SUFFERN Shirley Young's 20-year-old son, Jesse, is serving with the U.S. Army at Fort Lewis in Washington state, far from the Persian Gulf.
Her son's safe distance doesn't prevent her from objecting to the U.S. war against Iraq.
Young is the regional representative for Military Families Speak Out, a national organization of people who have family members in the military but who are against the war.
The group, which claims about 300 families coast-to-coast, offers mutual support, shares information via e-mail and says it provides an important voice that's not often heard.
Young, who has participated in teach-ins and antiwar protests from Washington, D.C., to the gates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, knows she is in the minority as a member of a military family.
Still, Young feels compelled to express her concerns publicly.
There was no formal congressional declaration of war against Iraq "which is unconstitutional," she said and "a pre-emptive strike is against international law."
She said it was hypocritical to go after Saddam Hussein, a dictator "we trained and armed with chemical weapons in the past."
"The president does not have the right to kill just to change the government of a rogue nation," Young said.
"Our tax dollars are going to fight the war, and we're not getting more jobs and schools. We could feed everyone in Iraq for $74 billion, and they would love us, not hate us."
Young said she considered herself a patriot and was proud that her son joined the military. But, she said, she doesn't want him to become the "hated aggressor."
Young recalled a recent demonstration outside West Point and a sign carried by a counterdemonstrator that read: "What about 9/11 and the people who died?"
"Is it 'getting even' for 9/11 if you kill the same number or nine times the number of people who died?" Young asked. "We teach our kids not to fight and hit each other. This war is only going to cause more terrorism in the world."
Boston residents Charley Richardson, the group's co-founder, and his wife, Nancy Lessin, have a 25-year-old son in the Marine Corps in the Persian Gulf. Richardson said Military Families Speak Out was started in November when several military families found they had common ground in their opposition to war.
"We were both in the antiwar movement during Vietnam," Richardson said of he and his wife. "I'm not a pacifist. But we have members who are pacifists, as well as people from long military traditions who say this war is wrong."
Richardson said he thought the war might be waged in large part because of oil, and he is certain it's also about power politics.
"Iraq is a key to the region," he said. "And the idea of taking it over as a power base has been around for a long time. But I would argue this war violates the Constitution, the U.N. charter and other rules of international behavior."
Although he thinks the war is unjust, Richardson said he supported the troops and wanted to bring them home safely.
"I support the warrior not the war," he said. "This is not about worrying about my son or getting him out of harm's way. It's about getting 250,000 other troops, Iraqi civilians and the world out of harm's way."
Members of the organization have felt a lot of pressure to be silent, he said, "as though speaking out against the war is somehow unpatriotic."
"We feel it's the most supportive, patriotic thing we can do for our troops and our country to stop the war from continuing," he said. "War is ruining international relations, creating enemies all over the world and undermining democracy in the United States. This war is setting a trend for U.S. foreign policy and a precedent for military intervention."
Richardson said he was afraid the United States would become the world's vigilante.
"My father said war is never a good thing, although sometimes it's necessary," he said. "But this is not one of those times."
For more information about Military Families Speak Out, visit www.MFSO.org, e-mail mfso@ mfso.org or call 617-522-9323.
Copyright 2003 The Journal News, a Gannett Co. Inc.