by Kerry Taylor
"The First Casuality of War Is Truth"
President Bush's war in Iraq faces growing opposition from those who are on the front lines: soldiers, their families and veterans, including high-ranking officers.
A bipartisan poll published by Business Week in December showed approval for the president at a mere 36 percent among soldiers, their families and veterans.
"I think the American people were conned into this [war]," said retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, a Bush supporter in 2000. Zinni, who was chief of U.S. operations in the Middle East until three years ago, also charged the administration with failing to plan an occupation that would rebuild Iraq, provide internal stability and advance democracy.
Despite the capture of Saddam Hussein, there has been no let-up in U.S. casualties. As of mid-January, 500 U.S. soldiers have been killed--more than died in the first three years of the Vietnam War. Up to 22,000 more have been evacuated from Iraq for medical reasons. Twenty-one have committed suicide.
LOW TROOP MORALE
The high casualty rate may help explain the low troop morale reported in October by Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper. Nearly one in three of the 2,000 military personnel it surveyed reported that they believed the war had "no value" or "little or no value" at all.
Nearly 50 percent of National Guard personnel and reservists reported low morale. "Reserve members can't possibly keep this pace up," warned Master Sgt. C.J. Nouse, who has spent just four months with his family since Sept. 11, 2001. "With deployments to Bosnia and for homeland defense, our families are continuing to suffer. Does anyone care? This is totally unacceptable. Bring us home or suffer mass exits soon."
It is this concern that led the Pentagon to announce "stop loss" measures prohibiting troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan from leaving the service for up to 90 days after arriving at their home bases. The military can then decide to keep them in service indefinitely "if needed."
The opposition from those in the military is amplified by the voices of military family members and veterans who oppose the war.
MILITARY FAMILIES ORGANIZE
Larry Syverson, the father of two sons still fighting in Iraq, recently completed his 100th antiwar protest in front of the federal courthouse in Richmond, Va.
Anabel Valencia of Tucson had not seen her soldier-daughter in three years, so in December she decided to visit her in Tikrit, Iraq. The U.S. military denied her entrance to the base, but she won sympathy from Iraqi police Capt. Hussein, who was assigned to stand guard over her. According to the Los Angeles Times, Capt. Hussein said:
"I think it's terrible that the Americans will not let you in to see your beloved daughter.... This is the way they treat their own people! Imagine how they treat us.... We were better off before [the U.S. entered]."
But resistance can come at a cost to GIs and their families.
After Jari Sheese of Indianapolis participated in several peace demonstrations and a Paris television program, her antiwar activities were noted in a general's report. Then her soldier-husband in Iraq was transferred on two hours' notice to a remote base with restricted access to the Internet and telephone. Yet he supports Sheese's continued vocal opposition to the occupation as the only way to end the war and bring him home.
Military family organizations and veterans groups have banded together to launch the Bring Them Home Now campaign, led by Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) and Veterans for Peace. Founded in November 2002, MFSO provides a forum for GI families to express their opposition to the war through press conferences, demonstrations at military bases and peace delegations to Iraq.
The organization also sued the administration for taking the country to war without a congressional declaration. (See www.mfso.org.)
Co-founder Nancy Lessin says more than 1,000 families have joined MFSO. There are also several unofficial military unit websites advocating peace and the return of the troops. (See www.bringhomethe142.org and www.129supportingoursoldiers.com.)
MFSO member Jessica Salamon of Cleveland, whose husband was recently deployed to Iraq, defended her protest work as "the best way that I can think of to show that I do support the troops; I support each and every one of them coming home now. I can't just sit back and make care packages."
Kerry Taylor is a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill and a member of United Electrical Workers Local 150A.