Cindy Sheehan's War

Not One More Mother’s Child, by Cindy Sheehan (Koa Books, 2005); 204 pages; $15.00.

On August 3, 2005, a former youth minister in Vacaville, California, was at home watching a television report of the deaths of 14 more U.S. Marines in Iraq. Her eldest son, whom she deeply loved, had been killed 16 months earlier in Sadr City, Baghdad, by members of a Shi’ite militia group. Army Specialist Casey Austin Sheehan was ambushed and murdered while he was on a mission to rescue wounded soldiers. As part of the television report, there was shown a clip of President George W. Bush describing his preemptive war against Iraq and the subsequent occupation of that country as “a noble cause,” one that justified the casualties among U.S. forces. Bush added that the Iraq “mission” needed to be completed “to honor the sacrifices of the fallen.” Those words so enraged Cindy Sheehan that she decided to go to the Bush ranch near Crawford, Texas, and demand that he explain his “noble cause” and that he stop using the bodies of her son and others to justify the continued killing. Her subsequent emergence as a leading figure in the anti-war movement began with her arrival in Crawford three days later.

Sheehan’s crusade against the war did not begin in Crawford. Since Casey’s death, little more than a month shy of his 25th birthday, she had written letters, given speeches, and testified before Congress against the war and continued occupation of Iraq, as well as founding the Gold Star Families for Peace. But it was her vigil in a roadside ditch outside the president’s ranch, as she and other protesters waited in vain for a meeting with him, that captured media attention and made her internationally known as the “Peace Mom.”

From the ditch to a campsite at a road intersection — which a member of the Iraq Veterans Against the War christened “Camp Casey” — to a larger site provided by a local property owner, she waited to ask her question as thousands flocked to Crawford to join her vigil and to demonstrate against the war and occupation. Her resultant celebrity came at great personal cost. Her private life became the object of public scrutiny and misrepresentation. She was, and continues to be, vilified by conservative commentators and talk-show hosts and maliciously lied about on the Internet; and she has been arrested several times in later demonstrations and in peaceable assemblies held to petition her government for a redress of grievances.

This intensely personal collection of Cindy Sheehan’s letters, speeches, blog entries, and short essays accomplishes several goals despite its brevity. In passionate but clear and direct prose, it provides an absolutely uncompromising assessment of the fundamental failure of President Bush to justify his unconstitutional, preemptive war against Iraq. It relates the transformation of a former Catholic youth minister, and mother of a son killed early in the Iraq occupation, into an internationally known public figure in the anti-war movement. It provides a day-to-day chronicle of the August 2005 war protest outside the Bush ranch — after which the “Bring Them Home Now Tour” journeyed from city to city for speeches and war protests, ending with a protest that drew more than 300,000 demonstrators to the Mall in Washington, D.C., on September 24.

Sheehan pulls absolutely no punches in deeming the president and his top aides war criminals, liars, murderers, cowards, and morally corrupt political figures. As she reminds us, all they offer to justify the blood on their hands is smoke and mirrors. The succession of past excuses for the war that began with the unsupported claim that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” have fallen by the wayside, one by one, as either their fatuity or falseness have been revealed.

She condemns as well the cowardice of most members of Congress, who can neither summon the courage to assert their constitutional war powers nor impeach a president who broke his oath to uphold and preserve the Constitution of the United States by waging an undeclared war and lying about the reasons for it. She also condemns the sycophancy of the mainstream press and the political apathy of the American public, who allow the killing in Iraq to continue and our troops to be sacrificed for no good reason. And she makes it clear that if the war was a mistake, the only moral remedy is to admit it and get out of Iraq.

Especially of interest to anyone considering enlisting in the U.S. military are the details Sheehan provides of the lies told and false promises made by military recruiters to get the human fuel for Donald Rumsfeld’s war machine. And, once enlisted, it is difficult to get out at the end of the contract period. Using “Stop-Loss” as a bludgeon, the military offers only the choice to reenlist and get a bonus payment or not to reenlist and get enslaved. Any parent whose son or daughter is considering entering the military during the Bush presidency should give him or her a copy of this book — and soon.

The book also puts to rest a number of falsities and malicious lies about Sheehan that have appeared in the media and circulated on the Internet since she rose to prominence in August. These include the falsity that she has been divorced from her husband since Casey was four, the allegation that she and her supporters went to Louisiana after the hurricane Katrina disaster in order to garner publicity, the lie that she is anti-Semitic and said her son died protecting Israel, the claim that she has no voice of her own and is a mere puppet for the enemies of the Bush administration, and the accusation that she is unpatriotic and is providing aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States.

The truth is that Cindy Sheehan and her husband were married for 28 years and raised all four of their children together. Their separation and his filing for divorce occurred after Casey’s death. The “Bring Them Home Now Tour” went to Covington and Algiers, Louisiana, in early September to convey more than five tons of leftover supplies from Crawford’s “Camp Casey II” site to victims of the Gulf disaster in the absence of federal help to those cities. Tour members also stayed to provide additional support and continuing communication with the outside world, as well as coverage of the occupation military forces in the disaster area. An email apparently altered by a former friend with his own agenda contained the lie about Israel. And if love of country means “tough love” when one believes that political leaders are betraying its constitution, wasting its resources, and sacrificing the members of its armed forces for reasons that they either will not or cannot explain in plain language, then Cindy Sheehan is a greater patriot than any of those who assail her for her criticisms of this country’s leadership.

Almost laughable is the claim that Sheehan is a puppet or tool of others. On meeting her, one is immediately impressed with her strength of character, the depth of her sincerity, and her absolute conviction that she is right to do what she is doing. Her intelligence, as well as clarity and integrity of purpose, are plainly revealed in the writings collected in this book. As she put it (p. 116) on August 20, “Contrary to what the mainstream media thinks, I did not just fall off a pumpkin truck in Crawford, Texas…. I have been writing, speaking, testifying in front of congressional committees, lobbying Congress, and doing interviews for over a year now.”

Cautioned by supporters to tone down her rhetoric to broaden her appeal, she reacts with scorn, asking why such a big movement rose from such a small action on August 6, 2005. Cindy Sheehan is the street fighter of anti-war rhetoricians and her simple eloquence draws crowds. Those who stand with her see a leader and protector. Those who defend the war fear her outspokenness against it and the doubts that she raises among the general public. Consequently, they vilify her. They recognize a moral avenger when they see one. Presciently, she wrote, “I do have a big mouth and a righteous cause,” in a letter to George Bush on November 4, 2004. In a speech she gave at Camp Casey on August 24, 2005, she said (p. 131) that if Casey were to have anything to say to George Bush for sending him to his death it would be, “You didn’t know what you were getting into.”


December 15, 2005