- There is a remarkable scene in Fahrenheit 9/11 when Lila
Lipscomb talks with an anti-war activist outside the White House about
the death of her 26-year-old son, Michael, in Iraq. A pro-war passerby
doesn't like what she overhears and announces: "This is all staged!"
- Ms Lipscomb turns to the woman, her voice shaking with
rage, and says: "My son is not a stage. He was killed in Karbala,
April 2. It is not a stage. My son is dead." Then she walks away and
cries: "I need my son."
- Watching Ms Lipscomb doubled over in pain on the White
House lawn, I was reminded of other mothers who have taken the loss of
their children to the seat of power and changed the fate of wars. During
Argentina's dirty war, a group of women whose children had been "disappeared"
by the military regime gathered every Thursday in front of the presidential
palace in Buenos Aires. At a time when all public protest was banned, they
would walk silently in circles, wearing white headscarves and carrying
photographs of their missing children.
- The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo revolutionised human
rights activism by transforming maternal grief from a cause for pity into
an unstoppable political force. The generals could not attack the mothers
openly, so they launched fierce covert operations against their organisation.
But the mothers kept walking, playing a significant role in the eventual
collapse of the dictatorship.
- Unlike the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who march together
every week to this day, in Fahrenheit 9/11 Lila Lipscomb stands alone,
hurling her fury at the White House. But Lila Lipscomb is not alone. Other
American and British parents whose children have died in Iraq are also
coming forward to condemn their governments, and their moral outrage could
help to end the military conflict still raging in Iraq.
- Last week, Nadia McCaffrey, a California resident, defied
the Bush administration by inviting news cameras to photograph the arrival
of her son's casket from Iraq. The White House has banned photography of
flag-draped coffins arriving at air force bases, but because Patrick McCaffrey's
remains were flown into the Sacramento International airport, his mother
was able to invite the photographers inside. "I don't care what [President
Bush] wants," Ms McCaffrey declared, telling her local newspaper:
- Just as Patrick McCaffrey's body was coming home to California,
another soldier was killed in Iraq: 19-year-old Gordon Gentle, from Glasgow.
- Upon hearing the news, his mother, Rose Gentle, immediately
blamed the government of Tony Blair, saying: "My son was just a bit
of meat to them, just a number...This is not our war, my son has died in
their war over oil."
- And just as Rose Gentle was saying those words, Michael
Berg happened to be visiting London to speak at an anti-war rally. Since
the beheading of his 26-year-old son, Nicholas, who had been working in
Iraq as a contractor, Michael Berg has insisted that "Nicholas Berg
died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld". Asked by an
Australian journalist whether such bold statements were "making the
war seem fruitless", Mr Berg responded: "The only fruit of war
is death and grief and sorrow. There is no other fruit."
- It is as if these parents have lost more than their children
- as if they have also lost their fear, allowing them to speak with great
clarity and power. This represents a dangerous challenge to the Bush administration,
which likes to claim a monopoly on "moral clarity". Victims of
war and their families aren't supposed to interpret their losses for themselves,
they are supposed to leave that to the flags, ribbons, medals and three-gun
- Parents and spouses are supposed to accept their tremendous
losses with stoic patriotism, never asking whether a death could have been
avoided, never questioning how their loved ones are used to justify more
killing. At Patrick McCaffrey's military funeral last week, Paul Harris,
the chaplain of the 579th Engineer Battalion, informed the mourners: "What
Patrick was doing was good and right and noble...There are thousands, no,
millions, of Iraqis who are grateful for his sacrifice."
- But Nadia McCaffrey knows better and is insisting on
carrying her son's own feelings of deep disappointment from beyond the
grave. "He was so ashamed by the prisoner abuse scandal," Ms
McCaffrey told the Independent. "He said we had no business in Iraq
and should not be there."
- Freed from the military censors who prevent soldiers
from speaking their minds when alive, Lila Lipscomb has also shared her
son's doubts about his work in Iraq. In Fahrenheit 9/11, she reads from
a letter Michael mailed home. "What in the world is wrong with George,
trying to be like his dad, Bush. He got us out here for nothing whatsoever.
I'm so furious right now, Mama."
- Fury is an entirely appropriate response to a system
that sends young people to kill other young people in a war that never
should have been waged. Yet the American right is forever trying to pathologise
anger as something menacing and abnormal, dismissing war opponents as hateful
and, in the latest slur, "wild-eyed". This is much harder to
do when victims of wars begin to speak for themselves: no one questions
the wildness in the eyes of a mother or father who has just lost a son
or daughter, or the fury of a soldier who knows that he is being asked
to kill, and to die, needlessly.
- Many Iraqis who have lost loved ones to foreign aggression
have responded by resisting the occupation. Now victims are starting to
organise themselves inside the countries that are waging the war. First
it was the September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, which speaks out
against any attempt by the Bush administration to use the deaths of their
family members in the World Trade Centre to justify further killings of
civilians. Military Families Speak Out has sent delegations of veterans
and parents of soldiers to Iraq, while Nadia McCaffrey is planning to form
an organisation of mothers who have lost children in Iraq.
- American elections always seem to swing on some parental
demographic or other; last time it was soccer moms, this time it is supposed
to be Nascar [stock-car racing] dads. On Sunday, Nascar champion Dale Earnhardt
Junior said that he had taken his buddies to see Fahrenheit 9/11 and that
"it's a good thing as an American to go see". It seems as if
there may be another demographic that swings this election: not soccer
moms or Nascar dads but the parents of victims of the war. They don't have
the numbers to change the outcome in swing states, but they might just
change something more powerful: the hearts and minds of Americans.
- - Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo and Fences and
- Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited