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Families With Loved Ones in Iraq Oppose the War

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Nov. 17, 2003

Military Families With Loved Ones in Iraq Oppose the War While Supporting U.S. Troops

- Interview with Larry Syverson, member of Military Families Speak Out, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

As America observed Veterans Day 2003, many families of military personnel stationed in Iraq were becoming increasingly apprehensive while they watched the U.S. death toll continue to rise. Since the Pentagon concluded major combat operations on May 1, more than 250 U.S. soldiers have been killed, with a total of nearly 400 dead since the launch of the war in March. According to the Department of Defense, some 2,200 troops have been wounded in American military operations in Iraq thus far. An independent report released by the Project on Defense Alternatives in late October estimated that 13,000 Iraqis were killed during the initial combat phase of the war, with between 3,200 and 4,300 of the dead, unarmed civilians.

Larry Syverson of Richmond, Va. has four sons who have served in the U.S. military. Two of them, Bryce and Branden, are now on combat duty in some of the most dangerous areas of Iraq. Syverson, a senior environmental engineer with Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality, has strongly opposed President Bush's war from the start and participates in vigils at Richmond's federal building several times a week to make his views known to all who will listen.

Syverson is a member of the group, Military Families Speak Out, which was formed last year to support those who oppose the war and who have relatives or loved ones in the military. The group, now numbering over 1,000 families, believes it has a unique role to play in speaking out against the war. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Larry Syverson, who discusses his concern for his sons serving in Iraq and the reasons he opposes the Bush administration's war.

Larry Syverson: I am really torn with my sons being over there. I thought they went in for causes that didn't arise to their lives being put at stake. My oldest son Branden is a master gunner on Abrams tanks. He's with the 4th Infantry in Tikrit. My youngest son Bryce is a gunner on a Bradley fighting vehicle; he's with the 1st Armored in Baghdad.

So both are in the two areas that we hear so much about in the infamous Sunni triangle. It seems that quite a few of the attacks on the soldiers involve either troops in the 4th Infantry or the 1st Armored. Whenever I read in the paper or hear on the news that another soldier's been killed or injured, my wife and I both just dread -- are afraid that we may have that car appear on our driveway with news of our sons. It's just something that just doesn't leave us, it's always in the back of our minds.

Between The Lines: Now tell us about your views, maybe your son's views about this war in Iraq and how you were feeling before the war was actually launched last March. What was your view of the Bush administration's efforts to persuade the public here in the United States and people around the world that Iraq was a menace to the region and to the United States directly that warranted an attack, a unilateral attack.

Larry Syverson: I've been against the war since they first started floating the balloon about invading Iraq back last summer of 2002 and then through the fall. I never thought that Iraq was a threat with chemical weapons, biological or nuclear weapons. As much as I read the newspaper I could never find where people talked about connections between al-Qaeda or 9-11 with the Saddam Hussein regime. So I was skeptical of it from the very beginning and actually began protesting prior to the war breaking out.

I have a sign, a big sign that says, "Iraqi oil is not worth my son's blood." And I have two pictures on it, two 8x10 pictures - one of Branden and one of Bryce. They're close-up pictures of them, they're wearing their uniforms -- you can read their last name Syverson on their uniforms. So I'm very proud of it and I'm not ashamed to have people know our last name as far as dealing with the protest.

I talked to both sons prior to the war and told them I would have a sign with their pictures on it and that I was trying to stop the war in the best way I could. And protesting was the best support I could give them and that I wasn't opposing them or their military careers, I was against the administration. Both sons said it was OK that I had the pictures on the sign and then Branden went over in April and Bryce in May. And I continued to have emails, letters or phone calls from them and they all still support my right to protest the war.

We hear from the administration that you can't support the troops and be against the war, that that's not possible. However, each time I've had a phone call with my sons, I've told them I'm continuing to protest, are you OK with that? You know I'm not doing this against you or your friends. Both of them have said, "Go ahead and protest; we understand it, we know how you can be supporting us, wanting to get us back, being against the war." In the last email I got from Bryce, in the p.s. it said, "Dad I still -- and the 'still' was all in caps -- I still am proud of you and your protest."

Between The Lines: Larry Syverson, President Bush has deliberately not attended any soldiers' funerals of those killed in Iraq and it's the Pentagon's policy to keep images of the coffins of slain U.S. soldiers out of the news, out of our newspapers and television screens. Do you have concerns that the coming election campaign of 2004 may adversely affect how our nation makes decisions about the servicemen and women who are now serving in Iraq?

Larry Syverson: Yes I do. I think it's appalling that the soldiers that have given their lives in Iraq, their last trip home is undercover of darkness and they arrive at Dover Air Force base with no fanfare. A poll recently by the Stars and Stripes, thought that between 40 and 50 percent of all the troops would not be re-enlisting. And there's no way that the armed forces are going to be able to recruit in an environment like this. I think that we'll see if George Bush is re-elected that they will re-institute the draft, but it will not be mentioned until after the election because if that were brought up between now and then it would be an issue that he would really have a hard time defending and it would make his polls go down. He's afraid that every flag-draped coffin that he sees is going to make him lose a percentage point or two. And he's looking more at the polls then he is at the coffins.

Contact Military Families Speak Out through their website at or email them at

Related links on our website at for Week Ending 11/21/03:

- Bring Them Home Now

- Veterans for Peace

- Citizen Soldier

- Veterans Against the Iraq War

- Veterans for Common Sense

- "Will U.S. Bring Back the Draft

- "The Wages of War: Iraqi Combatant and Noncombatant Fatalities in the 2003 Conflict"

- "How Many Body Bags?" by Robert Scheer, the Los Angeles Times, Nov. 4, 2003

- "Deadly Tunnel Vision in Iraq," by Holly Sklar, Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, Oct. 31, 2003


Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending Nov. 21, 2003. Between The Lines Q&A is compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.

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