Mother of a U.S. soldier in Iraq:
March 19, 2004 | Pages 6 and 7
FAMILY MEMBERS of soldiers now in Iraq have become a central pillar of the movement against war and occupation. In the first such demonstration since the Vietnam War, military families and veterans groups are mobilizing for a protest on March 20 in Fayetteville, N.C., the home of Fort Bragg.
SUSAN SCHUMAN is a member of Military Families Speak Out. Her son, staff sergeant Justin Shuman, was deployed to Iraq from Fort Bragg a year ago this month. He is currently stationed in Samarra, north of Baghdad. Susan was interviewed by Socialist Worker's WAYNE STANDLEY about the struggle to bring U.S. troops home now.
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WHEN AND how did you first become involved with Military Families Speak Out?
IN JANUARY 2003, several weeks before George W. Bush launched the "preventative war" against Iraq, I was invited to file suit against the president to stop the war. I joined a coalition of other parents, soldiers, active duty U.S. soldiers--who filed as "John Does" to prevent retaliation--and a group of 11 members of Congress.
The lawsuit, argued by John Bonifaz, a brilliant lawyer and serious scholar, challenged the constitutionality of the war on the grounds that the United States Congress had not yet issued a declaration of war or taken any other equivalent action, as the Constitution requires. I was happy to have the privilege to serve as a plaintiff, along with Nancy Lessin and Charley Richardson, the cofounders of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO).
Through them, I became involved in MFSO, which, by the way, became a real lifeline of solidarity and comfort as Justin was dragged off to participate in this unconscionable war.
YOU WERE one of the spokespersons for the launching of the Bring Them Home Now campaign. Could you explain how that came about?
IN LATE May, the president announced that the war was over and that "the world was a more peaceful place." At the same time, I was receiving e-mails from my son, who said "the U.S. just doesn't understand. There are 30-40 major incidents a day, wherever there are Americans." It was clear that the war was not over, and in the following weeks, the news made it clear that Bush and Rumsfeld had mired the troops in a quagmire of an urban guerrilla war.
In July, Bush's inane and reckless "Bring 'em on" challenge to armed Iraqis resisting the occupation moved us to action. Like a schoolyard bully hiding behind his air-conditioned desk at the White House, he was putting our loved ones in peril by his taunting statement.
It was time to tell the truth. MFSO joined with Veterans for Peace and other veterans' organizations to launch the campaign. As military families and veterans, we could have a special, credible voice to challenge the administration's lies.
WHAT HAS been the reaction from veterans, GIs and their families?
THE RESPONSE to our press conference at the National Press Club in Washington on August 14, followed by another press conference in Fayetteville, N.C., home of Fort Bragg, was remarkable. In 24 hours, MFSO received 6,000 e-mails from military families and soldiers--some vicious, but mostly thanking us for speaking out. By September, MFSO had grown from a couple of hundred families to a couple thousand.
We heard from many wives and families of soldiers who asked to remain anonymous, having been told they would jeopardize the careers of their loved ones, but saying, as one woman did as she wept in my arms, "Thank you for speaking out for me. My husband says MFSO.org is his lifeline." Other young wives of soldiers who had been warned to keep their mouths shut bravely stood with us before the press cameras.
WITHIN THE antiwar movement, there has been a debate about the slogan "Bring them home now!" Some say that the troops have to stay in Iraq to stabilize the political situation, and others say that the U.S. occupation is just a continuation of the war for control of the Middle East and its oil. What are your thoughts on this?
IT WAS wrong to go to war in Iraq, and it's wrong to stay. When I told Justin about our campaign, his first response was that we had to stay to clean up the mess we made. But the mess we made won't be solved by military occupation, only exacerbated.
The reconstruction of Iraq is a job that requires skills and expertise of civilian NGOs. Our soldiers don't have those skills--they aren't trained to police, to recreate civil institutions, to rebuild schools and roads. Most of the GIs have never been overseas, never encountered another culture, another language.
We have certainly witnessed the consequences of their inability to understand what is happening around them in the past months with the killing of so many Iraqi civilians through simple misunderstanding of cultural cues. There will be no stability in Iraq as long as it is an occupied nation.
The administration's policy of unilateral control of oil and water resources in the Middle East is clear. The war on terrorism is a masquerade for the selfish, narrow financial interests of the Bush oligarchy.
Eugene McCarthy said it clearly in a recent interview in The New Yorker: "Bush is an imposter. He couldn't find a mandate, so he found a war...This was a case where we used a massive response when all we had to do, I think, was catch three people, and you can do that without creating a regional war."
THE DEMOCRATS' criticism has been more about strategy and tactics, than a principled opposition to war and occupation. John Kerry is actually calling for more U.S. troops to be sent to Iraq, while others have called for a phased replacement of U.S. troops with a multilateral United Nations force, but with the U.S. still left in overall command.
A PROBLEM isn't solved by doing more of the same wrong thing. The lessons of history in Vietnam and, more recently, in Afghanistan have shown us the folly of using massive force to overcome resistance against occupiers. Justin should not be replaced by Stan Goff's son Jesse, nor by Jorge from Spain, Hiroshi from Japan, or Bubacar from Senegal.
GIs AND their families played a critical role in the movement against the U.S. war in Vietnam, but it took years to build up the confidence and organization for them to actively oppose the war. Why do you think the antiwar movement caught on among them so quickly this time?
OVER 60 percent of the infantry troops in Iraq are National Guard and Reserves. These are citizen soldiers, not full-time military personnel. While aware that they run the risk of being called to active duty, it is at great personal sacrifice to them and their families (who also have no benefits accorded to regular military).
At the same time, we hear Bush tell us that we will be engaged in endless war. I think people are smart, and when they are asked to put on uniforms without just cause, they protest.
DO YOU have an idea of the level of opposition to the war among the soldiers actively serving in Iraq?
FROM THE responses to our Web sites and what I read in the press and what I hear, there are few soldiers who support the administration's policies in Iraq. They are also witness to the blatant corruption of companies like Halliburton and Kellogg, Brown and Root on the ground. My son, a Massachusetts National Guard staff sergeant, works with privately hired interpreters who earn more than $500 a day, a far cry from his military pay.
WHAT REPERCUSSIONS have GIs and their families faced for speaking out against the war?
THERE IS a lot of pressure to keep your mouth shut. Soldiers are told to keep their political opinions to themselves. Some have been threatened with court martial, as in the case of the Marine who criticized Rumsfeld a couple of months back.
MFSO has heard from a lot of soldiers asking about their rights to speak out. The GI Rights Hotline is very helpful. My son has been harassed a couple of times by other soldiers for my outspoken position on the war, but he defends my right to speak out, saying, "My job as a soldier is to defend the Constitution, and that means the right to political expression."
AT THE October 25 antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C., veterans and GIs and their families were the largest single contingent and led the march. Do you see a special role for them within the movement?
VETERANS, GIs and their families have a very unique and special voice. We are the ones making the sacrifice. We have credibility. People do listen more closely when we speak out. We know what the policies mean in reality. We know, for example, what Bush really means when he "supports the troops."
It means my son doesn't have body armor to protect himself. It means cuts in veterans' benefits. It means sending my son to Iraq without planning, without equipment, without basic supplies of food and water. I do think we have an important role to play in the current antiwar movement, as well as in the long-term redefinition of U.S. imperialistic adventures ahead.