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Rebuilding Iraq


Healthy dissent

By Globe Staff, 4/3/2003

    Rebuilding Iraq


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THE MESSAGE from today's anti-war protesters is well chosen and clear: Oppose the Bush administration but support the troops. There was little effort to make that distinction between soldier and policy makers during the Vietnam War or to pat the enlisted person on the back, and the country has paid for that lapse with deep psychological scars.

"In the 1960's we thought that if we could just get soldiers not to volunteer, there would be no war," said Susan Shaer, cochair of the national coalition Win Without War and executive director of the Arlington-based advocacy group Women's Action for New Directions. "Today we know that the problem is the administration and that soldiers are doing their jobs."

Win Without War, with 38 member organizations that include labor, business, veterans', and women's groups, is encouraging people to write letters to soldiers in Iraq. The organization has also pressed Congress to increase veterans' benefits. Both Win Without War and the national coalition United for Peace and Justice have included statements of troop support in press releases condemning US policy in Iraq.

"Those of us who were in the Vietnam movement regret that we didn't do enough to thank the young men who served their country," said former congressman Bob Edgar, now general secretary of the National Council of Churches, which belongs to both antiwar coalitions. "I think we're more sophisticated now and understand that you can be antiwar and still be patriotic Americans."

The country is more skeptical too, having gone through seemingly countless "gates" since Richard Nixon's operatives broke into Democratic Party headquarters in 1972. Questioning people in charge is not considered quite the act of disloyalty it was to the "silent majority" in the polarized 1960s.

The protest, once the purview of radical youth, has become a way of life for groups of all political stripes that march for higher pay, equal rights, fair housing policies, Social Security increases, health insurance, or better protection of the environment.

Americans, living in an age of TV and computer resources unimagined 35 years ago, are better informed in this war and can see the faces of combat more clearly as individuals rather than amorphous political symbols.

Today's soldiers, who serve in a volunteer army, have made career choices for education, training, and, in many cases, as a way out of dismal economic straits -- something that resonates with most Americans no matter where they stand on the war.

Protest is the mark of a healthy democracy -- and it becomes even more robust when a maturing movement can stand fast against war while still embracing the warrior.

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 4/3/2003.
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