Interview with the mother of a slain U.S. soldier
November 21, 2003 | Page 4
"GEORGE BUSH killed my son." That was the message that Rosemarie Dietz Slavenas had for the media as she laid her son, Illinois National Guardsman Brian Slavenas, to rest last week. Brian was killed in Iraq on November 2 when the Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter that he was piloting was shot down, killing 16 U.S. troops and wounding 20.
Saying that she wanted to celebrate his life, Rosemarie made headlines by refusing to allow any military presence at Brian's funeral--neither a military honor guard, a U.S. flag for his coffin nor the presentation of his Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Following the service, she poured out her grief and pain in a statement that placed the blame for Brian's death where it belongs--on the shoulders of George W. Bush.
Rosemarie isn't alone. She speaks for a growing number of military families who have watched their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, being used as cannon fodder in a war for oil and empire.
Like the hundreds of injured soldiers now living in squalid conditions in Fort Stewart, Ga.--cast aside as they wait for medical treatment, and for the military to decide whether to release them from active duty. Or the soldiers still in Iraq, many of who have grown increasingly frustrated with the Bush administration's hollow promises of victory.
Soldiers like Illinois National Guard Sgt. Jessica Macek. While home on leave after six months in Iraq, Macek recently told WNTA radio, "I believe it is in the forefront in the minds of many soldiers that we were lied to about the reasons for going to war."
For that simple statement, Macek may face a court martial. Here, Rosemarie Slavenas talks with Socialist Worker's NICOLE COLSON about her son's death--and how she wanted to honor him.
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WHY DO you feel that George Bush is responsible for your son's death?
BECAUSE HE'S the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Services of the United States. It's very simple. He's the boss.
WHY DO you think that it was important to speak out?
BECAUSE I'M not alone in this. The first thing I received was the Department of Defense News identifying Army casualties. These aren't "casualties." There's nothing casual about it. They're deaths.
YOU'VE SAID that Brian tried to resign from the National Guard prior to the war?
HE DID resign. My understanding from the telephone conversation I had with him was that his resignation was accepted by his commanding officer, and his commanding officer said "You're not going [to Iraq.]" But the National Guard didn't accept his resignation.
I last saw my son the first week of March in Fort Campbell, Ky. I went with my son Marcus to see him. Marcus was in Desert Storm as a 19-year-old, [doing] Marine reconnaissance.
My son Brian said, "Mom, I don't want to hurt anybody." He had resigned because of his conscience. He went because of duty and honor. He didn't feel that it's right to bail when you don't like things.
I'm very angry. I have been an activist, but not...Well, it's always easy to say what you're not, it's better to say what you are. I have been actively involved in some degree in the peace movement since 1990.
I have been a member of the DeKalb Interfaith Network for Peace and Justice since 1990, and that has been my tie [to the peace movement. For between a year and two years, I, as well as the other members of the Interfaith Network for Peace and Justice and the student network--the Northern Illinois University Community for Peace--have held vigils every Friday from 5:30 to 6:00 on the corner of First Street and Highway 38 in DeKalb.
So I have been doing that every Friday for between a year and two years. I have also written letters to the editor and attended speeches, and in 1990, I was on a panel with a Vietnam veteran against the war and a professor from Iraq on Middle Eastern studies from the University of Chicago.
I haven't kept really good track of all that we've done since then. We've sat in at House Speaker Dennis Hastert's (R-Ill.) office. I felt that with the Friday vigils, the most important thing for me was to put my body there, because this is a matter of people's bodies.
BUSH RECENTLY commented that any day with a loss of U.S. life is a "sad day." How do you respond to that?
I HAVE no real response to it. I said in my comments [following Brian's funeral] what I felt I wanted to say to Mr. Bush. He hasn't answered me yet, so I can't go very far from there...
I've only made two press statements...I went to a Vietnam Veterans and Veterans for Peace [memorial] on Veterans Day and I told a Tribune reporter there that I would make a statement after [Brian's] interment. I did that.
And I'm not sure if it's been printed anywhere in its entirety, but I gave it to Steve Kapitan...Steve is a city council member in DeKalb, and he maneuvered through the city council the resolution to not support the war.
We were joining at that time, I think, 150 cities, including the city of Chicago, in passing such a resolution. Steve did this so well and we had such good speakers there, especially a retired professor from the university who spoke, that I got to see our government in action on a local level, and people changed their minds.
There was no way it was going to go through at first. People said that it wasn't the City Council's business to second-guess the president and the Congress about foreign policy. And yet, after people presented their statements, and after Steve presented the resolution, the City Council passed this resolution. This was something very exciting to see. There are a lot of people doing good things. These are some of the things I've been doing.
WHY DO you think there's such a growing opposition to the war among military families?
THERE was opposition before. We were meeting and holding vigils long before the initial strike. I remember when I was at home, after the initial strike, I watched the Chicago news report on the demonstrators in Chicago.
Because I was watching late-night news, I seemed to catch something that most other people I talked to didn't seem to catch--which was the police on horseback, in a phalanx, forcing the demonstrators into a corner, and picking them up by the feet and bashing their heads on the sidewalk. I saw that on the television, and I also heard the commentators, and every commentator I heard said, "Well, they were breaking the law."
There was nobody that I saw in front of the cameras that was unruly, yet I saw police with their face shields and helmets, with people's feet over their shoulders that they were dragging out, and people with their heads on the pavement or the street, bouncing.
It was just inexcusable and unbelievable. How can we not speak out against this kind of brutality and violation of the most basic Constitutional rights?
WHAT WOULD you like people to know about your son?
HE WAS worth more to me than all the oil in Iraq. I believe he died not for his country, but because of his country's lack of a coherent, civilized foreign policy which would allow our country to sit at the table of nations and resolve world concerns peaceably.
By peaceably, I mean that the first action is to talk, and never should there be a pre-emptive strike. It's completely wrong. There's no excuse for it. It's inexcusable.
There is, unfortunately--or fortunately, depending on how you look at it--one man who's responsible for it, and that's George Bush. I hope he will live in history as George V. Bush--for George "Vendetta" Bush. Or "Bush the Barbarian" works for me. Or "Bush the Baby Butcher"--he butchered my baby.