Activism of `Peace Mom' speaks to uneasy Americans

Questioning The War In Iraq

August 22, 2005|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON - The headline labels her "Peace Mom." It's a moniker that simultaneously personalized and trivialized the lanky woman with the high-pitched voice who camped out in Crawford, Texas. It's a shorthand that both granted and diminished her authority to speak out against the war, a moral authority won the hardest way possible, through the loss of her child.

The August phenomenon of 2005 is not shark bites or missing women but a mother who showed up at the president's vacation doorstep. Cindy Sheehan came impulsively, intemperately to ask the President of the United States why he "killed" the "sweet boy" whose brief life span is tattooed on her left ankle: "Casey '79-'04."

This woman with a reckless courage born of grief and danger - "I'm not afraid of anything since my son was killed" -challenges the "swing voters" of this war. She presents a different image to those uneasy Americans who have so far held their tongues and their doubts out of respect to the war dead and their families.

The activism of "Peace Mom" did not made peace in her family. She and her husband grieved in different ways until the announcement: "Husband of 'Peace Mom' Sues for Divorce." Aunts and uncles on the pro-war side of the family criticized her for "promoting her own personal agenda and notoriety at the expense of her son's good name and reputation."

Indeed, there's no way to know what Casey Sheehan would say about peace or Mom.

This war was sold to the public as a matter of self-defense against weapons of mass destruction. But the WMDs never appeared.

Next we were told that Iraq was the front line in the war against terrorists: "Better there than here." But evidence shows that the vast majority of the foreign fighters are not relocated terrorists but new recruits radicalized by the war itself.

More recently, we were told to "stay the course" to ensure democracy in Iraq. But as Iraqis wrangle over a constitution that may not look anything like ours, the list of rationales gets shorter and the support for the war gets weaker.

Taken altogether, the polls show a majority of Americans now believe that it was a mistake to send troops to war, that the results are not worth the loss of American life, and that the war has not made us safer.

The most powerful argument left is the one the president repeats again and again: "And the best way to honor the lives that have been given in this struggle is to complete the mission."

Enter Cindy Sheehan.

Until now, the rallying cry "Support Our Troops" meant "Support the War." One seemed inseparable from another. Criticizing the war felt like criticizing the troops. But on a dusty, hot road in Texas, Ms. Sheehan severed this link.

So the question is not whether the president would talk with her. He wouldn't. It's not whether she speaks for her son. We'll never know. It's not whether she is "just a Mom" or an anti-Bush agitator. She's both. It's whether nearly 1,900 Americans died in a war of choice and how painful that is to acknowledge. It's whether we go on quietly honoring those deaths with more deaths.

No wonder "Peace Mom" will remain a target of the war over the war. If she succeeds, the White House has lost perhaps the final and most powerful justification they offer a disheartened American public. At that point, there's no way out of the Iraq muddle. Except out.

Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun.

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