This was originally published in August of 2006. I have changed a few words to make it more appropriate for today's situation.
On April 21, 2005, under the cover of darkness the Bush administration completed a secret mission. It wasn't a flight by Bush, Rice or Rumsfeld into dangerous territory. It was the unloading of PFC Steven Sirko's body from the cargo hold of a commercial aircraft. Luggage, animals and other cargo were all prioritized over the remains of a young man who had given his life for his country in a war that never should have been waged. Under the cover of darkness, Steven Sirko's body was returned to his mother.
On Saturday August 12, 2006, the Freedom Group in Charlotte held a candlelight peace vigil to shed light on the human cost of the U.S. War in Iraq. Summer Lipford, Steven Sirko's mother was there to speak of her personal battle to get answers from the government about what actually happened to her son.
Summer Lipford is joining a growing number of military families to speak out against the Bush administration. Cindy Sheehan may be the most well-known of the Gold Star Moms speaking out against the war, but others are joining their ranks seeking answers and trying to find some peace with the knowledge that their child died in what now is considered by most to be an unjustifiable war of aggression.
In January 2006, Paul Schroeder shared these thoughts in a piece written for The Washington Post:
At times like this, people say, "He died a hero." I know this is meant with great sincerity. We appreciate the many condolences we have received and how helpful they have been. But when heard repeatedly, the phrases "he died a hero" or "he died a patriot" or "he died for his country" rub raw.
"People think that if they say that, somehow it makes it okay that he died," our daughter, Amanda, has said. "He was a hero before he died, not just because he went to Iraq. I was proud of him before, and being a patriot doesn't make his death okay. I'm glad he got so much respect at his funeral, but that didn't make it okay either."
The men and women who don a uniform and stand up for our country are heroes and they are heroes long before they reach a battlefield.
Being anti-war doesn't mean that we can't understand the need for a strong military. Believing in a strong military doesn't mean we have to believe that war is the best solution to the world's problems. We can support our troops without wanting to leave them in harm's way. Those who say it damages troop morale when we urge our government to bring the troops home don't seem to understand that war is not an exercise in self-esteem building.
War is real. It is dangerous and real sons and daughters, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers are dying in Iraq. If our mission is not accomplished it isn't because they weren't brave enough or didn't shoot straight enough or weren't willing to die often enough.
If we leave Iraq without accomplishing the administration's mission, it is because the Bush administration wanted the wrong war, in the wrong country for all the wrong reasons. To make the war more palatable they sent fewer troops than military experts estimated it would take for success and to make it more affordable they sent our troops into harms way without the necessary equipment to protect them.
Opposition to the war in Iraq was swift and sure for some. For others it has taken time to grow. Now that polls show a majority of the country thinks it is time to begin withdrawing troops, more voices are chiming in to be heard. In his letter, Paul Schroeder says the voices need to be louder in order to truly honor those who have died.
But their deaths will not be in vain if Americans stop hiding behind flag-draped hero masks and stop whispering their opposition to this war. Until then, the lives of other sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers may be wasted as well.
I grew up during the Vietnam War. I remember the war protests. Like many of my friends, I wore a copper bracelet with the name of a POW on it. I remember television coverage of men coming home and running into the arms of their mothers and wives and grabbing their children, some being embraced for the first time. There were no cameras trained on the families of those men who were returned home in boxes or who were missing in action and never came home. Those families were momentarily moved aside so that we could forget about the horrors of war and experience the joy of the waiting families and their heroes as they returned home.
It is time to truly honor Casey Sheehan, Steven Sirko and Auggie Schroeder by bringing home their fellow heroes. It is time to honor them by speaking out in a loud voice with a sure heart and a clear purpose. It is time to support those remaining in Iraq by bringing them home. Let's honor those who gave their lives and lets honor their families by keeping their fellow soldiers from greater harm.
Don't let the Bush administration hide under the shroud of darkness any longer. Make them face the tragic human losses that have been felt on both sides for a war with no clearly defined purpose or clear path for success. Acknowledge the human cost of this war as vocally as you protest the billions of dollars wasted on it. Acknowledge the loss of Iraqi lives as well and accept their value.
When John Kerry returned from Vietnam, he felt the scorn of fellow soldiers when he spoke out against the war and testified before Congress. In reading a transcript of the words Kerry spoke that day it's surprising how much of what he says holds true for the war in Iraq.
We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.
There are those today who refuse to give up the image of the American Soldier as liberator being greeted with flowers by jubilant Iraqi citizens. They cling to this image because it is less painful than admitting the war is wrong.
In his speech John Kerry asked,
How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?
I have an even tougher question for you. How do you ask an 18-year-old boy to be the last man to die in Iraq?
If you pray, please pray for our troops and pray for Iraqi citizens. If you do not pray, please send them hope.
Let's bring them home, now.
When I originally wrote this, the opposition to the war hadn't reached a fever pitch. I would never encourage anyone who chooses prayer to stop praying, but it's time to go way beyond that.
It's time we demand that Congress stop all funding for war in Iraq or Iran and fund only efforts to withdraw our troops and maintain their safety while there. There is precedence. From Think Progress:
The proposals to restrict funds and force withdrawal produced intense pressure on Nixon to bring an end to the war on his own terms before his legislative opponents gained too much ground. During Nixon's first term, there were 80 roll call votes on the war in Congress; there had only been 14 between 1966 and 1968.
In 1972, Church and Senator Clifford Case of New Jersey were able to push through the Senate an amendment to foreign-aid legislation that would end funding for all U.S. military operations in Southeast Asia except for withdrawal (subject to the release of all prisoners of war). Senate passage of the legislation, with the amendment, marked the first time that either chamber had passed a provision establishing a cutoff of funds for continuing the war. Though House and Senate conferees failed to reach an agreement on the measure, the support for the amendment was seen by the administration as another sign that antiwar forces were gaining strength. The McGovern-Hatfield amendment was enormously popular with the public. A January 1971 Gallup poll showed that public support for the amendment stood at 73 percent.
History not only gives us a blueprint for how troop withdrawal can be accomplished by cutting off funding for the war, but it gives us some guidelines for how withdrawal shouldn't be done. The History News Networkhas a nice piece outlining how the US handled the ending of the war in Vietnam almost 40 years ago. It's not like we haven't been down this road before.
Fifty years ago, in the eyes of much of America, the world's greatest threat was communism. Today, in the eyes of many American's, the world's greatest threat is George W. Bush.
John Edwards has called for an immediate partial troop withdrawal and for congress to block funding for escalation of the war. He isn't alone. John Kerry, Barack Obama and many others in congress are doing the same.
What can we do? Sign every petition. March for peace. Write your congressperson and senators. Encourage your local Democratic precinct, party and state party organizations to vote on resolutions to end the war. Write letters to the editor. Shout it from the rooftops.
End the war. Bring our heroes home.