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Soldier's Mom Speaks Out

Happy days with the Observer and the President

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About a year ago or so, a columnist for the Charlotte Observer contacted me about an interview for a column. The story had to do with my, and my husband's, sentiments against the impending invasion of Iraq. It wasn't so much that we had stood in the rain and slush with protest signs, encouraged by some passers-by with a honk or wave, or splashed and flipped off by those who disagreed. Nor was it letters to the editor expressing anti-war views. Rather, it was the fact that we have a son in the 82nd Airborne who had recently deployed to Afghanistan. It was to be a human interest story about parents supposedly conflicted about supporting the troops, while strongly opposing the war.

In truth I had no conflicts about either one. I've never been anti-military or anti-army. In college I opposed the war in Vietnam without ever once throwing rocks at the ROTC building, or yelling "baby killers" at returning soldiers. Then, as now, the war belonged to the President and the rest of his administration. In the article in the Observer, the writer claimed that I had said that it was OK with me if "we found Osama bin Laden and shot him dead." Trouble is, I never said any such thing. In the first place, I don't want to shoot anybody dead. In the second place, I would never use that kind of phrasing; it sounded hick to me, and is wording I would never use. When I e-mailed the writer and told him this, he wrote back and said something to the effect that I must consider him some sort of hick, etc., etc., and never followed up with any kind of correction or retraction. In truth, I didn't expect any but I had to at least make it known that I felt that I was misrepresented.

I realize that, in the grand scheme of the universe, this incident is scarcely worth notice or comment. Relatively few people read the column, and even fewer cared. However, it was my first taste of journalistic manipulation, and it stung a little. It made me a little more aware that the press (are you really ready for this?) skews facts and interviews for their own purposes.

Now, I've been somewhat miffed and a little wary of this particular writer ever since, especially since he so eagerly supported the invasion of Iraq, as did the editorial writers at the Charlotte Observer. They still do, despite the mounting evidence that no WMDs will be found. They defend the action with "Saddam was such a bad guy that he deserved to go, and was worth the lives of over 500 (so far) American soldiers and thousands of civilians." No argument here that Saddam was among the baddest of the bad. However, in one of my many e-mails to this columnist, I posed the question, "Are we going to go after every single bad guy on the globe? What about, for instance, Augusto Pinochet and the thousands of desaparecidos in Chile and other parts of Central and South America?" I even asked the writer why, since he supported the war, did he hail the Carolina Panthers as "Superheroes" when, in the same edition of the Observer, the story about the return of the 325th Regiment of the 82nd Airborne was buried on the inside pages of the Local section. I also told him that one of his columns was insensitive and moronic drivel, an opinion I stand by even weeks later. Needless to say, this was not well-received. In fact, the writer wrote back and said that he wished I would quit reading his columns. I'm not making this up.

Of course he wishes I would go away. Everyone with a public responsibility who has ever been badgered for the truth wishes that the badgerers would just go away. I'm sure George Bush wishes that David Kay would just go away. But there are those of us who want answers and responses from our government -- and our journalists. The media, written and broadcast, possess immense power. There are those of us who are willing to be annoying, and splashed, and flipped off and unpopular, to make sure that they are responsive and that a fair amount of integrity is maintained as we search for the truth. Increasingly, media outlets are owned by huge corporations. In the case of the Observer, that corporation is Knight Ridder. In his latest book, Hope Dies Last, the great journalist and historian Studs Terkel interviews economist and author John Kenneth Galbraith. In the interview Galbraith states: "We cannot have the present kind of economy without a great series of bureaucratic establishments, and the result is that we depend very much on honesty and competence. We have learned in these last months that honesty cannot be counted on. As things now stand, we allow enormous incompetence and enormous compensation to those who have power."

Just recently I cancelled my subscription to the Observer and will now subscribe to the New York Times for my daily paper. It's more expensive, but I don't own expensive cars or jewelry and rarely do lunch, or own season tickets for the Carolina Panthers, so I will allow myself the indulgence. I can still read what I need of the Observer online, and can still be arch nemesis to their columnists. It's a matter of integrity. I can no longer monetarily support a newspaper that actively supports the war in Iraq.

Since the inevitable came to pass and my son deployed to Iraq in January, I belong to a group called Military Families Speak Out. I also support Veterans for Peace and MoveOn, and the Bring Them Home Now campaign. I am not a bit conflicted about this. There are generals, active and retired, who advised against the war in Iraq. Recently Major General David Huntoon, of the Army War College, approved a report by Jeffrey Record stating that the war in Iraq is scattered and futile. There are some of us who are reading and hearing and talking and writing, and we want answers other than empty assertions that this dictator was a bad guy and needed to go. Easy to say if you're sitting in a sports bar, flipping back and forth from virtual war to the NCAA basketball finals, as my columnist was last March.

Several weeks ago, a guest columnist wrote in the Observer that she loved George Bush and supported the war. She appears, from her picture, to be young enough to join the army, and I (naturally) e-mailed her and told her so. So far (naturally) there has been no response to my simple assertion: if you support the war in Iraq, you're young enough to join, and are able-bodied, the only ethical and logical course of action is to join the armed forces and go fight. It puts a different spin on the concept of war if one is on the front lines. It's called integrity, otherwise known as putting your money where your mouth is, instead of hiding behind rhetoric and empty phrases.

I am attempting to show integrity in my own way. I, along with others opposed to the Iraq war, have been labeled as unpatriotic, and as a traitor by our own president and some of his supporters. I can handle it -- they're only words. And there are growing numbers of us who can handle it and will continue to handle it. We demand answers, and we won't rest or go away until we get them.

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