Friday, August 19, 2005; 1:30 PM
Sherwood Baker, a sergeant in the Pennsylvania National Guard, arrived in Baghdad at the beginning of 2004, serving as a member of the military security detail for the Iraq Survey Group, which was looking for weapons of mass destruction. On April 24, 2004, Baker's unit was in Baghdad inspecting buildings when the building he was in exploded, killing him. He was 30 years old.
"When we buried my son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, I knelt beside his coffin and vowed to him I would speak the truth for him. I believe this war is a disaster, a betrayal of the noblity of our miltary and of the democracy they are charged to protect. For the past 16 months I have been faithfully trying to keep my vow to my son," said his mother, Celeste Zappala , in an interview with washingtonpost.com.
Zappala was online Friday, Aug. 19, at 1:30 p.m. ET to discuss her reasons for opposing the war and supporting the efforts of antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan.
A transcript follows.
Oakton, Va.: Do you think that if your son had been fighting a "just" war, and he was killed, you would still support the war? Or would his death turn you against the war?
I think many people in America may doubt you because they may think you are reacting to your son's unfortunate death. I do not support this war, but while I empathize for you and your family, it is hard for your words to carry much weight given the circumstances. Do you realize this, and how do you approach/counter/deal with this?
Celeste Zappala: Thank you for asking about this idea of a just war. It has been said that a just war is the one you would be willing to send your own child to. And for those who are the architects of this war it seems their kin are not involved nor expected to be involved. I think that is very important, and that seems to have an effect on recruitment too, many parents are not encouraging their young ones to join, i see that also as a failure of support by our Nation for this war.
I, as a very committed religious person, have always tried to practise non-violence and taught this principle to my kids, I also tried to teach them service- to whom much is given much is asked- so when my son joined the national guard I was worried for him, but not surprised - he was the kind of person you would turn to for help and protection.
What i find appaling in all of this is that the noble spirit and lives of our troops are so casually spent. It is evident this was a war of choice, supported by great stretches of logic and fact, if not out right fabrication, is that a justification or a definition of a just war , no.
war is a failure of human behavior, if war is a tactic it should be the last resort, i always thought that was a guding principle of our country
Maryland: It sounds like Cindy Sheehan is going beyond her original reasons for protest and is now letting other people and groups dictate her agenda. Shouldn't she be more focused on her original motives?
Celeste Zappala: Cindy is my friend and we with a few others are co-founders of Gold Star Families for Peace, we have been working- speaking- writing- pleading about the war for more that a year. Cindy would like to meet with the president and ask her questions, but she, I and all of us are most interested and desperately want to end the war and bring our troops home now and take care of them when they get home.
others have joined us, supported us,. stood with us, we are grateful for the support, our message has not changed.
this is about ending the war
Washington, D.C.: Mrs. Zappala, I am very sorry for your loss and I understand your frustration with a war in which your son lost his life. Are you still affiliated with Gov. Ed Rendell's office in Pennsylvania? I know that the governor, as a Democrat, and the president, as a Republicn, do not see eye to eye on the war in Iraq.
Celeste Zappala: Yes I worked fior the Governor when he was Mayor and have great respect for him, I do not speak for him, but I was grateful that he attended my son's funeral, helped to pass legislation to assure that the children of fallen guards men could go to college in Pennsylvania. I think he is a compasisonate person
i have never met the President
Easton, Md.: Why don't more families speak up? Do they really believe that this war is worth their sacrifices? I've been stunned by how supportive the military families have been in the last year. I deeply regret the loss of your son. Recently I've asked why I should continue to care about service people dying in Iraq when so many of their own families seem to think it's a worthy cause. I'll don't think it's a worthy cause, but I wonder why I'm so bothered by developments when the military families keep singing the praises of this war. Can you shed some light on this for me?
Celeste Zappala: there is a whole spectrum of thought and feeling of military families, i do not doubt that some people are reluctant to say anything because they fear retaliaiton to their loved one serving, for those serving they may not want their families to know about their own doubts and fears,
understand please that it is agony to have your beloved one away in danger, the phone ringing is a threat, the unexpected knock at the door is terrifying,
so many remain silent with the prayer that their person will just come home whole, soon
for others - they are supportive of the warrior, perhaps not the war, and no doubt there are families who fully agree with the war
I respect the service of all the military folks, we need a military, the adminsitration shoul dtreat them with repect, not lip service
do you know families have to buy equipment fo r their deploying sodliers? that still not all the humvees are uparmored, that contractors in the privitization of the war make 10 times the soldiers pay- something is very wrong here,
but many families just live in silent fear
Reston, Va.: I agree that the war has 'been a disaster' from elements of planning, preparation, and reason. But I'm of the opinion that 'we broke it, we bought it'. Pulling our forces out of Iraq would seemingly create an even bigger disaster. Who would run that country? Would it disolve into a state similar to that of Somalia (another place that we've left behind in worse shape)?
Is saving the American lives by pulling out worth the thousands (if not millions) of Iraqis that may be killed in the void?
How do you propose that we fix things?
Celeste Zappala: i think that having an honest policy would move us a long way, How can we trust those who stretched the truth, refused to listen to correct infomration, trashed their critics - why are they still making decisions?
there are many iraqs who have asked us to leave, many people on the ground think that our presence is inflamatory, and i think it is true we are making enemies faster thanwe can kill them, harsh as that may sound
we should remember that iraq is a 6000 year old civilizaiton, with educated people who have a right to their own resources, and yes we have serious responsiblity to that country, but why are we bui.lding permanent bases? why did we want on denaitonaliz the oil production?
is it time to listen to others who have ideas about exit strategy? shouldn't we insist that Congress talk about an exit strategy and be leaders? why should we continue a disaterous war to prevent "further disater"
we all as a nation have to have this conversation, its OUR war.
Woodstock Ga.: No questions. I was in the Gulf Of Tonkin thirty years ago. I found the reasoning for that war to be as big a lie as this one. I am glad to see a peace movment start. I support it and you fully.
Celeste Zappala: thank you, there are many vets for peace in the movement who remember the same lessons you learned.
thanks you for your service
Portland, Ore.: Mrs. Zappala,
Please accept my deepest condolences on the loss of your son.
My question has to do with media coverage of the antiwar movement. In view of the media's less-than-thorough vetting of the WMD claims advanced to justify the war, and their practice of embedding their reporters with military units, do you think the media is still capable of covering the antiwar movement fairly? How are you adjusting to being in the public eye?
Celeste Zappala: We families have been speaking out since the war started, it has been difficult to capture the media's attention and I do fault the main stream media for just accepting the pretense for war and not being willing to ask the terrible questions that should have been answered before we invaded.
the public spot light is difficult to handle, it is exhausting and remember none of us are pforessionals- we are not the pundits of the sunday talk shows, we are just oprdinary people, moslty middle aged woman who have lost their kids and know it weas wrong.
our message may be unpolished and shakey sometimes, our truth is real, i think the reporters for the most part that are doing the stories forom crawford are respectful and curious,- yes i think they can do a good job, they are professionals and intelligent, and i think many feel they were wrong to not have questioned earlier
just wish they had listened when the american death count was 720- now we aqre at 1862
that is what really is important
Lusby, Md.: When your son volunteered did you believe that he may never seem harm's way? When you stand and take the oath you are pledging to support and defend and follow the orders of those appointed above you. You may not agree with national policy but your son did by raising his hand. I just retired from 21 years of active duty and have several years of time in combat zones so I am qualified to comment.
Celeste Zappala: you are more than qualified to comment. My son was honorable - a 20 year old national guards man, who siad to us "I took an oath before God, I will go and do the job and bring myself and my men home safely, his men returned, he did not.
I do not believe that just because a person has the job of president that his word, motives and decisions shluld be taken without question, that surely is not a democarcy, my son did his job, he was betrayed by an administreation that has not done theirs well.
the only title greater than president is citizen
thank you for being a citizen.
Anonymous: How is serving in Iraq a betrayal of the American democracy?
Celeste Zappala: the decision to go in to this war, defy the facts, throw away the intelligence, ignore the advice of military leaders, and trash the advice of the whole world, in my mind is a betrayal of our military.
service to our country is noble, people give service in many ways, and i wish everyone felt that unselfish service to their country was important.
honor them all
Washington, D.C.: Dear Celeste, I'm very grateful for you and Cindy for making your concerns public. This past Wednesday, Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute said that he thought U.S. soldiers are amply qualified to build democracy in Iraq (rather than simply fighting Saddam's forces), and he listed a whole laundry list of nation-building tasks for our forces. Do you have any idea how Sherwood or his buddies would have felt about that mission?
Celeste Zappala: My son was assigned to the iraq survey group, they were still looking for the weapons of mass destruciton long after everyone knew they were not here, a month after the President made a great joke out of looking under his desk and asking "where are those weapons"
no laughs from me, or so many who are lost in this sad misadventure.
Sher went to try to do good things, that's who he was, thas how he lived his life, he was a caseworker for mentally challenged adults, the best most families had ever had, he was a great father, volunteered at community events, he should have had 50 more years to build this country.
so do i know what he would have thought? its hard to say, he did his job as asked, i hear form so many returning vets about the futility of what is happening now, perhaps we should be asking them all more quesitons and listening!
Woodbridge, Va.: Mrs. Zappala -- As a proud member of a military family, I must respectfully disagree with your views. Whether you (or Ms. Sheehan) or any of us believe that this is a "just" war is irrelevant. Our soldiers are there now -- it was their choice to sign up and their duty to go. There are stories every day of men who have been wounded in this "disaster" of a war who choose to return to fight -- for comrades, for the cause, for many reasons. What right do you or I have to take that choice away from them? What right do we have to dishonor the memories of those who have fought and died by, in essence, calling this war a colossal waste of time that should be ended as quickly and injudiciously as possible? Didn't we do that thirty years ago?
It seems to me a far better tribute to leave a legacy of success to the fallen than failure.
Celeste Zappala: with deep respect
- the military leadership have said there is no military solution, there will be a political solution.
i say the things i say because i love my country and am trying to speak the truth as i see it, I try to speak with humility, I do not want to be on this path, but I am on it.
I am grateful that you and others here are wililng to be in dialogue, this is what our nation needs to do if we are ever going to figure out how to get to Peace.
Dale City, Va.: I am so sorry for your loss. When did your son join the military? I think many of those in Iraq joined in response to the attack of 911 because they felt they could make a difference. However, Iraq was not invaded because of 911 no matter how many times the Administration has tried to say otherwise. Do you feel we may have done a better job in Afghanistan if we had not detoured to Iraq?
Celeste Zappala: He jioned tha national guard in 1997, and told us, don't worry the national guard does not go to forgein wars, theyare here to protect the homeland, agaisnt fires and floods and disters. and he would alwasy tell me Mom don't worry no one from the PA national guard has been killed in combat since 1945- he became the first.
sadly, i think our nation is still in great danger, osama is still free, other countries hav exoerienced attacks, suppose the resources of our country had been used to capture those responsible for 911? where would we be now?
these are hard questions, and what are we not paying attention to right now that will harm us in the future because we are immersed in this war of choice?
it makes me weep for the nation
Pittsburgh, Pa.: My husband, an Army reservist, made it home in one piece from Iraq. Every day I wake up and wonder if this will be the day he is recalled to lay down his life for the Islamic Republic of Iraq. I am so very sorry for your loss and I am thrilled that you and Cindy Sheehan are in Crawford highlighting how much the military families have been asked to sacrifice while everyone else gets on with their lives. Thank you for what you are doing.
Celeste Zappala: i am grateful too that he got back whole.
i ask this quesiton to people all the itme, what is the sacrifice required by all americans? so many people ignore the war, and so many who criticize us for speaking out cound go themselves if they believed in it, or could send the young ones they hold dear.
this is everyone's war, everyone needs to solve it- for some of us there can nevetr be a "going on" we will forever relive the day we learned our prayers would not be answered
Dale City, Va.: What do you think about the possiblity that women may lose what little freedom they had before we invaded under the constitution now being drafted? I think the women who were liberated from the Taliban regime could provide some real insight into what life may become for them in a theocracy. Is that really what Americans are being asked to die for?
Celeste Zappala: women's rights are surely a gret concern to many of the political facitons in Iraq, butwhat comporimises will be made to satisfy a cobbled government.
it is a sad sad realization taht probalby women will end up being less free in Iraq.
Washington, D.C.: Good afternoon Celeste,
First let me say. My prayers go out to you, your family, and all the fallen soldiers of this war. You are very brave for the stance that you've taken.
What do you think about the backlash that Ms. Sheehan is enduring from pro-Bush suporters?
What, if any backlash have you had to endure because of your antiwar stance?
Celeste Zappala: My family and I made alist of all the people who spoke out against this administration and then were trashed and belittled. It was a long list.
Cindy is suffering - people will say terrible things, she will be misquoted maybe i will be too, but nothing changes the fact that our kids are dead, or that as we did this disucsiion some one else died in Iraq, and that we - all of us have a responsiblity to step up and try to end this war.
we will keep doing it to honor the vows we made to our children, we will do it to protect other peoples kids and loved ones
and as to what would my son think of what i am doing?
I think he would expect no less of me.
Celeste Zappala: thank you to everyone who participated today, I appreciated hearing your thoughts and queastions, and for your warm support.
For those who disagree I thank you too for the chance to be in civil dialogue, I love my country, I know you do to, may we be guided by our best instincts and faith to get to Peace.
I believe we honor our heros by BEING the Democracy.
Peace be with you, Celeste Zappala
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