American military families traditionally support the missions their loved ones are assigned to serve their country at home or abroad. But an organization representing more than 3,000 military families is now calling on the U.S. Congress to end its funding for the war in Iraq. The group joins a growing chorus of public opposition to the war.
In the U.S. Congressional elections last November, American voters signaled their deepening discontent with the Bush Administration's policies in strife-torn Iraq. In spite of diminishing support for continued U.S. military operations there, President Bush has announced plans to commit more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops to help quell insurgent violence in Iraq. According to the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll, 70 percent of Americans oppose this planned "surge" in U.S. forces.
Military Families Speak Out is one of scores of private organizations and active duty servicemen and women stepping forward to express concern over U.S. policy in Iraq and to call on Congress to withhold any funding for an escalation of the war.
"This nation was told about weapons of mass destruction, this nation was told about links between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, all of these were lies," says Nancy Lessin, one of the founders of the organization. "They were brought into a war based on lies and the most patriotic thing that we can do as military families is to speak out to prevent and now end a war that should never have happened."
Nancy Lessin and her husband started Military Families Speak Out in November 2002 as the drums of war began to bang close to home: their son was about to be deployed with the Marines to Iraq. She says they made a poster with their son's picture on it that read: "Our son is a Marine. Do not send him to war for oil."
"We met a father whose son was soon to deploy and together we decided to form an organization in November 2002 of military families who were speaking out to try to prevent a U.S. occupation of Iraq," she recalls.
Four years later, the grass roots organization claims a membership of over 3,200 military families, all speaking out to end the war and bring U.S. troops home.
"I became politically active mostly because I was stunned when it was announced that we would go to war in Iraq," says Gilda Carbonaro, a member whose son and only child, Sergeant Alessandro Carbonaro, died in Iraq last year. "At the beginning it was not because of my son, it was because I was shocked when I heard that we would go to war with Iraq."
Carbonaro says she became even more active after her son's death, joining the group's campaign urging Congress to terminate funding for the war.
"I think that people need to get out and demand action, demand change, serious and permanent change," says Steve Martello, who served in Iraq. Now a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Martello compares what has happened in Iraq with the Vietnam War.
Former soldiers in the Vietnam War are among those speaking out against the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq. "I know as a soldier that I wish they'd de-funded my war so that I could come home," says Elliot Adams, member of a group called Vietnam Veterans for Peace. He says active duty soldiers in Iraq are also speaking out. "Seventy percent of the American troops in Iraq say we should get out within a year…. De-funding the war is very much supporting the troops."
More than 1,100 active duty soldiers in Iraq have petitioned Congress to end the war. Sergeant Liam Madden is one of them. "I am a marine and my experience there… I felt like seven months of my effort, which was not directly combat-related, my contribution to that war did not lead to a safer and more stable Iraq," says Madden. "I do not think it is necessary for someone to have a traumatic experience in Iraq to realize that the war is wrong."
Several members of Congress are calling for measures to limit funding for the war in Iraq and to support the gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich joined several anti-war groups at a Capitol Hill gathering in calling for an end to the war. "It is urgent that Congress notifies the President right now that the money is there right now, it is in the pipeline to bring the troops home," Kucinich said. "The money is there to start a process of reconciliation, reconstruction and reparations to the people of Iraq."
Kucinich added that money was also available to replace U.S. troops "with security and peace-keeping force representing a number of nations in the region and representing Muslim communities."
Nancy Lessin, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, believes that for every military family in her organization, there are dozens more who are opposed to the war but are not speaking out yet