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Give Sheehan credit for reviving war debate
By Bob Ray Sanders
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Last week's column about Cindy Sheehan's protest near President Bush's ranch in Crawford generated so much reaction that I could not respond to all of you personally.
After directly replying to more than 50 e-mail messages, I finally had to create a "form letter" explaining my dilemma and promising to print some of your comments in a future column, which I will do Friday. My apologies to those of you who received that sincere but canned response.
The reaction was about evenly divided between people who support Sheehan, who lost her 24-year-old son in Iraq last year, and those who despise her for what she is doing and saying. A few people said they felt sorry for Sheehan but thought she was misguided to bring her complaint to the president's "doorstep" and demand a meeting with him.
More than anything, the flood of phone and e-mail messages proved my point that there is now a very serious debate in this country about a war many of us believe should never have been fought. It is a vociferous, passionate dialogue, one that we should have had before Bush decided to attack Iraq and send thousands of American troops there.
Sheehan gets credit for bringing the debate to the forefront and for energizing a heretofore quiescent anti-war movement. If for nothing else, she deserves thanks for that.
Yes, I know many of you reject that idea, and I'll let you have your say later.
But a democratic society that is afraid of public debate on an issue as grave as war is not a healthy society. I was beginning to worry that we had lost one of our most important democratic values: the right to disagree, even with the highest of powers.
I find it curious that many who chastise Sheehan for reportedly having called the president names resort to the same thing in referring to this grieving mother. Some of my correspondents went so far as to question her loyalty to our country and her dead son, suggesting that she dishonors both with her demonstration.
Although Bush won't grant Sheehan's request for a meeting, he has been forced to address the issue somewhat more directly in recent days.
In a speech this week, Bush mentioned for the first time the exact number of Americans who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. His message has been that we honor them by staying the course, not by cutting and running.
Others would say, of course, that we show our respect for the servicemen and servicewomen by bringing them home as soon as possible.
Regardless of where you stand on the war or how you think this country should proceed in this conflict, you have the right to say exactly what is on your mind. And you ought to be able to say it without being called a traitor or un-American.
As I predicted, those who vilify Sheehan for her message only embolden those who agree with her. Even though she's had to leave her roadside post in Crawford temporarily to care for her ailing mother, the movement she's helped start is holding fast and getting stronger.
The president, as he has tried to do this week, will have to reckon with the growing discontent over the war.
More and more, he will be obliged to address it, and at some point he will likely realize that tired slogans and photo ops -- such as riding a bike with Lance Armstrong down on the ranch -- will not drown out the voices of protest.
The movement is very much alive. It is finally awake. And it is not likely to go back to sleep soon.
On Friday I will remain silent and turn over this space to readers.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. (817) 390-7775 firstname.lastname@example.org