Military families voice anti-war sentiments

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(Host) The Iraq war weighs heavily on those with family serving in the military. But families who have taken a public stance against the war face a different kind of burden. They want to make their voices heard, but at the same time they need to make it clear that they support their troops.

VPR’s John Dillon met with several of these families recently and has this report.

(Dillon) For many military families, supporting the troops also means solid support for the U.S. war in Iraq. For the 30 or so families in the Vermont chapter of Military Families Speak Out, supporting the troops means trying to end the war and get them home.

(Colleen McLaughlin) “I think we learned a lesson from Vietnam, the lesson of the troops coming home and the troops being blamed for the policies of the administration. I truly believe we learned that lesson.”

(Dillon) Colleen McLaughlin’s son Lewis is in the National Guard and has been in Iraq for almost a year. He drives a Humvee and frequently patrols south of Baghdad.

McLaughlin says she got involved in the anti-war movement when she saw more and more Vermonters deployed to Iraq. She recently took part in a peace rally in Burlington, and was confronted by people who protested the protest.

(Colleen) “And they were screaming, ‘Support the troops!’ – criticizing this group for being against the war. I think we really need to convey the message [of] how much more can you support the troops than by wanting them home safe and alive and healthy, and not be deployed in a war of choice, occupying another country for a political reason?”

(Dillon) For McLaughlin and others in Military Families Speak Out, the decision to go public wasn’t easy. They had to consider how their opposition would affect their relatives in the military.

Brad, who’s from Thetford, is a new member of the group. He won’t give his last name. His son, Phil, is in the National Guard and he’s worried about getting him in trouble.

(Brad) “Phil joined the Guard the last week of August 2001. Classic story of a Vermont student trying to find a way to help pay for college. I think it was 13 days later that the whole world kind of got stood on its head.”

(Dillon) Brad’s wife is Linda Ide. She says she can reveal her full name, because it’s different from her son’s. She’s strongly against the war. She thinks the Bush administration misled the public on the reasons for the invasion. She says Iraq played no role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and that no weapons of mass destruction have been found there. But she’s careful to point out that she doesn’t speak for her son.

(Ide) “We’re speaking only for ourselves in a certain way. Our son, Phil, feels very strongly that he has a real sense of duty and honor. I think we can say that for all of our young people. Whether they necessarily agree with the administration’s policies or not, I know that Philip has a very strong sense of commitment to his fellow Guardsmen, that he would never speak out against the war because he would not want to be seen to not support his fellow soldiers.”

(Dillon) The families talk about strained relationships and tense reunions with other relatives. Ide and McLaughlin say there are some subjects you just have to avoid.

(Ide) “I do have relatives who are much more conservative than I, who probably support the war. It’s just become a subject we can’t talk about. Which means we can’t talk about my son’s involvement. It’s hard.”

(McLaughlin) “I’ve had the same situation. Family members who support what’s going on. If you love your family you just don’t discuss those things. It’s such an emotional, heart-felt I can’t even describe the emotions that surface. And when you’re talking to somebody that you love who has a different viewpoint, it’s just a place you can’t go.”

(Dillon) Being part of Military Families Speak Out has provided some support for these families. Nancy Robinson of Richmond says she felt quite alone when she learned last June that her son Steven was being mobilized for possible service in Iraq.

(Robinson) “So we had the whole summer to be anxious and not know what was going to happen and feel extremely lonely, not knowing to whom to turn to, speak to. Because at that point, speaking out was absolutely not the popular thing and you didn’t know who in your neighborhood to say anything to. So you just kept your mouth shut.”

(Dillon) The group says their numbers are growing, but that many military families who quietly question the war are still afraid to publicly support the organization.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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