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Issue One: The war in Iraq

Sunday, April 13, 2003

War is not good for children and other living things

Last year, I gave birth to a baby girl. I feel differently about a lot of things as a result of this experience.I feel a deep solidarity with other mothers. And I am more deeply touched by human suffering than ever before.

I find that I cannot look at pictures of malnourished children or mothers in war-torn countries without thinking of my daughter's eyes, or my own efforts to feed, clothe and care for my daughter. When I see those children now, they remind me of my daughter -- and I realize that in other circumstances, they might be laughing, playing and reaching for the sunlight on the wall. When I see those women, they remind me of me -- fiercely protective of their children, wanting what is best for them, aching to provide for their child's needs but often unable to because of their desperate poverty.

And so I find myself with a strange take on the current war. I still read and think about the politics, the weapons, the psychological strategies and the media coverage. But more and more, I see the human face of war. I think about the children and families caught in the miseries of tyranny and sanctions; I see the misery of children and families caught in the crossfire of a war they didn't want and didn't ask for.

And I find myself, caught up as I am in the daily routine of caring for a 9-month old, asking all sorts of questions I seriously doubt that folks in the Pentagon or Baghdad ever consider.

How do babies sleep in wartime? My baby needs lots of sleep . . . two regular naps a day. When she doesn't get them, she's fussy and cries. Days when she doesn't sleep well compound teething or a tummy ache or other things that babies go through on a fairly regular basis. My daughter has a beautiful crib in a sunny quiet room. But where do Iraqi babies sleep, and how do they sleep through all the bright lights and the loud noise of bombing?

Some of them probably grow immune to it by just trying to shut it out as best they can. But the tension in their little bodies must be awful.

And how do mothers calm babies' fears when they themselves are terrified and angry? How do mothers relax enough to breast feed, assuming they have adequate nutrition to maintain a milk supply? Assuming they can find or be given formula, where do they go for clean water to mix it with? I've actually called grocery stores to find out if they stock organic produce because I don't want my baby eating pesticides. When children in this war need solid food, where do their mothers find fruits and vegetables of any kind, much less fruits and vegetables from environmentally undamaged land, land undamaged by chemical residues, smoke from oil fires, or depleted uranium?

When they start to crawl and toddle, where do these children play? I put plastic covers on electrical outlets and try to ensure that my baby doesn't knock over our bookcases. I pick up shiny paperclips or other small things that she might put in her mouth. How do wartime mothers ensure that their little ones don't pick up bright shiny cluster bombs?

Perhaps these questions sound crazy. Perhaps the fact that I have the leisure to ask them says the most of all. I am not fighting for subsistence. I live in relative abundance. I am not living in terror that a missile will strike my home or that bomb fragments will hit my child. I do not have to spend my days constantly worrying about whether or not my child will grow up with her limbs and her life intact.

But I think these questions are still worth asking, because every mother and every father long to give their children a sense of normalcy, a kind of ordinary everyday life of blessings. These questions remind me that children are not and should never be considered "collateral damage."

These questions are worth asking because I love my daughter, and I pray that she will grow up in a world that has finally decided that our children are treasures to cherish.

ELISABETH M. PRIEST
Ambridge


Is war really one-sided?

A gray line has been painted across America in the last few weeks: Those who are against the war stand on one side and those who support our troops stand on the other. Often, these groups are depicted vehemently condemning each other.

This bilateral labeling of the American people has been propagated through news media. If a citizen speaks out in favor of peace, he or she is directly labeled as a "war protester" and then indirectly branded as being "unsupportive" of our troops. Using the same reasoning, would "supporters" of our troops want to be branded as "war advocates"?

Such split dissension is evident in the recent reactionary nature of the populace. Nationally, almost every city's "peace rally" has been followed by a "support our troops" gathering. The media machine darkens the line of separation and bellows the intensity of division through its one-sided, them-against-them news coverage. A recent newspaper article about a "pro-troops" rally depicted a weeping girl reacting to "peace supporters" who were "against" her brother, a Marine.

It seems that media want us to choose a side. But why must there be sides at all?

Is it so unfathomable that someone can hope for peace and be supportive of our troops? I am sure that many peace-advocates support our troops because they want the war to end in order to save as many soldiers' lives as possible. How can a desire to save our troops be misinterpreted, twisted and translated into being against them? Ask the media.

Similarly, isn't it possible for a supporter of our troops to also want peace? Are there not military and government officials who desire war's quickest end? The media have hardly covered this angle; but then again, conflict does get better ratings than unity.

So, are "peace supporters" and "troop supporters" really against each other, or are they simply expressing different beliefs? Perhaps, they are not on either side, but stand on the indivisible line that makes us American -- the fact that we can have opinions with varying shades of grey.

We do not have to choose and it does not have to be one way or the other. It can be a diverse mix of everything, like America. Isn't true freedom about unlimited possibilities and isn't that what this war is supposed to be protecting?

Instead of limiting our beliefs and identities to media branding, we should all support a freedom that allows us to express ourselves without being minimized, compartmentalized and criticized.

So whose side are you on?

CHRISTOPHER CUSSAT
Mount Washington


Protesters are heroes

Those who have rallied and marched to protest the U.S. invasion of Iraq are just as much heroes as are the military men. While the military has been fighting to make the Middle East safe for American oil interests, and perhaps for freedom for repressed Iraqis, these protesters have been the only Americans standing up for our Constitution.

Now that we have relinquished democracy to President Bush, and portions of our Bill of Rights have been suspended by our executive branch, we can thank these protesters for braving pepper spray, hair pulling and armed manipulation by police to voice their constitutional right to express their opinions.

Even overarmed police officers who abuse these peaceful protesters owe thanks to them for standing up for their First Amendment rights -- nobody else is.

I was there at Regent Square.

RICK NELSON
North Fayette


Can't have it both ways

Here's what I don't understand: Many say they are against the war but "support the troops." How can you be against a war but supportive of the devices (our troops) by which that war is being prosecuted? If you are against "the war" doesn't it stand to reason that you should be against those who wage "the war?"

Also, many say they "support the troops" but do not support President Bush. How can this be? If you support the troops, you must know that as president of the United States, George Bush is the commander in chief, the highest-ranking officer of our armed forces. So if you support the troops you must, by default, support the president, correct? Unless your support is conditional.

My point is this: My personal decision is to support this action. I believe it is necessary, I believe it is just, and I don't understand how anyone can't.

I was in the first Gulf war and I got an ugly firsthand lesson on the brutality of that sick dictatorship. I also respect those who are against it and who voice that dissent because the patriotic part of me understands how awesome the ability to speak out and not have your tongue cut out is.

Our freedoms are a blessed thing, and I am proud to have served for eight years. But if you are not going to support the war, then don't support it. It's your right.

But please stop insulting the intelligence of the other 75 percent of Americans who do by playing word games with us. You scream loudly to be heard, yet you refuse to stand fully behind your convictions for fear of being labeled "unpatriotic," and that I do not understand.

DAVID van DOREN
Windgap


Prayer, not protest

Why are people filling up the streets with protests? They should be filling up pews in houses of worship, thanking God the war's not here in their homeland -- that they are free to stay here in their homeland and not be in the streets of Iraq! Thank God for those who fight to keep me free in my homeland.

May God bring our heroes home safely in their boots -- not in "bags." In the words of President Bush, "God bless America and those who protect her." Note the word is "protect," not "protest." Get your feet out of the streets; get on your knees, please.

MADONNA A. SMITH
Mount Washington


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