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 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 11:04 GMT
Military voices of dissent
US troops prepare to leave for Kuwait
Parents of soldiers in the Gulf want a delay

Opposition to a possible war in Iraq has come from an unlikely source - the US military itself.

As anti-war forces are gathering for a major demonstration on Saturday in Washington, a group of parents of the soldiers currently being deployed in the Gulf have decided to speak out against the drive for war.

USS Comfort
One son will by flying casualties to medical ships
They have been joined by organisations representing Gulf War veterans, who are particularly concerned about the problem of chemical and biological warfare casualties among servicemen.

The anti-war former soldiers hope to replicate the success of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War in the l960s, who were a crucial part of the anti-war coalition that helped end US involvement in that war.

The organisations are new and small. But they could bring a new element to the anti-Iraq war movement. If they influence US troops in the field, that could be a worry for the Pentagon.

Activists on Vietnam

Nancy Lessin, one of founders of Military Families Speak Out has a stepson, Joe, in the marines. He is deployed in Kuwait as an Arab language specialist.

This war isn't worth the life of one American soldier

Charles Sheehan-Miles, former tank crewman, 24th Infantry, Gulf War
She is a union activist from Jamaica Plain near Boston, Massachusetts who was previously active in opposing the Vietnam War.

Her voice breaking, Ms Lessin told News Online she hoped her stepson would not face combat, nor would he have to take part in killing others.

She said that opposition to an unjust war was patriotic.

And she said that if Iraq's main export was olive oil, we wouldn't be facing the possibility of war.

The horrors of war

Briggs Seakins from Maine served as a dismount mechanised infantryman with the 3rd Armoured Division in the 1991 Gulf War.

He told the BBC that it was the experience of the war - and his concern that he was taking part in the slaughter of innocents - that has led him to take his anti-war stance.

He says that at the time, supporting his fellow soldiers took priority. But having seen the refugees and the frightened conscript soldiers from Iraq, he would not take part in war again.

So far there are no members of these organisations who are also active members of the military. But the organisers believe that there is considerable hidden support for their views.

Jeff McKenzie, another member of Military Families Speak Out, is an anti-war activist from New York state. His son, Jeremy, is an Army captain who flies medical evacuation helicopters and is currently being deployed to the Gulf.

He said he encountered sympathy with his views among some of the soldiers when he visited his son in Fort Benning, Georgia, especially those who were nearing the end of their tours of duty.

His own anti-war views were forged after the events of 11 September, and he took part in anti-nuclear marches.

He says the war in Iraq is about settling old scores and controlling oil, and it would not be in America's interest.

Gulf War veterans

Many of the military activists, former Gulf War veterans, are warning that any conflict will be more costly, in terms of casualties and disabilities, than anyone is prepared for.

And as the coalition seeks to represent the views of some 44 million veterans, the Veterans for Common Sense (VFCS) have taken a moderate stance on the war, calling for a halt to the war until diplomacy has been given a chance rather than opposing it outright.

They have also called for more evidence and broader support from the Allies before launching a "vindictive" strike.

"This war isn't worth the life of one American soldier," said Charlie Sheehan-Miles, a former tank crewman in the Gulf who is one of the founders of VFCS.

"This week thousands of US soldiers are deploying to Kuwait to fight a war on our behalf. They go because it is their job, and their mission to protect us. It is now our mission to protect them."

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See also:

11 Jan 03 | Middle East
08 Jan 03 | Health
02 Dec 02 | Politics
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