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Examining the real cost of war
Yarmouthport Register, MA
By Joe Burns/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathy Kelly huddled with an Iraqi family in a makeshift shelter the night American bombs rained down on Baghdad.
Cindy Sheehan's son Casey was one of 1,790 members of the military killed in action in Iraq.
Mimi Evans' son has just returned from a humanitarian mission to Iraq, and she will soon be sending a second son, a JAG Marine, to Fallujah.
Three women with three different experiences and one common cause - to end the Iraq war. They came together July 28 from as near as West Barnstable and from as far as California. They came to Cape Cod Community College to participate in a public forum "Families Stand for Peace: The Truth about Iraq." They came to tell their stories to the 250 or so gathered at the event sponsored by Cape Codders for Peace and Justice.
They spoke with anger, compassion and sorrow and with a credibility earned through strength and sacrifice.
Sheehan, from Berkeley, Calif., is co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace. She read a poem her daughter Carly had written that began with the lines "Have you ever heard the sound of a mother screaming for her son?"
She echoed those words with her own emotional confession.
"I take responsibility for my son's death. I was apathetic. I will regret forever not saying 'I am so against this war,'" Sheehan said, her voice breaking; her eyes welling with tears. "No matter how much I scream and cry, I can never bring Casey back."
Sheehan also invited Kevin and Joyce Lucey of Belchertown on stage to tell the story of their son, who hanged himself after returning from fighting in Iraq.
Evans, who preceded Sheehan to the podium, shook with anger as she held a $1.99 "Support the Troops" ribbon magnet.
"What the hell does it mean?" she asked, calling a symbol slapped on the side of an SUV not nearly enough of a commitment to those who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The fact that my son is going to Iraq is not enough of a sacrifice. Our sons and daughters are fighting and dying," she declared, challenging herself and the 250 or so people in attendance to do more. She said it isn't enough to speak to one another about their opposition to the war, They had to do more.
"Are you willing to speak to strangers?" she asked. "Are you willing to get into the face of someone who says they support the war and tell them 'I don't.'"
Kelly made that commitment and then some. A two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder of the humanitarian group Voices in the Wilderness, Kelly has put her life on the line time after time. Since 1996 she has made 22 trips to Iraq to bring badly needed medicines to its people, in violation of the sanctions and later in defiance of the danger of the violence and unrest.
She's been arrested 60 times and was incarcerated in Pekin Federal Prison, a medium-security prison in Illinois, for her peace actions.
Kelly's compassion and experience put a human face on the people who were feeling the wrath of reprisals for the Sept. 11 attack that neither they nor their country played any part in.
Kelly, who appeared at a book signing for her recently published "Other Lands Have Dreams," described at that signing how the war was being felt by ordinary Iraqis. "The bombs were coming down morning, noon and night," Kelly said, recalling how she sat with a family in the glow of candlelight and how after a week of bombing the play of their young daughter had become a reenactment of what was going on around her.
"She'd point her finger in the air and she'd trace an arc and she'd shout out 'taaira!, taaira!' the Arabic word for airplane and she'd fall back in her mother's arms."
Like the others, Kelly called for a conclusion to the carnage. Kelly, who hasn't paid taxes since 1980, challenged others to do the same. Sheehan, who stopped paying taxes after the death of her son, declared "Give me back my son and I'll pay my taxes."
James Kinney of Sandwich, a member of the Cape Cod Center for Peace and Justice, cited figures from the National Priorities Project that put the cost of the Iraq war at $204 billion. Other sources have estimated the cost as high as $330 billion. Kinney said Cape Codders have already paid about $195 million toward the war.
Bob Silverburg of Barnstable, a World War II veteran and a member of Veterans for Peace, read two poems - "Okinawa 1945" and "Don't Look, Don't See," a plea for the president to think of those who died.
The evening concluded with a question and answer period and as it came to a close Sheehan walked down the aisle where she was met by a member of the audience who thanked her for her comments and commitment.
"Would you thank a fish for swimming?" Sheehan asked.
"Well, keep on swimming" was the reply as the two women, strangers just moments before, embraced.