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Who Am I to Question the Commander-in-Chief?

A combat veteran calling for restraint on Iraq comes under fire from those who mistakenly believe that patriotism equals silence.
 
 
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It was early in the morning, even for me, and I stared astonished at my inbox, replete with some pretty strong hate mail, with three general themes: "Shut up and toe the line," "Nuke Iraq," and worst of all, "Who are you to question the President?"

What did I do to warrant this flood of not-so-nice mail, which included threats of bodily harm, as well as some biologically implausible suggestions?

Last week a group of Gulf War veterans formed a team to raise questions about our impending invasion of Iraq. Together, we agreed on some basic principles, none of which was "anti-war." Rather, our goal is to ensure before we commit our forces to war, we consider all the key issues.

Those issues are simple: whether or not the invasion will destabilize the region; full medical care for returning soldiers (which never happened in 1991); the Bush administration should release any information justifying an attack; Congress is the body that should approve any war and ensure adequate oversight; we should meet our international obligations, including working through the UN Security Council, and a full accounting must be made for those who are missing-in-action.

In the first 24 hours after we announced our site, quite a few veterans signed on to the statement. But a small minority sent hate mail. To give you an idea of the tone, I'll quote three of them:

"Get over your-stupid-selves. Dumbass Liberal pussies."
"I say turn the place into glass!"
"Where in God's name did you ever get the idea to countermand the commander-in-chief of our nation?"

Okay. I have to take exception to this. Let's make one thing clear -- George W. Bush is indeed the commander-in-chief of the military; but last I heard, the President works for the people, not the other way around -- even if they didn't vote for him.

Since when did patriotism equal silence? Did that happen about the same time peace activists were added to the "no-fly" list? Will we let the terror war, or the Iraq war, or the oil war, or whoever it is we're fighting this week destroy the very foundations of our democracy?

It's time for people to sit up and pay attention. We've reached a turning point in history, where Americans say they'll cash in their freedom and liberty for security. We defeated communism and dictatorship, so now we'll try capitalism and dictatorship?

Unless we all speak out, we just might. Because the tenor of the debate is exactly what President Bush said: If you're not with us, you are against us. If you don't support war on Iraq, you must be Saddam's best friend. If you don't support "turning the place into glass," you must be anti-American. If you don't support slaughtering innocent civilians abroad, you must support terror against Americans at home.

I'm a combat veteran, and I reject that argument. If we give up the civil liberties on which our society was founded, then what are we fighting for? If we trade in our brains for the spin of the oil-company-controlled White House, we're in trouble.

But then again, if I believe what I read in my inbox, I'm just a radical with a liberal left-wing nut, anti-everything agenda.

Charles Sheehan-Miles, a decorated Gulf War combat veteran, is the author of "Prayer at Rumayla" (XLibris, 2001) and a former president of the National Gulf War Resource Center.