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Cindy Sheehan of Gold Star Families for Peace:
"They died for a lie"

June 24, 2005 | Pages 6 and 7

CINDY SHEEHAN'S son Casey was killed in action in Iraq on April 4, 2004. Since then, she has tirelessly traveled the country speaking out against Bush's war. Cindy is a founding member of Gold Star Families for Peace, an organization of family members opposed to the occupation of Iraq who have lost a loved one in the conflict. She spoke to Socialist Worker's ERIC RUDER about the challenges of working to end the occupation.

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CAN YOU talk about the human toll of this war --how it has changed you and how you came to be involved in activism?

I WASN'T involved in political activism or peace activism before Casey was killed, and now I don't really think of myself in that way, even though I'm down in Washington, D.C., and talking to congressmen and senators, and testifying. I just want the war to end. I'm just trying to use every avenue that I can to make that happen.

I find the strength to go on from the millions of people who are still in harm's way in Iraq. People are dying and being slaughtered every day, and every day we don't do something, more people die.

And I want to make some meaning out of my own son's death. I believe he died so needlessly and senselessly, and I want to give it some kind of a meaning. I want him to have died for peace--not for hate, not for war.

SO TO you, this struggle is about the lives of both U.S. soldiers and Iraqis.

DEFINITELY. THAT'S why I say there are millions of people in harm's way. Everyone who is in Iraq right now is in harm's way--it doesn't matter if they're American or Iraqi. And our government's reckless foreign policy has put them there.

DICK CHENEY recently claimed that the Iraqi resistance is in its "last throes," but at the same time, many in the U.S. establishment warn that a large U.S. presence will be required for years to keep Iraq from slipping into civil war. What would you say to someone trying to make sense of all this?

I THINK Iraq is already in a civil war for one thing. Iraqis are killing Iraqis--what do you call that?

I think it's chaos, and I think our very presence there is fueling the killing. We need to let the Iraqi people govern themselves and run their own country. And we need to start getting our military presence out of there and help them as much as we can with money and supplies and whatever else they need--but they don't need our Army to be in their country.

SOME PRO-WAR people say that if you oppose the war, you are against the troops. What do you respond to that?

I HEAR that all the time, and my answer is that our own government doesn't support the troops. They don't have the proper armor, even after two years. Not all of the Humvees are armored. They don't have the right supplies. Their government put them in harm's way for no reason, and now, more than 1,700 Americans, and tens of thousands of Iraqis are dead.

Once the troops come home from being in Iraq, it's really hard for them to find help in the VA [Veterans' Administration] system. It might take them months. I know some soldiers who've waited more than a year to get help from the VA.

This war has definitively been proven to be based on a lie and a betrayal, and so the only way to support our young people is to get them out of there and bring them home alive and as mentally healthy as we can.

SOME IN the antiwar movement say that it is irresponsible to call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops because "we have to finish what we started" and not "abandon the Iraqi people."

THE IRRESPONSIBLE thing was going in there in the first place. Iraq is where civilization began, and to say that they can't handle their own affairs is basically racist.

We have to give them the credit to be able to rebuild their own country--to get back on their feet again. They need the jobs. We have foreign contractors over there taking their jobs. And what does it mean "to finish the job?" What is the job? How can you "finish" imperialism? It doesn't end--it just spreads.

Some people may think that we're fighting terrorism over there. But when is that job ever going to be complete? Terrorism is just a new "ism." It was "communism" when I was growing up.

The American people have always been far ahead of our politicians--and I think that's because they don't hear from us a lot. They need to hear from us more.

I talked to senators this past week, and they say, "You know, we had to vote for the money to support the troops." But very little of that money gets to the troops--most of it goes to lining the pockets of the war profiteers and the mercenaries who are sometimes making $1,000 a day. They're pulling in $200k a year, and our guys are maybe making $24,000 if they're lucky.

I ALSO think the Democrats are just as committed to the war and the overall goal as the Republicans are.

THEY'RE ALL getting money from the sources. They're all profiting from keeping the war going. They're only going to do what's good for them until the American people make them do otherwise.

DOZENS OF soldiers have gone public with their opposition to the war, and thousands more have simply not reported for duty. How should the antiwar movement support these resisters?

I DEFINITELY think that we should support war resisters in the military. This war is not only illegal, but it's immoral--in fact, some people might say all war is immoral. It's our job as moral human beings to oppose it--and oppose it in any way that we can.

I know several people who are being court-martialed, and they need support--they need monetary support, they need our moral support, and they need to know that we're with them.

We need to encourage more people to do this. The people who go public--like Kevin Benderman, Pablo Paredes and Camilo Mejía--are doing a public service to this country, by showing soldiers and our young people in the military that there is an alternative to going over, and killing and dying in an immoral war.

Even though the alternative might be prison, I wish my son was in prison instead of in his grave. I wish he didn't have to die for a lie and for this immorality.

Casey never thought this war was right. He never agreed with the commander-in-chief. He thought the war was wrong. He was a follower of Jesus Christ, and it surprised the hell out of us when he joined the Army. But he did it to serve, not to go kill innocent people in a war that didn't make any sense. I begged him not to go, but he said, "Mom, it's my duty, my buddies are going, so I have to go."

I'm hoping that if he had been over there for a while, he would have come to the same conclusion as Camilo and Pablo and Kevin--that, no, I'm not going to obey these orders.

The bigotry of the "patriots"

A FILIPINA mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan was denied membership in American Gold Star Mothers--because she wasn't a U.S. citizen. Ligaya Lagman was rejected for membership by the pro-war, pro-Pentagon organization--which has no relationship to the antiwar group Gold Star Families for Peace.

Widespread criticism that a policy barring membership of non-citizens is xenophobic only seemed to make the American Gold Star Families' 12-member board dig in its heels. After voting unanimously to retain its exclusionary membership rules, President Ann Herd explained the group's philosophy: "We can't go changing the rules every time the wind blows."

Such views are to be expected from an organization that was founded in 1928, granted a federal charter in 1984 under Ronald Reagan--and whose stated mission is to "assist and further all patriotic work," "maintain true allegiance to the United States of America," and "inspire respect for the Stars and Stripes in the youth of America."

Cindy Sheehan, who co-founded Gold Star Families for Peace, is appalled that American Gold Star Mothers rejected Lagman's membership. "It's tragic and ironic that it's okay for America to kill her son, but she can't join an organization," said Sheehan. "She is a Gold Star mom because her son was killed in war. She should automatically belong to that group if she wants to.

"But it's a rah-rah, pro-war, go-Mr.-President organization anyway. We've asked her to join Gold Star Families for Peace, but there is a language barrier, and her son said that she doesn't want to join any more organizations or try to join because she got burned so badly. We don't have an application process. If you have a loved one killed in the war, that's your membership into Gold Star Families for Peace."

Behind the Army's recruitment crisis

THE ARMY has missed its recruitment goals for the last four months running and is now in danger of missing its annual goal for the first time since 1999. Army recruiters only met 75 percent of their quota of recruiting 6,700 in May. The Army National Guard got 71 percent of its goal of 5,791, and the Army Reserve got 82 percent of its goal of 2,759.

The Navy, Air Force and Marines met their recruitment goals in May, but the Army makes up the bulk of U.S. forces in Iraq and is also facing the most acute crisis because its ranks have been depleted by long deployments, high casualties and falling interest among potential recruits who know that enlistment means almost certain deployment to a war zone.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld downplayed the news, saying that because the Army is trying to increase its size by 8,000 this year, the goal that it's failing to meet is more ambitious than usual.

But retired Major Gen. Robert Scales, former head of the U.S. Army War College, disagrees. "The last three recruiting months have taught the Army the lesson that the traditional peacetime policies for recruiting and selection have been stretched about as far as they can do it," Scales told National Public Radio on June 10. "And simply throwing money in terms of bonuses at young soldiers to get them into the service is no longer enough to meet the numbers."

This leaves two options. Scales advocates paying more money to active-duty soldiers in a combat zone--a lot more money. The other option is a draft, which would certainly inflame public opinion at a time when support for Bush's wars is already at its lowest level since the U.S. invaded Iraq and Afghanistan.

In fact, the shortfall of new Army recruits would be even more severe if the Army hadn't lowered its May goal by 1,350 and started encouraging its recruiters to sign up people it previously would have rejected. To fill its quotas, the Army is taking in more people without a high school diploma and applicants who score lower on the Army's aptitude tests.

"The Army is so desperate for even lukewarm bodies that it is reluctant to release even problem soldiers--troops who are seriously out of shape, or pregnant, or abusing alcohol or drugs," writes New York Times columnist Bob Herbert.

The Army is also offering a 15-month enlistment option, which is shorter than its former two-year minimum, as well as signing bonuses up to $40,000.

"There's something frankly embarrassing about a government offering trinkets to children to persuade them to go off and fight--and perhaps die--in a war that their nation should never have started in the first place," continues Herbert. "It's highly questionable whether most high school kids are equipped to make an informed decision about joining the military, which is exactly why they're targeted...The parents of the kids being sought by recruiters to fight this unpopular war are creating a highly vocal and potentially very effective antiwar movement. In effect, they're saying to their own children: hell no, you won't go."

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