Marine's father touches a raw nerve Letter of discontent on gulf finds many sympathizers

November 13, 1990|By Vivienne Walt | Vivienne Walt,Newsday

NEW YORK -- Nearly three months ago, Alex Molnar sat in a motel room near the Marine base in Cherry Point, N.C., and watched his son, Christopher, try on his body armor and pack his new chemical weapons suit for Saudi Arabia.

"What do you say when your 21-year-old son hands you his last will and testament?" Mr. Molnar asked. "It was clear to me that this was a tragedy in the making, not only for our family but for families all over America."

Mr. Molnar, 44, wrote an angry letter to President Bush and sent a copy to the New York Times.

With the polls last August showing widespread support for Operation Desert Shield, Mr. Molnar appeared to be seriously out of step when he wrote to Mr. Bush:

"In the past you have demonstrated no enduring commitment to any principle other than the advancement of your political career. This makes me doubt that you have either the courage or the character to meet the challenge of finding a diplomatic solution to this crisis.

"If, as I expect, you eventually order American soldiers to attack Iraq, then it is God who will have to forgive you. I will not."

But within hours after the letter appeared in the New York Times Aug. 23, he had unwittingly become the spokesman for hundreds of parents. Mr. Molnar has now appeared on television talk shows and been interviewed by newspapers around the country. He was in New York over the weekend to raise money for his new organization, Military Family Support Network.

"I've gotten over 1,000 calls logged into my answering service since I hired it nine weeks ago," said Mr. Molnar, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. "Thousands of others have come to my office. Some people are too scared to leave their names."

Letters of support have been arriving ever since, some containing $1 bills, many a little more money. Others were congratulatory messages from families, while some people enclosed letters from their children in the desert. Letters have arrived from Germany, Austria, England and Japan, after Mr. Molnar's letter appeared in newspapers there. (In Baltimore, Mr. Molnar's letter was printed in the Evening Sun.)

Mr. Bush's failure to formally consult Congress on the massive troop deployment has enraged parents like himself and threatens to make people "in mainstream America" feel betrayed, Mr. Molnar says.

"This is a situation where my son has been sitting in the desert for 60 days, and the War Powers Act still hasn't been invoked by Congress," he said. "The U.S. hasn't been attacked. We have no treaty obligations with Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. We have no basis for going to war that I can see."

Mr. Molnar believes that Mr. Bush has to offer a convincing argument for sending more than 400,000 troops to Saudi Arabia, or the anger of parents and spouses could spiral in the event of any offensive.

"The emir of Kuwait is not worth a drop of American blood," Mr. Molnar said. "He is a Middle East autocrat with a record of human rights abuses as long as my arm."

Cpl. Christopher Molnar came from a middle-class home and had good enough grades to enter most colleges. But he was unsure what to study and instead joined the Marines and learned aircraft maintenance.

Corporal Christopher the first member of the family to join the forces, Alex Molnar was ill-prepared for the possibility of losing his son in combat. "It seemed to me that I had to do something," Mr. Molnar said. "I didn't have the money to buy full-page ads in the newspaper; the only tools I had available was my ability to think and to write."

Other opponents of the gulf buildup have begun planning protests. Organizers in New York and several other large cities are working on plans for civil disobedience protests Dec. 7 and 8.

"We see the need to escalate our own tactics in an effort to keep the U.S. out of war and to let the administration know we are not going to sit back as George Bush sends our brothers and sisters and friends into battle," said Michael Marsh, a staff member of the War Resisters League in New York.

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