I loved making these origami paper cranes when I was a child. I was taught by Japanese friend of the family when we were stationed in Japan. It's a small, calming, creative action, taking a piece of paper and transforming it into something else.
Parents who lose children, whether through accident or illness, inevitably wonder what they could have done to prevent their loss. When my son was killed in Iraq earlier this month at age 27, I found myself pondering my responsibility for his death.
Among the hundreds of messages that my wife and I have received, two bore directly on this question. Both held me personally culpable, insisting that my public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Each said that my son's death came as a direct result of my antiwar writings.
This may seem a vile accusation to lay against a grieving father. But in fact, it has become a staple of American political discourse, repeated endlessly by those keen to allow President Bush a free hand in waging his war. By encouraging "the terrorists," opponents of the Iraq conflict increase the risk to U.S. troops. Although the First Amendment protects antiwar critics from being tried for treason, it provides no protection for the hardly less serious charge of failing to support the troops -- today's civic equivalent of dereliction of duty.
What exactly is a father's duty when his son is sent into harm's way?
Among the many ways to answer that question, mine was this one: As my son was doing his utmost to be a good soldier, I strove to be a good citizen.As a citizen, I have tried since Sept. 11, 2001, to promote a critical understanding of U.S. foreign policy. I know that even now, people of good will find much to admire in Bush's response to that awful day. They applaud his doctrine of preventive war. They endorse his crusade to spread democracy across the Muslim world and to eliminate tyranny from the face of the Earth. They insist not only that his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was correct but that the war there can still be won. Some -- the members of the "the-surge-is-already-working" school of thought -- even profess to see victory just over the horizon.
I believe that such notions are dead wrong and doomed to fail. In books, articles and op-ed pieces, in talks to audiences large and small, I have said as much. "The long war is an unwinnable one," I wrote in this section of The Washington Post in August 2005. "The United States needs to liquidate its presence in Iraq, placing the onus on Iraqis to decide their fate and creating the space for other regional powers to assist in brokering a political settlement. We've done all that we can do."
Not for a second did I expect my own efforts to make a difference. But I did nurse the hope that my voice might combine with those of others -- teachers, writers, activists and ordinary folks -- to educate the public about the folly of the course on which the nation has embarked. I hoped that those efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond.
This, I can now see, was an illusion.
The people have spoken, and nothing of substance has changed. The November 2006 midterm elections signified an unambiguous repudiation of the policies that landed us in our present predicament. But half a year later, the war continues, with no end in sight. Indeed, by sending more troops to Iraq (and by extending the tours of those, like my son, who were already there), Bush has signaled his complete disregard for what was once quaintly referred to as "the will of the people."
To be fair, responsibility for the war's continuation now rests no less with the Democrats who control Congress than with the president and his party. After my son's death, my state's senators, Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, telephoned to express their condolences. Stephen F. Lynch, our congressman, attended my son's wake. Kerry was present for the funeral Mass. My family and I greatly appreciated such gestures. But when I suggested to each of them the necessity of ending the war, I got the brushoff. More accurately, after ever so briefly pretending to listen, each treated me to a convoluted explanation that said in essence: Don't blame me.
To whom do Kennedy, Kerry and Lynch listen? We know the answer: to the same people who have the ear of George W. Bush and Karl Rove -- namely, wealthy individuals and institutions.
Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008. When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.
Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check. It's roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month.
Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics. It confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels. It preserves intact the cliches of 1933-45 about isolationism, appeasement and the nation's call to "global leadership." It inhibits any serious accounting of exactly how much our misadventure in Iraq is costing. It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech little more than a means of recording dissent.
This is not some great conspiracy. It's the way our system works.
In joining the Army, my son was following in his father's footsteps: Before he was born, I had served in Vietnam. As military officers, we shared an ironic kinship of sorts, each of us demonstrating a peculiar knack for picking the wrong war at the wrong time. Yet he was the better soldier -- brave and steadfast and irrepressible.
I know that my son did his best to serve our country. Through my own opposition to a profoundly misguided war, I thought I was doing the same. In fact, while he was giving his all, I was doing nothing. In this way, I failed him.
Andrew J. Bacevich teaches history and international relations at Boston University. His son died May 13 after a suicide bomb explosion in Salah al-Din province.
War Widows Lobby for Better Benefits
May 26, 6:23 AM EDT
By KIMBERLY HEFLING
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Marie Jordan Speer and Jessica Byrd each sent a husband to war. Each became a widow in her early 20s. Speer had a 1-year-old son. Byrd was pregnant with her son. Suddenly on their own, both women were again dependent on their families. The biggest difference between their plights is 60 years - Speer's husband died in World War II, Byrd's in Iraq.
Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the graying membership of the Gold Star Wives, which Speer founded in 1945, is relevant all over again, advocating on behalf of an estimated 1,600 new widows and widowers.
"It was somebody to lean on, because my family could only take so much," said Byrd, 25, who got involved the Gold Star Wives through its Internet chat room after her husband, Marine Lance Cpl. John Byrd, died in 2004.
Most of the chatting, Byrd said, took place during "the famous widow hours" - the middle of the night, when she couldn't sleep. "I could go on it and cry without waking my family up, and I'd have other women crying with me and telling me they'd been through it and everything was going to be OK," she said.
"There's a lot in common because you have to get on your own feet," said Speer, 86, who attended a Capitol Hill reception last week with about 50 widows of all ages, and several members of Congress. "What we're trying to encourage is for the younger women to take more initiative and take it over because somebody told me that you don't live forever."
Gold Star's two main lobbyists, Edith Smith, 66, and Rose Lee, 78, are volunteers who have been teaching a small group of Iraq war widows about the legislative process and testifying at congressional hearings.
Lee, whose husband, Army Col. C.M. Lee, died on active duty in Taiwan in 1972 after fighting in Korea and Vietnam, said the lawmakers treat them kindly, but getting them to ante up more financial support for war widows is not always easy to do. Survivors today seem to receive better benefits, Lee said, but with the changing cost of living, it's hard to tell if they are better off than those from previous eras.
Kimberly Hazelgrove, 33, whose husband, Army CW2 Brian Hazelgrove, died in Iraq three years ago, said she's already learned one thing. "Be very patient, but to also be pro-active in getting what you deserve," she said.
What they find is that when it comes to the struggles of the survivors of dead soldiers, little has changed since 1945. There's the loneliness factor, and while they do get benefits, it's often not enough to cover the loss of one family member's paycheck.
After Byrd's husband died, she had to leave Hawaii, where he was stationed, and go back home to Philadelphia. Only recently, she got her own place with their 2-year-old son, Elijah. She is not working, she said, because childcare is too expensive to make it worthwhile.
Marion Rudin Frank, a psychologist who leads Gold Star's Philadelphia chapter, said that after her husband's plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 1965, no one explained to her that she was eligible to receive educational benefits. At 23, she scraped by as a single parent and paid for graduate school herself.
"This is not a group that wants new members, but of course we have new members that we really have to fight for," said Frank, whose husband was Air Force 2nd Lt. Ira J. Husik. "We don't want them to go through some of the things we didn't have to go through."
Speer said she started the Gold Star Wives after contacting other widows she read of in a newspaper. One week later, President Roosevelt died.
Soon after, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt accepted their invitation to join. She later had the ladies over to her Hyde Park home for blueberries topped with whipped cream. Other chapters starting popping up once Mrs. Roosevelt wrote about the group in her "My Day" newspaper column.
During World War II, Speer said, there was no death gratuity like the $100,000 given to Iraq widows today. World War II widows received a pension of $50 per month, with an additional $15 for the first child and $10 for each additional child. They also received $10,000 in insurance, doled out to young widows over 20 years - which amounted to $55 per month, she said.
"You had to go home to Mama and Papa every once in a while to eat," said Speer, whose husband, Army Pvt. Edward H. Jordan, died in 1944.
Today, the Gold Star Wives have more than 10,000 members. Men whose wives died while serving on active duty or as the result of a service-connected disability are also eligible to join.
The Gold Star members successfully pushed for the passage of a law that says spouses who remarry after age 57 can keep the Veterans Affairs Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, a monthly benefit paid to eligible survivors of certain deceased veterans. They also successfully advocated to extend the time for widows to use their education benefit from 10 years to 20 years.
The Army says its Stryker armored vehicles have never fired depleted uranium rounds in Hawai'i, and there is no intent for them to ever do so.
That leaves Dr. Lorrin Pang unsatisfied.
"I guess the community is a little bit worried about (the Army's) credibility, so they would like to set up for monitoring," said Pang, the state Health Department's district officer for Maui County.
Pang, who also spent 24 years in the Army and was a preventive medicine officer at Tripler Army Medical Center in the late 1980s — and speaking as a private citizen and not in his official capacity — supported a bill that would have required regular soil testing at Schofield Barracks for the presence of depleted uranium.
The bill died in conference committee this past legislative session.The revelation in January 2006 that the Army had found 15 tail assemblies from depleted uranium aiming rounds used in a 1960s weapon, coupled with the Stryker vehicle's ability to fire rounds with the weakly radioactive material, is spreading new concerns that the Army says are unfounded, and some community members say amount to a potential health risk.
But what the military hates more than anything in the world is a soldier that thinks for him/herself and makes his/her voice heard, especially when that voice is telling the truth.
It was an average soldier who blew the whistle on the tortures and inhumanity at Abu Gharib.
It was an average soldier who pointed his finger right back at Rumsfeld and asked, "When will we get armor for our trucks?!"
It was a group of average soldiers who refused a suicide mission to deliver tainted fuel into a combat zone with no crew-served weapons or ammunition to defend themselves with, and no armor to protect them whatsoever.
It was an average soldier who publicly interrupted his Colonel saying, "No sir, America is not at war. Its soldiers are at war. America is at the mall!"
To assume that a soldier will blindly follow along in the wake of criminality of an illegal and bloody occupation does not give enough credit to the conscious of the human mind.
To think that silencing a soldier's voice to hide the truth will help us win this war is absolutely ludicrous!Major General John Batiste takes the President on, directly, when he says that he's just 'listening to commanders on the ground' in Iraq. Batiste should know if the President is listening or not, since he was one of those commanders!
read more about this ad and other ads coming from other Generals at Vote Vets website
Deanie Francis Mills is the author of 10 suspense thrillers, including ORDEAL and TIGHTROPE, and one true-crime, FACES OF EVIL, (which she co-authored with Houston PD forensic sketch artist Lois Gibson.) Her work has also appeared in numerous national magazines, and she is an experienced public speaker.
In 2004, when her son, Dustin, deployed to Iraq with the United States Marine Corps, Mills found she could no longer sit on the sidelines and watch a war she opposed, not when three close family members deployed, between them, six times to Iraq with the Marine Corps and the army.
In 2006, when her son deployed to Iraq a second time, Deanie started the political blog, "Deanie's Blue Inkblots" (formerly "Blue Inkblots").
On the first anniversary of his son's death in Iraq, John Fenton spoke out against the war Wednesday during a rally in front of the National Guard Armory.
"I just find it frightening," Fenton said. "We're going nowhere and we're going nowhere fast. And it's mostly young kids dying, I just don't understand it."
Matthew Fenton, a 24-year-old Marine Corps sergeant from Little Ferry, was wounded by shrapnel while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province on April 26, 2006. He died at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., less than two weeks later, a day after receiving a Purple Heart.