is a remarkable scene in "Fahrenheit 9/11" when Lila Lipscomb talks
with an anti-war activist outside the White House about the death
of her 26-year-old son in Iraq. A pro-war passerby doesn't like what
she overhears and announces, "This is all staged!"
Lipscomb turns to the woman, her voice shaking with rage, and says:
"My son is not a stage. He was killed in Karbala, Apr. 2. It is
not a stage. My son is dead." Then she walks away and wails, "I
need my son."
Lipscomb doubled over in pain on the White House lawn, I was reminded
of other mothers who have taken the loss of their children to the
seat of power and changed the fate of wars. During Argentina's dirty
war, a group of women whose children had been disappeared by the
military regime gathered every Thursday in front of the presidential
palace in Buenos Aires. At a time when all public protest was banned,
they would walk silently in circles, wearing white headscarves and
carrying photographs of their missing children.
son is not a stage. He was killed in Karbala, Apr. 2. It is
not a stage. My son is dead...
I need my son."
of the Plaza de Mayo revolutionized human-rights activism by transforming
maternal grief from a cause for pity into an unstoppable political
force. The generals couldn't attack the mothers openly, so they
launched fierce covert operations against their organization. But
the mothers kept walking, playing a significant role in the dictatorship's
Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who march together every week to this
day, in "Fahrenheit 9/11," Lila Lipscomb stands alone, hurling her
fury at the White House. But she is not alone. Other American and
British parents whose children have died in Iraq are also coming
forward to condemn their governments; their moral outrage could
help end the military conflict still raging in Iraq.
California resident Nadia McCaffrey defied the Bush administration
by inviting news cameras to photograph the arrival of her son's
casket from Iraq. The White House has banned photography of flag-draped
coffins arriving at air force bases, but because Patrick McCaffrey's
remains were flown into the Sacramento International Airport, his
mother was able to invite the photographers inside. "I don't care
what [President George W. Bush] wants," Ms. McCaffery declared,
telling her local newspaper, "Enough war."
Just as Patrick
McCaffrey's body was being laid to rest in California, another solider
was killed in Iraq: 19-year-old Gordon Gentle of Glasgow.
only fruit of war is death and grief and sorrow. There is
no other fruit."
the news, his mother, Rose Gentle, immediately blamed the government
of Tony Blair, saying that, "My son was just a bit of meat to them,
just a number... This is not our war, my son has died in their war
And just as
Rose Gentle was saying those words, Michael Berg happened to be
visiting London to speak at an anti-war rally. Since the beheading
of his 26-year-old son who had been working in Iraq as a contractor,
Michael Berg has insisted that, "Nicholas Berg died for the sins
of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld."
by an Australian journalist whether such bold statements "are making
the war seem fruitless," Mr. Berg replied, "The only fruit of war
is death and grief and sorrow. There is no other fruit."
one questions the wildness in the eyes of a mother or father
who has just lost a son or daughter, or the fury of a soldier
who knows that he is being asked to kill
and die needlessly.
It is as if
these parents have lost more than their children, they have also
lost their fear, allowing them to speak with great clarity and power.
This represents a dangerous challenge to the Bush administration,
which likes to claim a monopoly on moral clarity. Victims of war
and their families aren't supposed to interpret their losses for
themselves, they are supposed to leave that to the flags, ribbons,
medals and three-gun salutes.
and spouses are supposed to accept their tremendous losses with
stoic patriotism, never asking whether a death could have been avoided,
never questioning how their loved ones are used to justify more
killing. At Patrick McCaffrey's military funeral last week, Paul
Harris, chaplain of the 579th Engineer Battalion, informed the mourners
that, "What Patrick was doing was good and right and noble... There
are thousands, no, millions, of Iraqis who are grateful for his
knows better and is insisting on carrying her son's own feelings
of deep disappointment from beyond the grave. "He was so ashamed
by the prisoner-abuse scandal," Ms. McCaffrey told The Independent.
"He said we had no business in Iraq and should not be there." Freed
from the military censors who prevent soldiers from speaking their
minds when they are alive, Lila Lipscomb has also shared her son's
doubts about his work in Iraq. In Fahrenheit 9/11 she reads from
a letter Michael Pederson mailed home. "What in the world is wrong
with George, trying to be like his dad, Bush. He got us out here
for nothing whatsoever. I'm so furious right now, Mama."
is an entirely appropriate response to a system that sends young
people to kill other young people in a war that never should have
been waged. Yet the American right is forever trying to pathologize
anger as something menacing and abnormal, dismissing war opponents
as hateful and, the latest slur, "wild-eyed." This is much harder
to do when victims of wars begin to speak for themselves: No one
questions the wildness in the eyes of a mother or father who has
just lost a son or daughter, or the fury of a soldier who knows
that he is being asked to kill and die needlessly.
and spouses are supposed to accept their tremendous losses
with stoic patriotism, never asking whether a death could
have been avoided, never questioning how their loved ones
are used to justify more killing.
who have lost loved ones to foreign aggression have responded by
resisting the occupation. Now, victims are starting to organize
themselves inside the countries that are waging the war. First it
was the September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, which speaks
out against any attempt by the Bush administration to use the deaths
of their family members in the World Trade Center to justify further
killings of civilians. Military Families Speak Out has sent delegations
of veterans and parents of soldiers to Iraq, while Nadia McCaffrey
is planning to form an organization of mothers who have lost children
always seem to swing on some parental demographic or other: Last
time it was soccer moms, this time it is supposed to be NASCAR dads.
But on Sunday, NASCAR car-racing champion Dale Earnhardt said that
he had taken his buddies to see "Fahrenheit 9/11" and that "It's
a good thing as an American to go see." It seems as if there may
be another demographic that swings this election: not soccer moms
or NASCAR dads but the parents of victims of war. They don't have
the numbers to change the outcome in swing states, but they might
just change something more powerful: the hearts and minds of Americans.
Klein is the author of "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies"
and "Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the
Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.