Parents of soldiers in the Gulf want a delay
By Steve Schifferes, BBC News Online Washington correspondent,17 January 2003

Opposition to a possible war in Iraq has come from an unlikely source - the US military itself.

As anti-war forces are gathering for a major demonstration on Saturday in Washington, a group of parents of the soldiers currently being deployed in the Gulf have decided to speak out against the drive for war.

One son will by flying casualties to medical ships

They have been joined by organisations representing Gulf War veterans, who are particularly concerned about the problem of chemical and biological warfare casualties among servicemen.

The anti-war former soldiers hope to replicate the success of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War in the l960s, who were a crucial part of the anti-war coalition that helped end US involvement in that war.

The organisations are new and small. But they could bring a new element to the anti-Iraq war movement. If they influence US troops in the field, that could be a worry for the Pentagon.

Activists on Vietnam
Nancy Lessin, one of founders of Military Families Speak Out has a stepson, Joe, in the marines. He is deployed in Kuwait as an Arab language specialist.

She is a union activist from Jamaica Plain near Boston, Massachusetts who was previously active in opposing the Vietnam War.

Her voice breaking, Ms Lessin told News Online she hoped her stepson would not face combat, nor would he have to take part in killing others.

She said that opposition to an unjust war was patriotic.

And she said that if Iraq's main export was olive oil, we wouldn't be facing the possibility of war.

The horrors of war

Briggs Seakins from Maine served as an dismount mechanised infantryman with the 3rd Armoured Division in the 1991 Gulf War.

He told the BBC that it was the experience of the war - and his concern that he was taking part in the slaughter of innocents - that has led him to take his anti-war stance.

He says that at the time, supporting his fellow soldiers took priority. But having seen the refugees and the frightened conscript soldiers from Iraq, he would not take part in war again.

So far there are no members of these organisations who are also active members of the military. But the organisers believe that there is considerable hidden support for their views.

Jeff McKenzie, another member of Military Families Speak Out, is an anti-war activist from New York state. His son, Jeremy, is an Army captain who flies medical evacuation helicopters and is currently being deployed to the Gulf.

He said he encountered sympathy with his views among some of the soldiers when he visited his son in Fort Benning, Georgia, especially those who were nearing the end of their tours of duty.

His own anti-war views were forged after the events of 11 September, and he took part in anti-nuclear marches.

He says the war in Iraq is about settling old scores and controlling oil, and it would not be in America's inter interest.

Gulf War veterans

Many of the military activists, former Gulf War veterans, are warning that any conflict will be more costly, in terms of casualties and disabilities, than anyone is prepared for.

And as the coalition seeks to represent the views of some 44 million veterans, the Veterans for Common Sense (VCFS) have taken a moderate stance on the war, calling for a halt to the war until diplomacy has been given a chance rather than opposing it outright.

They have also for more evidence and broader support from the Allies before launching a "vindictive" strike.

"This war isn't worth the life of one American soldier," said Charlie Sheehan-Miles, a former tank crewman, 24th Infantry, in the Gulf who is one of the founders of VFCS.

"This week thousands of US soldiers are deploying to Kuwait to fight a war on our behalf. They go because it is their job, and their mission to protect us. It is now our mission to protect them."

Open letter to friends, family, brothers, sisters, and colleagues, 7 January 2003

We are helping to form an organization of people who oppose the war in Iraq and who have family members in the military. At this point, we are calling the organization "Military Families Speak Out." 

As the talk of war grows, so must our voice of protest. Our loved ones should not be sent to fight and die, and innocent Iraqi children, women and men should not be put at risk, over this administration's push for oil and empire.

If any of you have family members in the military and would like to know more about our efforts to build this new organization, please get in touch with us. If you have friends, colleagues, or co-workers who have relatives in the military and who would like to speak out against this war, please forward our names and email addresses (listed below) to them.

We encourage all who oppose the war, including those of us with family members in the military, to speak out and demonstrate against war. A number of us plan to be in Washington, D.C. on January 18 and we are finding a place for Military Families Speak Out to meet before or after the anti-war march. Please get in touch with us (or encourage others to get in touch with us) if you are interested in more information about this group and the January 18th meeting.

In Solidarity and Peace,

Charley Richardson (
Nancy Lessin (

Refusing to kill