By Clare Hanrahan
“The time for dissent is passed once the war is declared,” one Asheville resident recently wrote to a local paper. He echoed a sentiment of many who fear for the lives of loved ones in this coming war. “Don’t undermine the morale of our troops now that they are deployed,” is another caution, skillfully manipulated by a government determined to go to war despite mainstream millions worldwide who call for restraint, diplomacy and for genuine efforts to avoid another barbaric assault on the people of Iraq.

This war is wrong. It is an immoral and illegal act of terror. It will continue to be wrong throughout its bloody course. The men and women in the U.S. military, armed with the most terrible weapons ever devised, and deployed to toxic battlefields, now await orders to unleash hellfire on a country and a people already devastated and starved. This call-up of the military has torn asunder family after family throughout western North Carolina. Already the human collateral damage of past wars and of the ongoing domestic war on the poor fills our streets, while funds for health care, housing, education, and transportation are cut to the bone.

If this war continues, many of our sons and daughters, husbands and fathers in the military will only be returned to us as ashes (an expedient measure proposed by Pentagon war planners), and we may never learn of the hundreds of thousands more Iraqi people who will die, most noncombatants. Those who have called for the “Support Our Soldiers” rally in Asheville attempt to equate dissent with disrespect for the men and women who have chosen the military path. This is deceitful, divisive and dangerous. Among the 2,000 who participated in the February 15 peace rally in Asheville, many are veterans; others have lost loved ones in previous wars and would not wish this grief on any other family. We oppose this war because it is wrong and unnecessary. We oppose this war because it violates the very Constitution our soldiers have sworn to uphold. We oppose this war because we fear our government’s unchecked power far more than we fear the dangerous dictator in Iraq. We oppose this war because we believe that the best way to support our soldiers is to refuse to consent to the wanton exploitation of their noble impulse, and the reckless abuse of their precious lives.

“Back our Boys in Vietnam” was the only bumper sticker my parents ever allowed on our family car when I was a teenager in Memphis. This was after my older brother, Tommy, joined the Marines just out of high school. In solidarity, my sister Eileen and I joined the USO. We wanted to show our support and express our patriotic sentiments. We wanted to do what was right in a time of war, as we believed our brave brother had done when called on by his country. I was naïve and blindly patriotic, and deeply concerned for my family and friends in the military. I would have waved the flag in any “Support our Soldiers,” rally.

As a USO volunteer I met hundreds of young men in transit to Viet Nam. Most were too young to vote, too young to drink in the nightclubs, too young really to know why they were drafted to fight, to kill and to die in Viet Nam. Among them were the African- American soldiers, many from northern cities, on their way to war; they still had to contend with the ugly racism rampant in my Memphis hometown.

Brother Tommy made it home a few days before Christmas, 1967. He was wounded and broken in ways only the years would fully reveal. At the Veterans hospital I visited with other causalities of that war. Many of these men had no family nearby, so they came to our home on weekends—on crutches, with limbs missing, or with wounds still bandaged. Some just sat on the porch and stared out into space.

It was not long before Tommy’s twin, Danny, stepped forward. He was in the recruiters’ bag before my parents could intervene. “There was nothing I could do to stop him,” my mother lamented. I stood with her the day he left, and joined her at a local Marine Corps. Mothers’ Club gathering where women offered support to each other as their not-quite yet grown sons fought and died in Southeast Asia.

One after the other my fine young brothers, bright, handsome and brave, went off to war. One after the other they returned, wounded, poisoned, and broken, and one after the other, they died—burdened to their early graves by the memories of that war and the Agent Orange toxins that coursed through their systems. Their names were never etched on that Wailing Wall in Washington, DC. Nor will be written there the names of their brothers in arms, whose suicides exceed the combat deaths; or the names of the many others who still suffer from the delayed stress of that criminal war.

These abandoned veterans are joined now by the many spent and discarded soldiers from that first Bush’s Gulf War. Soldiers who still seek the acknowledgment and treatment of their war-induced illnesses while the son of a Bush who called them to war cuts funding for the Veterans Hospitals. Is this what we mean by “Support our Troops?” I will not stand by and wave a flag as this next generation marches off to war. I will not repeat trite platitudes as these men and women are used up and then abandoned by a U.S. government that has broken faith with its noble principles, which fails to protect its citizens—a U.S. regime that threatens the world with the use of first-strike nuclear weapons. This President who calls for endless war never stood in battle, never struggled for a livelihood, never learned the lessons of the Christianity he claims, nor of the God he invokes in his power-hungry quest for domination and control. It is he, and the other politicians, the generals, and the armchair warriors who undermine the safety and security of our men and women in the military and who are the largest threat to peace in the world. Last month I shared a Greyhound journey with some young marines who boarded the bus in Knoxville. They were on the way to Camp Lejeune. As the night deepened and the bus rolled on through the mountains, I listened to their conversations. They talked about the family they left behind, about the pay packet that did not quite cover their expenses, about their girlfriends, and the buddies they made in boot camp. One wore a new jacket boldly embroidered with the slogan, “Trained to fight learned to kill, ready to die, but never will.” They were not sophisticated men, just country boys setting off on heroes’s journey, cocky and sure of themselves, and full of the rhetoric instilled by their military indoctrination. Listening to them, I understood my mother’s lament. There was nothing I could do to stop them. They could have been the two brothers whose loss I still grieve. I will continue to voice my opposition to this war. It is my moral and civic duty. I will continue to support our soldiers with my ongoing, outspoken, risk-taking refusal to cooperate with this government in another criminal war.

Clare Hanrahan lives in Asheville. She is a conscientious objector to war and to paying for war, and is the author of “Jailed For Justice: A Woman’s Guide to Federal Prison Camp.