Battle Lines Behind the Battle Lines
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- In military communities across the United States, a debate over the Iraq war is being waged by reluctant, neophyte activists. Their microphones chirp and squeak, or don't pick up their quiet voices at all. Their signs are too small. They forget the banners.
"This is my community. I don't want to offend people here. But my husband is a soldier; he can't say anything. So it's my duty as a citizen to speak up," Kara Hollingsworth, a D.C. native and Army wife at Fort Bragg whose husband served two tours in Iraq, said as she took a seat on a panel of antiwar activists last week.
A few hours earlier, another Army spouse stood in the red-brick village square near the base and held up a handmade sign supporting the war. She threw it together after she heard that an antiwar caravan was coming to town.
"I've never done this before. I'm usually a quiet military wife. But I can't take this anymore," said Marlene Lowrey, whose husband also served in Iraq. "This isn't right, coming into a town like this with that antiwar stuff. Those people don't realize this brings down morale."
Military families, stoic and tight-lipped during most of the nation's wars, have become a powerful voice on both sides of the bitter argument over U.S. involvement in Iraq. And their growing prominence will add a poignant note to Saturday's antiwar march and rally near the White House.
Organizers of the protest, who anticipate a crowd of about 100,000, estimate that thousands of military families and veterans will join in the demonstration. Three busloads of military families have been touring the country since Aug. 31 and will converge on Washington today to promote Saturday's rally.
In recent weeks, war supporters have been countering those bus stops, rallies and vigils with demonstrations of their own. They've got their own bus touring the country and are planning three days of counter-protests in Washington this weekend.
Both sides embrace the slogan "Support our troops." They just disagree on how to do it. They also were inspired by the same person: Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in combat and kept a vigil near President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex., through most of August.
Because of Sheehan, "military families across the country are stepping forward to speak out" in support of U.S. policy, said Iowa state Sen. Charles W. Larson Jr., who recently served a year in Iraq with the Army. "You don't normally see people like this do that. They are angry and frustrated, and that is why they have become engaged in the debate."
Sheehan also galvanized Phil and Linda Waste, who were riding one of the "Bring Them Home Now" buses through the hills of North Carolina last week. Their three sons, grandson and granddaughter are all in the military and have served a total of 58 months in Iraq, and the Wastes have white-knuckled their way through each of those tours of duty.
They sat in their Hinesville, Ga., living room for months, cursing at the television reports from Iraq.
"Then we saw Cindy in Texas," said Linda Waste, holding tight to the table's edge on the bumping bus. Her husband picked up her thought: "And then we heard people call her unpatriotic. And that was it."