Ballard was killed in Iraq in May 2004, said she is taking to Washington the voices of people she’s met on the Bring Them Home Now Tour in places like Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kan.

“We are hoping to send a message,” she said. “We want to know why the troops are in Iraq, why they’re not in New Orleans taking care of our homeland security.”


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.