The mother of one of the soldiers killed in Iraq
caused a commotion near the Veterans for Peace photo
display of the fallen soldiers at last weekend's big
antiwar protest in Washington, DC. She stood in front
of the pictures crying and yelling, demanding a piece
of tape to cover her son's face. She said she wanted
to block it out so her son could not be "used" by the "protesters" in their "propaganda."
An antiwar Marine vet who supported the display, yet
understood what he called "a mother's grief," quietly
handed her a piece of tape.
What the tape couldn't cover up, though, is that the
woman's son already had been "used" - by the US
government. He was shipped to Iraq based on lies: Iraq
never endangered the US. The same government is still
using her son and other dead GIs to promote its war,
claiming "we" must "stay the course" to "honor" the
I didn't want to state these harsh truths to the
grieving mother. I did try to explain, however, that
Veterans for Peace was "using" the photographs to
humanize the casualties, to convince Americans to stop politicians from sending more young people to die in Iraq.
The woman's husband and another pro-war veteran whose
son also was killed in Iraq stepped in and shouted at
me, saying they and other soldiers "protected our
freedoms," and that I was "lucky" to be able to
protest, "thanks to" the soldiers.
Of course soldiers have protected our freedoms, and we
honor them for that. In fact, I saw nothing but
appreciation from the protesters - the loudest cheers
of the day erupted when the Iraq Veterans Against the
War marched by. (Veterans for Peace got the second
loudest cheers.) We honor soldiers' good faith but
oppose the politicians who needlessly dump them into
I disagreed, however, with the claim that only
soldiers protected our freedoms. Protesting against
government policy, I said, protects our freedoms. So
does my work as a lawyer and law professor, in its
small way. Moreover, I continued, many Americans who
never "served" have "protected our freedoms."
Citizens who break unjust laws to challenge them in
court protect our freedoms. Men who burned their draft
cards, or who refused to give the government the power
to force them to fight in wars, protected our
freedoms. Artists who push boundaries protect our
I focused on the freedom of speech and said everyone
had a right to protest. The main threat to our freedom
of speech (and our other liberties), I continued, was
our own government. To strengthen that point, I
pulled out my pocket copy of the US Constitution and
read the First Amendment out loud. It doesn't mention
foreign threats. It warns against our own government's violating our freedom of the press, of speech, of assembly, of petitioning the government, of religion.
Americans who criticize the protesters should read our Constitution. This includes Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), who told Sunday's small pro-war "counter-protest," "The group who spoke here the other day did not represent the American ideals of freedom, liberty, and spreading that around the world. I frankly don't know what they represent, other than to blame America first."
The people at last Saturday's protest were guarding
all our freedoms, including the soldiers' freedoms -
including their right not to be used by their own
government to wage an unjustifiable war that benefits
only a few elites. The protesters didn't represent
"blame America first'; they represented the ideals in
One of the men I'd been arguing with looked at my
battered copy of the Constitution and asked, "Is that
for me?" I've carried that little book around with me
for years, and I'm attached to it. But something came
over me, and I handed it to him. I asked him to read
it. He said he would and walked away.
Perhaps he will read it. And then perhaps he and
other pro-war veterans and parents of soldiers killed
in Iraq will vent their rage at the government, and
its pom-pom boys such as Senator Sessions. Thanks to
the protesters and other Americans who've stood up to
our government, they'll be able to do that when they
figure out who's really using their sons.
Brian J. Foley is a professor at Florida Coastal
School of Law. He can be reached at: