Antiwar sentiment gets champion
Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside Bush's Texas ranch brings focus to a protest movement that's been largely unseen and ineffective.
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Activists say the grumbling about the war extends to some in the active-duty ranks. Even though there is no draft today, they note that the war has stretched on long enough, and has involved enough multiple deployments of many older National Guard and Reserve troops with family and work responsibilities back home, that misgivings are surfacing.Skip to next paragraph
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"We don't have a 'conscription draft,' as we say, but we have an economic draft [recruiters increasingly targeting poorer high school students], a backdoor draft with the National Guard and Reserves [who now make up more than 40 percent of US troops in Iraq], with the stop-loss program and the calling up of the Individual Ready Reserves," says Steve Morse of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, which offers counseling on a "GI Hotline" at 13 locations around the country.
The group Iraq Veterans Against the War was launched a year ago. Yet like its Vietnam counterpart in the 1960s and 70s, it remains a minority voice.
In a survey of service members earlier this year, readers of Military Times publications agreed that the US should have gone to war in Iraq by a 60-21 percent margin. The University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey last fall found that 64 percent of military personnel sampled (compared to 45 percent of the general population) said the situation in Iraq had been worth going to war over. Among those who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, however, that dropped to 55 percent.
In any case, GI's seem to take a realistically sober view of the war. The Military Times survey found that about half thought it would take 5-10 years for the US to achieve its goals in Iraq. A plurality (47 percent) thought the media should publish or broadcast news stories "that suggest the war is not going well," and 65 percent said "it should be OK to publish photographs of flag-draped coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base from Iraq."
On the road outside Bush's ranch, the view is even more sober - and the anger more prevalent.
"I have a feeling that a lot of people have found their voice in her [Cindy Sheehan]," says Hadi Jawad, an activist in Dallas who helped found "Peace House" in Crawford near the Bush ranch. "She is articulating what is in their hearts."
About a dozen military families have arrived to lend a hand in the Sheehan protest. They come from Alabama, California, Georgia, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas - and most have lost a loved one.
"We are here for all the soldiers who don't have a voice anymore," says Sergio Torres, whose son Army Sgt. Daniel Torres was killed in February when a roadside bomb hit his unarmored Humvee.
At what's called "Camp Casey," after her son who was killed, Sheehan is shepherded from interview to interview, sometimes using a protester's van to take media calls on a cell phone. Outside her tent, supporters have placed flowers and signs.
Since arriving Aug. 6, she has endured Texas thunderstorms, jalapeño heat, and unfriendly stares from some local people. "Last night I had fire ants crawling all over me," Sheehan says. "Physically it's very uncomfortable, but I think of all the soldiers in Iraq who, when it's too hot or too stormy, can't go into town for refuge. As bad as we have it here, it's nothing compared to how bad they have it over there."
The president's motorcade passed by for the first time on Friday, on its way to a Republican fundraiser down Prairie Chapel Road. But even if she doesn't get to meet with him, Sheehan says, "I've accomplished a lot by putting this war back on the front page where it should be."
At that moment, a counter-protester appeared with a sign that read, "Your son is a hero, not a victim!" Sheehan was whisked away before the two could meet.