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Cindy Sheehan and the Iraq War


Gary Younge
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Until late last week, Cindy Sheehan, the 48-year-old woman whose son Casey was killed in Iraq in April 2004, was camping outside President George Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, demanding to see the president. "I want to ask him, why did my son die?" she told the Guardian. "What was this noble cause you talk about? And if the cause is so noble, when are you going to send your daughters over there and let somebody else's son come home?"

Sheehan, who has met the president once before and was not impressed, had planned to stay at what became known as Camp Casey for the whole of August but had to leave on Thursday because her mother became sick.

With the help of PR consultants she was packaged as a grieving Everymother who wanted answers. Capturing the public imagination, over the past two weeks she has been a regular feature on US cable and network news, the letters pages and newspaper editorials. In turn, she has re-energised the anti-war movement. On Wednesday, thousands of people across the country attended 1,627 vigils in solidarity with her cause.

Her popularity has made her a prime target for the right. One commentator on Rupert Murdoch's Fox channel branded her a "crackpot"; Christopher Hitchens derided her for "spouting piffle" and lambasted her protest as "dreary, sentimental nonsense". Talk-radio king Rush Limbaugh said her story "is nothing more than forged documents - there's nothing about it that's real". The backlash continued this weekend with the launch of a "You Don't Speak for Me Cindy" tour heading for Crawford with the support of rightwing talk radio hosts, to set up a pro-war camp.

The focus on Sheehan's personal loss is indeed problematic. Bereavement, in and of itself, confers neither knowledge nor insight - only a particular sensibility that might lead to both and a compelling personal narrative through which to articulate them. To define her as a mournful mother, while ignoring that she is a politically conscious, media-savvy campaigner, which she has been for quite some time, does neither her nor her cause any favours.

Indeed, those who focus on Sheehan's woes, whether they support or attack her, miss the point entirely. Had she come to Crawford at Easter, she would most likely have gone unnoticed. The reason she has struck a chord is not because of the sorrow that is personal to her but because of the frustration she shares with the rest of the country over Iraq. That is also why the right have attacked her so ferociously and so personally.

But unlike the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in his swift boat, Sheehan will not be blown off course quite so easily. The public mood in America is shifting consistently and decisively against the war and Bush's handling of it. Gallup has commissioned eight polls asking whether it was worth going to war since the beginning of the year: every time at least half have said no. For the first time, most people believe the invasion of Iraq has made the US more vulnerable to further attacks. The number of those who want all the troops withdrawn remains a minority at 33% - but that is double what it was two years ago, and still growing.

The reason Sheehan has become such a lightning rod is because that mood has found only inadequate and inconsistent expression in Congress. It has been left to her to articulate an escalating political demand that is in desperate need of political representation. This marks not only a profound dislocation between the political class and political culture but a short circuit in the democratic process. The mainstream has effectively been marginalised.

This is not particular to the US. In Britain, the view that there was a link between Iraq and the London bombings was shared by two-thirds of the population, but the handful of politicians who dared to mention it were shouted down in parliament and vilified in the press. In Germany, all the main parties support the labour market reforms that will cut welfare entitlements and reduce social protection, even though most of the population do not. But what many "centre-left" politicians regard as electoral expediency is actually becoming an electoral liability. Evidence exists that support for more radical stances is there if only they had the backbone to campaign for it.

In Germany, a new leftwing party combining ex-communists and disaffected Social Democrats is attracting 12% in polls and could yet rob the right of an outright victory next month. This month, in a congressional byelection in southern Ohio, Paul Hackett, a marine reservist who recently served in Iraq, stood for the Democrats on an anti-war platform. In a constituency where the Republicans won with 72% of the vote nine months ago, Hackett branded Bush a "chicken hawk". He won 48%, turning a safe seat into a marginal.

Sadly, such examples are all too rare. Sheehan has revealed both the strength and the weakness of the left. We have a political agenda that can command considerable mainstream support; yet we do not have a political leadership willing or able to articulate those agendas. We wield political influence; we lack legislative power.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Colum...1553870,00.html

Edited by Gary Younge
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Well stated, Gary.

Regardless of the complexities of Cindy Sheehan's situation, her tenacity has added value to the voices of those asking questions about Iraq. Last Wednesday evening I participated in one of the local vigils sponsored by moveon.org. Along with about 40 others I stood quietly on the side of the road holding a cross bearing the name of one of the Minnesota soldiers who had died in Iraq, Marine Tyler Fey. I believe all these families deserve real answers. Quickly.

I am impatient and uncomfortable with the delays and conflicting statements. Ironically, I am also part of the Speicher clan, who lost Col. Scott Speicher, a fighter pilot from the USS Saratoga, in the first night of the first Iraqi war. It was for this reason, promised W, that the US was going into Iraq again -- to find out what happened to him. Of course, nothing has been forthcoming regarding this significant issue either.

Pamela

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[quote=Pamela McElwain-Brown,Aug 22 2005, 11:02 PM]

Well stated, Gary.

Great article. I think as more and more citizens become aware of just how much they have been lied to, be it that Iraq had ties to 9-11 or the now proven lies about WMD, together with W's refusal to see that the tide is indeed turning, more people of conscience WILL run and run on an anti-war platform.

I have always been a little suspicious of how Dean went from front runner to loser all over ONE SCREAM???? Keep in mind that the (Op. Mockingbird) controlled media played and replayed this scream until many were echoing the sentiment that "this guy is so ANGRY". People were still pretty gullible back then.

But, even the media cannot ignore Richard Clarke, Joseph Wilson and others who are speaking up against this president and his illegal, immoral war.

Cindy Sheehan has given the anti war people some voice. And how did W respond to this grieving mom? After refusing to meet with her W had this to say:

"I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say. But's it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life". This kind of "sensitivity" has got to outrage voters.

Dawn

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[quote=Pamela McElwain-Brown,Aug 22 2005, 11:02 PM]

Well stated, Gary. 

Great article.  I think as more and more citizens become aware of just how much they have been lied to,  be it that Iraq had ties to 9-11 or the now proven lies about WMD, together with W's refusal to see that the tide is indeed turning, more people of conscience WILL run and run on an anti-war platform.

I have always been a little suspicious of  how Dean went from front runner to loser all over ONE SCREAM???? Keep in mind that the (Op. Mockingbird) controlled media played and replayed this scream until  many were echoing the sentiment  that "this guy is so ANGRY".  People were still pretty gullible back then.

But,   even the media cannot ignore Richard Clarke, Joseph Wilson and others who are speaking up against this president and his illegal, immoral war.

Cindy Sheehan has given the anti war people some voice. And how did W respond to this grieving mom?  After refusing to meet with her W had this to say:

"I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say.  But's it's also important for me to go on with my life,  to keep a balanced life".   This kind of "sensitivity" has got to outrage voters.

Dawn

Hi Gary, Pamela, Dawn et al.

I have thought all along that the key to turning American public opinion against the war in Iraq might lie with the military families. They are the ones who, among Americans, are suffering the most in this war of choice rather than necessity. If more military families begin to speak out against the losses in terms of dead and mutilated, the lack of body armor and other equipment, and the inadequacy of Veterans health care for the returning military personnel, and, moreover, that those families begin to see that the sacrifices are for nothing, then things might really change.

Of course, Bush has had the advantage all along of wrapping himself and the Iraq war in the flag, and playing the card that this dire and costly intervention in Iraq is protecting us from terrorism, when it is not.

There was a British commentator (anyone remember who?) who, at the outset of the intervention against Afghanistan, wrote that the war against terrorism has to be a secret war not the big showy Shock and Awe that Bush went for in Iraq particularly -- such a war is great public relations to show you are "doing something" and not inconsequentially of course killing collateral civilians and making more terrorists as a result. However, it is not the way you identify and eliminate the terrorists you are originally supposed to be going after. That is done through clandestine infiltration and neutralization, if not of winning the hearts and minds of the people to which the terrorist creed appeals.

Best regards

Chris George

Edited by Christopher T. George
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  • 2 weeks later...

Perhaps this article taken from Houston Chronicle (and could be found at http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/politics/3328861)

will contribute to develop this debate.

Sheehan's acts divide other grieving mothers

Some identify with her loss, but others fear what her anti-war effort will do to troops

By MELANIE MARKLEY

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Cindy Sheehan's grief and anger about the military death of her son in Iraq has captured international attention since the California woman started protesting near President Bush's ranch outside Crawford earlier this month.

But Sheehan is not the only mother to lose a child in the war.

And though a group of Houston mothers interviewed by the Houston Chronicle say they can understand Sheehan's profound grief, they don't all agree with how she's expressing it.

Leigh Bishop, a psychologist at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston, said it's not surprising.

"I think the loss of a child is particularly difficult for mothers," said Bishop, also a faculty member with the Menninger Department of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine. "But whether it is one's child, whether one is the mother or father, there are a variety of different factors that may cause different individuals to experience and express that grief in different ways."

As the protests and counterprotests continue to swirl around the tiny town of Crawford, some Houston-area women share their thoughts about Sheehan and the war that claimed their sons' lives. So far, at least 30 soldiers from the Greater Houston area have died in Iraq.

Barbara Rozier

Barbara Rozier, a Katy real estate agent whose son died three days after turning 25 in July 2003, wishes she were in Crawford, but not to support Sheehan's protest against the war.

The Katy mom would most assuredly be on the other side of the issue, demonstrating in support of President Bush and his decision to stay the course in Iraq. She resents Sheehan's approach and her efforts to galvanize opposition to the war.

"I can identify with her grief," said Rozier. "It can be overwhelming at times, and she certainly has a right to her opinion. But I feel she is being used by the liberals right now, and the media is giving her way too much attention. I think she is entitled to speak, but she does not deserve a platform because she definitely does not speak for me."

Rozier's son, Army 1st Lt. Jonathan David Rozier, was killed when his unit was struck by rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire in Baghdad. Her anger is directed at the terrorists, not at Bush. And she says she believes her son died for a very noble cause — fighting terrorism.

"Our son, just as Cindy Sheehan's son, volunteered for this privilege, this mission," she said. "And I think when you volunteer for the military, it's pretty much understood you will be defending your country no matter what happens. And they believe in the mission. Otherwise, they would not or should not have volunteered."

Amy Branham

Amy Branham, whose son died in a car accident days before he was to ship out to Iraq, was at Sheehan's side when the protesting mom was suddenly thrust into the limelight as the voice of anti-war sentiment in America.

Branham, of Houston, blames Bush for the February 2004 death of her son, Army Sgt. Jeremy Smith. She said her son never would have been at Fort Hood, near where he died, had he not been going to a war that she now believes is "illegal and unjust."

"When my son Jeremy died last year, I was contacted by the media, and I was so angry about the war and about my son's death, and I blamed George Bush, and I still do," she said. "But I didn't want to make his death into some kind of political thing at the time. I wanted to honor his memory and what he had done in his service for the country.

"But as time has gone on, and more and more information has come out about this war, and the lies and the way information was altered to bring us to where we are now, I just got more and more angry."

Branham said her son believed in the president and believed in his mission, but "I feel that if he were to see what is going on today, he would be very angry like so many people are."

Pam Moore

Pam Moore still becomes emotional when she talks about the death of her 21-year-old son, Army Pfc. Stuart Moore. She does not side with Sheehan.

"Grief is dealt with by each individual in their own way," said Moore, a travel agent in Livingston. "Ours was to support our troops, and hers was to protest the war."

Moore's son was killed in December 2003 along with another soldier and an Iraqi translator when a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. military convoy.

Moore said that people grieve in many ways, and she and her family have turned to their faith, their church, their community and their son's friends to help them deal with their loss.

After her son's death, Moore said her family began a communitywide program called "Operation Care." The family has been sending care packages to soldiers for more than a year.

Moore worries that the ongoing attention given to Sheehan's protest will only demoralize the troops who need the country's support.

"It is of the utmost importance that our troops see and hear that we are supporting them," she said. "It not only improves their morale, but more importantly, they feel comfortable in returning information home of their accomplishments."

Velma Moss

Velma Moss, of Houston, isn't about to join Sheehan's protest movement, but she said she understands what moves the grieving mother. She finds herself trying to make sense of the death of her son, Army Sgt. Keelan Moss, 23.

Moss' son was killed along with seven other soldiers when their helicopter was hit by a missile fired from insurgents near Fallujah in November 2003.

"I don't think he died in vain — and I guess I'm contradicting myself — but I don't know why we went over there," said Moss, a medical transcriptionist. "But in order for me to make sense of it, I can't just say he died for nothing. So I have to say he died for a reason, but the reason he went over there in the first place, I fail to understand that."

Moss said she is just trying to deal with her loss as best she can and move on with her life. She can't watch the news about Iraq, she said, because it's still so painful. But she said she can't criticize Sheehan for what she is doing.

"She has the right to say whatever she feels," she said. "She's grieving, and we all grieve differently. So maybe that is what she needs to do to get through the day. Who has the right to say she is wrong? Everybody didn't choose that path, but you do what you have to do. This is America, and she has the right. That's why we live in America."

Edited by Dalibor Svoboda
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