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If my Son is Killed BY ALEX MOLNAR Dear President Bush, I kissed my son goodbye today. He is a 21-year-old marine. You have ordered him to Saudi Arabia. The letter telling us he was going arrived at our vacation cottage in northern Wisconsin by Express Mail on August 13. We left immediately for North Carolina to be with him. Our vacation was over. Some commentators say you are continuing your own vacation to avoid being trapped in the White House, as President Carter was during the Iran hostage crisis. Perhaps that is your reason. However, as I sat in my motel room watching you on television, looking through my son’s hastily written last will and testament and listening to military equipment rumble past, you seemed to me to be both callous and ridiculous, chasing golf balls and zipping around in your boat in Kennebunkport. While visiting my son I had a chance to see him pack his chemical-weapons suit and try on his body armor. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience, Mr. President. I hope you never will. I also met many of my son’s fellow soldiers. They are fine young men. A number told me that they were from poor families. They joined the Marines as a way of earning enough money to go to college. None of the men I met are likely to be invited to serve on the board of directors of a savings-and-loan association, as your son Neil was. And none of them have parents well-enough connected to call or write a general to ensure that their child stays out of harm’s way, as Vice President Quayle’s parents did for him during the Vietnam War. I read in today’s paper that, like you, Vice President Quayle and Secretary of State Baker are on vacation. Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Cheney is in the Persian Gulf. I think this symbolizes a government that no longer has a non-military foreignpolicy vision, one that uses the military to conceal the fraud that American diplomacy has become. Yes, you have proved a relatively adept tactician in the last three weeks. But if Alex Molnar’ s letter, which was published in August by the New York Times, encouraged a movement to stop a U.S. war in the Persian Gulf. Molnar is a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. American diplomacy hadn’t been on vacation for the better part of the decade, we wouldn’t be in the spot we are today. Where were you, Mr. President, when Iraq was killing its own people with poison gas? Why, until the recent crisis, was it business as usual with Saddam Hussein, the man you now call a Hitler? You were elected Vice President in 1980 on the strength of the promise of a better life for Americans, in a world where the United States will once again “stand tall.” The Reagan-Bush administration rolled into Washington talking about the magic of a “free market” in oil. You diluted gas-mileage requirements for cars and dismantled federal energy policy. And now you have ordered my son to the Middle East. For what? Cheap gas? Is the American “way of life” that you say my son is risking his life for the continued “right” of Americans to consume 25 to 30 percent of the world’s oil? The “free market” to which you are so fervently devoted has a very high price tag, at least for parents like me and young men and women like my son. Now that we face the prospect of war I intend to support my son and his fellow soldiers by doing everything that I can to oppose any offensive American military action in the Persian Gulf. The troops I met deserve far better than the politicians and policies that hold them hostage. As my wife and I sat in a little cafe outside our son’s base last week, trying to eat, fighting back tears, a young marine struck up a conversation with us. As we parted, he wished us well and said, “May God forgive us for what we are about to do.” President Bush, the policies you have advocated for the last decade have set the stage for military conflict in the Middle East. Your response to the Iraqi conquest of Kuwait has set in motion events that increasingly will pressure you to use our troops not to defend Saudi Arabia, but to attack Iraq. And I’m afraid that, as that pressure mounts, you will wager my son’s life in a gamble to save your political future. 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. laid out, it’s like you get confronted with how squeaky the wheels of our democracy are. We worked real hard on the Nuclear Freeze proposal, a proposal that never went below 75 percent in opinion polls. How to make the obvious happen in public policy under the current political arrangement is a real struggle. What effect do you think the Vietnam War had on this? Have we learned a lesson from Vietnam? Well, unfortunately, there have been a number of lessons learned. But they’re not the ones that I would have preferred to see learned. Number one is, you don’t use a draft. Two, you deploy forces fast and in large numbers, so you mass the forces quick. And the next step, which hasn’t been reached yet, is that you use them, massively and quickly. Then next is that you keep the press on a short leash. I would beg you all to dig into what are the rules under which this war is being reported on. Because it’s pool coverage, which means there are press opportunities, you’re told there’s going to be a trip to such and such, do you want to go. So it’s staged. You interview troops one-on-one, not in groups, to get around the problem that lawyers understand never let them get together and talk to one another. There were initial kinds of stories in those early days, and then it just died out. I haven’t seen it mentioned in the press for over a month, about the rules under which the press is operating. So, there have been a whole lot of lessons from Vietnam that have been learned by the Pentagon. They make it easier to go to war and easier to use military force. The lessons on the part the general public … they’re not what they should be. That’s what got me going as an activist in the ’70s, when the Iranian hostage-taking took place. Here were these 50 people held in a building. It was bad. And I wanted them out. But I didn’t want to go to war right away to get them out. And that was the triggering thing for me to quit my job as a professor to work on this. It just dawned on me that the lessons I had learned from Vietnam, that the use of military force is costly, dangerous, sticky, self-perpetuating, self-continuing, weren’t widely shared. You see a few people like Bob Kerrey, the Senator from Nebraska, who in one of the great acts of political courage in this decade joined Ted Kennedy and Mark Hatfield as the only three votes against the resolution in the Senate, which basically endorsed what the President had done. So you have some people like Kerrey, Kovic, John Kerry, there are some folks around who are trying to slow this thing down. People get it, that it’s dangerous and we ought to go slow. But that link between popular opinion and political policy execution is so hard to make. By the polls, if you read them carefully, you could have taken a position saying we can not attack Iraq. You could have had a major stand out of that. No one did. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11