Military families send message to the war makers:
By Eric Ruder | September 10, 2004 | Page 12
"I DON'T want my son or anyone else's son or daughter to have to go to Iraq." Those were the words of Michael McPherson, a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War, as he spoke to thousands of people gathered in New York City's Union Square.
For four days, a parade of flag-waving Republicans celebrated war inside Madison Square Garden--with wall-to-wall media coverage, a 30-foot high video screen and 10,000 police to provide "security." But a dozen blocks away in Union Square, U.S. soldiers and veterans, along with family members, took to a makeshift podium on the last day of the convention to denounce Bush's war on Iraq, expose the callous treatment of veterans--and voice their anger at the loss of life in Iraq.
They grieved not only for their sons and daughters and brothers and sisters, but also for the lives of Iraqis destroyed in the U.S. war for oil and empire. Throughout the day, thousands came to the square to view a display of nearly 1,000 pairs of combat boots laid out in a careful grid, each carrying the name of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.
Then there were pairs of sandals, sneakers and rubber boots--to stand for the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. bombs and bullets. "I'm concerned we're in a war that we shouldn't be in," said McPherson, whose son is scheduled to ship out for Iraq in the coming months. "There are soldiers dying every day. And they are killing innocent Iraqis.
"Those boots could have been me 12 years ago or any one of our comrades here today that did not die in war by the grace of God. And it could be my son in the future. So that's why I'm here." With fierce fighting continuing in several Iraqi cities, August became the month with the highest toll of injured U.S. soldiers--1,100--since the invasion 17 months ago.
Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Jeff Poffenbarger, the Army's chief neurosurgeon, has touched off a new scandal with research suggesting that the Army's newly redesigned helmet leaves the back and sides of soldiers' heads more exposed--and therefore more vulnerable to injury. If used by all troops in Iraq, Poffenbarger told the Wall Street Journal, the new helmet could lead to a 30 percent increase in serious head traumas.
At the Union Square protest, for hours, people took turns reading the names of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis who have died--each name followed with a single, sharp chime from a large bell. One by one, Vietnam veterans, parents of troops stationed overseas and soldiers fresh from the fighting in Iraq took turns at the mike.
Some spoke with conviction and confidence, others trembled, but the crowd hung on every word, riveted by the stories they told. Igor Bobrowsky, a Vietnam veteran who participated in the 1971 demonstration where veterans threw back their medals in Washington, D.C., choked back tears so he could read his speech.
"While lapel-pin patriotism and fear are fostered and embraced as expedient substitutes for thoughtfulness and policy, while questioning and dissent are treated with self-serving condescension and contempt, and while our nations' wealth, its good name and its ideals are being needlessly squandered, the daily dead and wounded from this administration's obsessive crusade in Iraq keep drifting back to our nation's shores in a growing legion of broken bodies and broken minds and broken spirits, mostly unseen and unknown except to their God and those who love them," said Bobrowsky, a member of the Veterans Against the Iraq War Coalition.
William Hunt, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, explained that he was in Iraq from the beginning of the invasion--and that 18 of his friends died in the battle of Nasariya. Ivan Medina, an Army soldier, spoke with his mother at his side--and a picture of his identical twin brother, who was killed in Iraq, held above him.
"I still carry my dog tags--one that's mine and one that's my twin brother's--so we will never be separated," said Ivan. "Bush sent my brother to die in an illegal war. And I want to re-state what one of my comrades from Iraq Veterans Against the War has already said. We must bring our troops home now. Not tomorrow. Not in six years. Now! We cannot allow another death in Iraq. If George Bush believes in his war, then he can send his nephew and his daughters out there."
Ivan explained that he could understand those resisting the U.S. in Iraq, even though Washington brands them as "terrorists." "They are not terrorists, because if we were in the same position, we would be attacking the enemy," he said.
Camilo Mejia couldn't attend the rally. He was the first active-duty U.S. soldier to publicly declare his unwillingness to serve in Iraq and face a court martial. In May, he was convicted of desertion and sentenced to one year of hard labor.
Mejia wrote a letter that was read aloud by his aunt. "Not too long ago," the letter read, "I was ordered to be part of a war that I knew in my heart was immoral and criminal, a war of aggression, a war of imperial domination.
"Many have called me a coward, and many have called me a hero. I believe that I can be found somewhere in the middle. For those who call me a hero, I say that I don't believe in heroes, but I believe that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
"For those who call me a coward, I say that they're wrong, but without knowing it, they're also right. They're wrong if they think that I left the war for fear of being killed. I admit that fear was there, but there was also the fear of killing innocent people, the fear of putting myself in a position where to survive means to kill, there was a fear of losing my soul in the process of saving my body..."
As Michael Hoffman, a founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War, pointed out, the struggle against the war in Iraq won't be won overnight. "This is not going to be an easy fight. Anyone who lived through Vietnam knows this," said Hoffman. "And it's not going to end with this presidential election, even if Kerry does win.
"We have to keep the struggle up every single day--until we bring them all home, until the veterans who served there receive the benefits they are due and until Iraq is rebuilt and the people of Iraq are given what is owed to them."
Father of Marine killed in Iraq:
FERNANDO SUAREZ DEL SOLAR made national headlines during the week of protests in New York City with his moving speeches denouncing George W. Bush. At each demonstration, Fernando held his sign saying, "Bush lied, and my son died"--and patiently told reporters, other protesters and anyone else his wrenching story.
Fernando spoke to Socialist Worker on the day of the Union Square vigil of veterans and military families.
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WHAT DID you think of Sunday's march?
FOR ME, it was beautiful. I was very happy because I was leading the march with Michael Moore and Jesse Jackson and others. And at some point, people told me, "Fernando, you know, there are 300,000 people behind you." I thought, "Oh my God." One hour later, "Fernando, 400,000." And when we finished, they told me, "Fernando, there are a half million people!"
This is beautiful simply because we were able to do this. New York City officials said, "No, you're not going to do this. You can't speak, you can't go to Central Park." But what happened? A half million people said, "Yes, we can do this." And people went to Central Park. When people put their minds to making change, we can do it.
YOU WERE able to get inside Madison Square Garden on one of the nights of the convention. What happened?
I GOT into Madison Square Garden during Laura Bush's speech. When she finished, I unrolled my banner saying, "Bush lied, and my son died."
The security came to me, and I showed them my identification. I said to them, "If you're going to arrest me, arrest me. But remember, my son died for freedom, and the Constitution of the United States of America and the First Amendment give me the right to speak out. Go ahead, arrest me." And nobody arrested me. I spent two hours inside with my sign behind the Texas delegation.
WHAT KIND of response did you get?
IT SURPRISED me. Nobody attacked me. Many people showed their disapproval with their facial expressions. And a few people--about 20 or 30--came up to me and said they were sorry for my loss. And they said, "You're right."
My sign said, "Bush lied, and my son died," so even some Republicans acknowledge that Bush made a mistake. So it's possible that on November 2, we'll be surprised by the voters.
DOES IT disturb you that Kerry promises to send more U.S. troops overseas?
YES. WHEN people say to me that I must support Kerry because I don't support Bush, I say, "No, wait, I support peace." And right now, Kerry doesn't have my approval because in my opinion, Kerry is two-faced. He's not honest.
Sometimes, he says this war is a mistake. But other times, he says we'll send more of our men and women over there, and they'll be there for two, three or more years. It's very important that Kerry takes a clear stand on whether he does or does not support the war.
In November, Kerry could win the election, and the people will take to the streets again against Kerry. I think the American people need jobs and need education, and shouldn't have to go into the streets to demand justice.