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Military Families Campaign to Bring US Troops Back

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 Sept. 14, 2004

Military Families Campaign to Bring U.S. Troops Back from Iraq Now

- Interview with Charlie Richardson, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio:

In the fall of 2002, Nancy Lessin and her husband Charlie Richardson attended an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C. Their son was a Marine who would soon be deployed to Iraq. They met another military family opposed to the war and co-founded the group Military Families Speak Out to give voice to the families who would bear the brunt of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Since then, 1,600 families have joined, including 30 whose loved ones died in Iraq and at least one family whose son committed suicide upon his return from the war. The group states that while many die on the battlefield, there are many more who die in their souls. MFSO has supported the family of Camilo Mejia, an army reservist who served in Iraq and refused to return there when ordered, citing crimes and abuses committed against the Iraqi people. He is currently serving a year in prison for desertion. Lessin and Richardson have spoken at rallies and conferences non-stop for the past 22 months, condemning the war and demanding that the troops come home now.

More than 1,000 U.S. troops have now died in the Iraq war, while an estimated 10,000 have been injured. The death toll of 66 in August was the highest monthly toll since May, while the 1,100 injured in August is the highest monthly total of the entire war. Estimates of the number of Iraqi civilians who have died so far range from 10,000 to 40,000. Military Families Speak Out says the war is a tragedy for all who have been put in harm's way.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with MFSO's Charlie Richardson soon after the Institute for Policy Studies announced that his group would receive the Letelier-Moffitt human rights award, named after two human rights champions assassinated by the regime of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Richardson talks about the rationale for the war in Iraq, and how families who felt they needed to support the war in order to support their own sons and daughters fighting in Iraq have come to change their views.

Charlie Richardson: The thing that really strikes me about all this is the idea that there are a discreet number of terrorists in the world, and if we could just get rid of them, then we’ll be safe. So by fighting the war in Iraq, they’re all going to Iraq for the big showdown at the OK Corral, and if we just win that, then somehow the world is gonna be safe. It’s an imbecilic view of the world, of terrorism, of how people operate, and of what creates the fear and loathing that exists throughout the world.

Between The Lines: How do you approach people who may support the war and feel that it’s a good mission and it’s a sacrifice worth making? How do you convince them that the war is not a sacrifice worth making and it’s more worthwhile to try to end the war and bring the troops home?

Charlie Richardson: I think the administration has constructed a very tall edifice, based on fear and based on the sort of threat that if you don’t support the war, you’re not supporting the troops. And so that combination ? fear of terrorism, fear of the world, and this idea that you’re unpatriotic and unsupportive of the troops, if you even raise any questions, has created this huge rift in the American population. The problem is, people can’t even ask simple questions without causing tremendous cracks in that wall. And so you see people who are ignoring the reality in front of them. We talk to people all the time who have loved ones in the military who really can’t figure out how to deal with their questions about the war. It’s easier for them to accept the administration’s line. It’s easier for them to just say, well, the war must be right because my loved one is at risk. Once they start asking those questions, they very quickly move to an understanding that this war is wrong and that they need to do something. They have to do something -- they can’t stand by and watch their loved ones put at risk. They have to do something to try and stop it.

Between The Lines: When you call for bringing the troops home, do you mean bring them home tomorrow, or bring them home as soon as can be done, which is sort of vague and undefined?

Charlie Richardson: We say very clearly, Bring them home now, meaning we understand as well as anybody that the decision to bring them home can be made today but the troops aren’t going to be back home tomorrow. The Iraqi people aren’t going to wake up and look around and say, Hey, where did all the Americans go? It takes a long time to safely remove troops from a country. However, what we believe very strongly is the decision has to be made to bring the troops home, the intent has to be there to bring the troops home, and we want that decision to be made right now, to be announced.

Between The Lines: Then I imagine you aren’t very optimistic about either of the major candidates, because neither one is saying anything like what you’re demanding.

Charlie Richardson: That’s right. You know, the decision to go to war was taken by the Bush administration, but it was certified and supported by a bipartisan vote of Congress. We haven’t heard much from very many politicians who want to end this war and end it quickly. When people start talking about a war that’s going to go on for ten years or four years, you know, our loved ones continue to die, and it’s easy for them to talk in those kinds of numbers. It’s frankly not easy for us to hear that. We also don’t think there’s any good outcome possible from continuing this war. At this point, the occupation of Iraq is the problem, it's not the solution. We need to commit to bringing the troops home, to getting our troops out of there and ending the occupation.

The reality is, politicians have never ended wars; social movements have ended wars. The idea that we can depend on any of the politicians to make the right decision here…it’s just not the way it happens. It’s not the way it happened during the Vietnam war, and it’s not gonna be the way it’s gonna happen here. Regardless of who’s in political power, their feet are going to have to be held to the fire to end this war.

Call Military Families Speak Out at (617) 522-9323 or visit their website at: The Letelier-Moffitt human rights award will be presented Sept. 30 to Military Families Speak Out -- as well as to journalist Seymour Hersh for exposing the Abu Graib prison scandal -- at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Related links on our websiteat

- Iraq Veterans Against the War
- Veterans for Peace
- Voices in the Wilderness


Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( for the week ending Sept. 17, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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