Sufferings of a Mother

Cindy Sheehan wages a war on war

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

For more than two centuries, millions of mothers have watched their children leave home to serve in the United States military. Like Casey, Sheehan’s son, they were recruited, trained and shipped in the thousands near and abroad to serve some known or obscured U.S. interest.

In our culture, we expect the mothers of these soldiers to feel proud of their children’s service and show unwavering support for the fulfillment of their duty. While a large number of them do, pride is hardly alone among the emotions dominating their hearts. Fear, anxiety and helplessness also grip them. For Cindy Sheehan, it was enough to keep her up at night.

Sheehan is the mother of Spc. Casey Sheehan, an American soldier who served in the Iraq War. On April 4, 2004, Cindy’s worst nightmare came true. While watching television that evening, CNN reported that Casey and seven others had been killed during an effort to rescue American troops. Casey’s death led his mother on a mission to understand what motives brought us to the war in Iraq, an understanding of what is keeping us there, and a realization of the deep meaning of her son’s service and sacrifice. She became a warrior against war and an advocate for a peaceful U.S. foreign policy.

Five years and three months later, American forces still occupy Iraq, and Cindy Sheehan still hasn’t given up. Last month, Veterans for Peace and the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center’s executive director, Marie Marchand, brought Sheehan to Bellingham. On a hot July day, 200 people came to hear her speak at Christ the Servant Lutheran Church.

The evening marked the final stop of a four-month tour. Last April, Cindy set off to promote the message of her latest book, Myth America: 10 Greatest Myths of the Robber Class and the Case for Revolution. The result of four years of tireless activism, Myth America represents Cindy’s effort to identify and plainly convey 10 established premises that allow American imperialism to persist unchallenged. Our culture’s blind acceptance of these myths killed her son, Sheehan believes. If we fail to expose and do away with them, untold more American youths will be lost to an early and unnecessary death.

Prior to the loss of her son, Sheehan was not an anti-war activist. After Casey was killed, she began speaking out against the war, but didn’t become the focus of national media attention until she sought to confront President George Bush himself. Sheehan recalls the exact moment.

Unable to sleep, she was sitting at her computer at three in the morning on Aug. 3, 2005. While sharing her grief via email to a list of 300 supporters, the voice of the man who killed her son came over the radio. “I want to tell you his exact words,” Sheehan told the Bellingham audience. “‘The families of the fallen can rest assured their loved ones died for a noble cause.’”

Bush’s comment devastated Sheehan. “Not only were they [Casey and the others] tragically killed, but George Bush came on and said they died for a noble cause,” she typed to her readers.

When the press failed to inquire exactly what the soldiers died for, Cindy decided it was her turn to ask questions. “The press didn’t ask him what was the noble cause,” she continued typing. “What’s wrong with me? I have a voice.” Three days and roughly 1,800 miles later, Sheehan found herself setting up camp along with six others in Crawford, TX, three miles away from George Bush’s vacation ranch.

Sheehan’s protest exploded into the most publicized anti-war demonstration the country had seen since the beginning of the Iraq war. Cindy admits she didn’t expect Camp Casey to become so significant. The protest drew international media attention, attracting 15,000 Americans during its 26 days, and, for a brief moment, succeeded in uniting America’s anti-war movement.

Though Bush brought his vacation in Crawford to an early end without answering her questions, Sheehan thinks she knows why her son was sacrificed in Iraq. In an interview with Veterans for Peace, she asked, “Was it freedom and democracy? Bullshit! He died for oil. He died to make your friends richer. He died to expand American imperialism in the Middle East.”

Sheehan was pleased with the national discussion Camp Casey stirred up, but it did not bring peace in Iraq. It also failed to move in the direction she began to hope for. Sheehan intended to rally the country to bring an end to the Iraq war. Instead, she felt the movement was taken advantage of by political opportunists.

“Unfortunately, I believe that the energy of the movement, the Camp Casey and the anti-war movement, was co-opted and misused by democrats and organizations that support democrats,” she says.

Before Camp Casey, Sheehan worked with Progressive Democrats of America. Over time, she began to sense they were using the anti-war movement for their own benefit. When John Kerry ran for president in 2004, Sheehan held her nose while she gave him her vote, knowing well that he was not an anti-war candidate. Eventually, Sheehan began speaking out against Democrats who did not support a platform focused on ending the Iraq war.

After countless beatings from the left in the media and on liberal blogs, in 2007 Sheehan left the Democratic Party. When the results of the 2008 Presidential election were in, she was surprised at the flood of congratulatory emails and phone calls she received. The show of support made her feel misunderstood.

“I never did this to get Democrats elected. I did it to end the occupations and now those haven’t ended, and the fact that they’re getting worse is very frustrating to me,” she says. “Many people have fallen back to sleep thinking that a regime change means anything different is going to happen.”

The realization that a Democratic candidate does not equal an anti-war candidate occurred slowly in Sheehan over the last few years. In her newest book she argues against the conventional lines that divide our society. The divisions between race, religion, geography and two-party politics are illusions, she writes. They serve the elite by having the convenient effect of distracting us from the only division that really matters.

“The only relevant division in this country is the class division. All other divisions are artificial and imposed upon us by the robber class to divide and conquer,” Sheehan says. “We in the robbed class have way more in common with each other than we do that separates us.”

“It’s not about the person in charge,” Sheehan says. “It’s not about Republicans, its not about Democrats, it’s not about George Bush, it’s not about Barack Obama. It’s the system that we battle against. So if we change regimes, it doesn’t mean that we stop.”

Wall Street, the corporate media, the current form of U.S. Government. Sheehan tells the audience all of these things are part of the robber class. They exist to make a profit, Sheehan says, no matter the cost to the rest of us. Whether they admit it or not, they would sooner send the rest of us to our deaths than give up an opportunity for profit. “After Casey was killed, I used to think that profit was a consequence of war,” Sheehan says. “But now I know it’s a reason for war. It doesn’t really matter if Goldman Sachs candidate A wins or Goldman Sachs candidate B wins.”

Sheehan’s revolution is not a violent one. She wants to free us from the abusive grip of the robber class. She asks people to focus on their local communities. “That’s where we have the greatest success,” she says. With half-closed fists, she invokes the old adage, ‘Think Globally. Act Locally.” Major positive change never occurs from the top down in this country, she says: “It only happens in a grassroots movement that pulls the robber class to us.”

Before last month’s talk began, Sheehan announced that the following day, she would be returning home to exercise and devote herself to her children and grandchildren. She will also continue to produce her radio show, Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox, and focus her efforts on a new set of myths, tentatively titled Myth America 2. Apparently, Cindy Sheehan does not surrender.

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