Military Families Are Breaking with Tradition and Making History By Opposing the War in Iraq

Roundup: Media's Take

Paula Span, in the Washington Post (March 11, 2004):

The number of military families that oppose Operation Iraqi Freedom, though never measured, is probably small. But a nascent antiwar movement has begun to find a toehold among parents, spouses and other relatives of active-duty, reserve and National Guard troops.

A group called Military Families Speak Out -- which will figure prominently in marches and vigils at Dover Air Force Base, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the White House next week -- says more than 1,000 families have signed up online and notes that new members join daily. ...

Of course, most people with relatives in wartime service, a group historically more likely to express approval than distrust, don't feel the same way. Though public support for the war was found to have declined in the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, most military families say their support for the action and the president remains unwavering....

Yet even if the opponents represent only a sliver of military families, the emergence of organized antiwar opinion among this traditionally conservative group is something the country hasn't seen before, several historians and political scientists believe.

During the Vietnam War, a handful of Gold Star Mothers who had lost sons in the war marched with Vietnam Vets Against the War and other antiwar groups, says David Cline, now president of Veterans for Peace and an early member of Vietnam Vets. But there were only at most a couple of dozen such mothers, by his recollection, and they never created a nationwide network. The National League of Families, formed to bring political attention to prisoners of war and troops missing in action, had considerable influence but was not critical of the war itself.

And those activists, like Vietnam Vets Against the War as a national group, arose years after the first American losses in Vietnam , by which point a considerable part of the public had already lost faith in the war. For military families to organize against the Iraq war beforehand and during its first year, Cline observes, is like " Vietnam on speed."

"This is unprecedented," says Ronald H. Spector, a military historian at George Washington University . "If military families are having serious doubts about the war and don't see a reason for their relatives to go over there, that's quite significant."

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