Friday, November 18, 2005
I was honored to speak at the AFSC peace event in San Francisco on October 27, 2005
"Remember the Draft? From Vietnam to Iraq: Honoring Resistance Then and Now."
I find myself in San Francisco tonight. These last few months have been very interesting for me. I spent time down in Crawford, Texas [the site of Cindy Sheehan's peace camp]. My reasons for going to Crawford were many and they were complex. I wanted to go down and find out what my other Gold Star family friends were doing and meet some other ones, because whether it's a look or finishing a sentence, only we know what that loss is.
So, I went down there, and I found the stories that weren't being told, and there were many of them. But, for those of you who did go to Crawford and those of you that read about it, you knew there was a certain magic in being there.
My mom called the night before I left for Crawford -- my mother, the neoconservative -- and she said, "Well, we're really worried about you."
I said, "What for?"
She said, "Well, we just think you might be being influenced by some people." And I wanted to say, "Stop listening to Russ Limbaugh." But, I knew where this was coming from. Then she said, "Well, we just think you are going to fall in with the wrong people."
And I'm thinking, "I'm 51 years old; you raised me. You really think someone could influence me if I really didn't believe this?"
But, I looked around this evening [at an AFSC event honoring war resistance], as I looked around Crawford, and I found out that I am in really, really good company and I appreciate the company. I appreciate you walking with us.
It's very hard for Gold Star families to get up here and talk about the loss of our only children, of our nephew, our niece. For me it was my son. Lt. Ken Ballard was my only child. He was 26 years old when he was killed.
He left for Iraq the day after Mother's Day, 2003. That was my Mother's Day present that year. He told me we'd make up for it next year; we'd go to a ball game, we'd go to the beach. That's usually how we'd spend Mother's Day, but that never happened.
Ken was in Iraq for 384 days. He had already turned in his weapons and was ready to come home when fighting broke out again and they extended his tour for 120 days.
On Memorial Day, I received word that my only child was killed in a war that I never supported. My son was a fourth-generation Army officer and I was proud of him serving his country. He volunteered to go, as so many people remind me. As I said, I am proud of his service to this country, but I am not proud of our administration, who use their patriotism to go invade a sovereign country in an illegal invasion.
The impact to me is that I don't get any grandchildren. I don't get to plan a wedding. And these "dog tags" that I wear, that my son wore, were given to me when they gave me his body. This is all I have left.
So, one year ago, this week, I buried my son in Arlington and I looked down at his grave and I said, "If I don't speak, how will people know what it feels like to be a Gold Star mother, to walk this path?" And I decided that Ken did his job for our country, despite what the mission was; but it was time for me to do my job, and to let people know that I wasn't going to let any more families go through this than I had to.
One year ago today, the number of American causalities was 1,100, and as we know this week, we passed 2,000. Today, the number was 2,006. It doesn't stop.
The family of the 2006th service member doesn't care about a number. When they heard their awful news, they probably never even heard, "I regret to inform you..." Because they knew when they saw who was at the door what the news was. Every nightmare they had about their loved ones had just come true. Every prayer for their safety on this earth will never be answered, and every deal they made was off.
Their new world is black and white; it's turned upside-down. Those family members screamed, and didn't recognize the pain coming from a place they never knew existed. They screamed again, and it was their soul leaving their body. This is their new normal.
Two thousand isn't the magic number, and neither is soldier number eleven, or soldier number 812, as my son was. These are just the numbers representing the lives that ended way too soon. And they represent their family and friends, who have been left behind. They signify the many unfulfilled promises and unfinished lives.
The president's numbers are at an all-time low, and he continues to insist that the best way to honor the sacrifices of the fallen is to complete the mission. He said that again, and again, and again, hoping that we will believe the lies that led to this war. I say, do not honor the sacrifice of my son, that he made to this country, don't honor that sacrifice by killing one more person. Please honor his sacrifice with the truth.
Tell us what the noble cause is. Tell us honestly why this administration took this country and our men and women into an invasion of a sovereign country. Tell us when we can bring our troops home and tell us when torture became acceptable.
There are no "weapons of mass destruction." There is no end in sight to this war that so many of us questioned. There is no exit plan, just as there was never a plan to manage the peace that we were promised would come in short order.
There is nothing to suggest that this war is going to end any time soon and the killing continues -- 2006, 2007, 2008. Yesterday, Senator John McCain said that it's not right to use the death toll for "political" purposes. So, I wonder why it is "political" to participate in a peace vigil to honor and remember our men and women who are dying in a war so far away and in a war that is wrong. What is "political" is to hide the human cost of this war by not allowing us to see flag-covered caskets coming home, by not openly publishing the number of dead and wounded on either side, and to not mourn as a country the loss of these precious lives.
And when did peace become wrong? As long as the human costs are hidden, this country cannot begin to heal. The mother's voices will end this war, they have to; and the father's can too, but it's mostly the mothers they will listen to.
When I speak out against this ugly war, and when I tell you what it feels like to lose an only child in a war I didn't support, brought to us by an administration that doesn't care enough about my son or his compatriots to provide them with adequate equipment and resources, I am called a "traitor" and "unpatriotic." I am disrespecting my son's service, I am told.
As surely as they believe what they say to me, I do not accept this judgment. I do have a noble cause. Imagine, for one minute, my sense of peace knowing that my speaking out might end the war one day earlier and possibly save the life of one of the pro-Bush, pro-war families. Their loved ones will come home because I raised my voice to question this war.
When I read about "Eyes Wide Open" when it began back in 2004, I thought that was a perfect way to honor the sons and daughters of this country who died in Iraq. Ken was still alive -- and who knew.
From the first connection I made with AFSC nearly one year ago, I knew I had found a safe place. Every person I worked with, embraced me and welcomed me as family. In San Francisco, Sacramento, Philadelphia and Illinois, the exhibit of "Eyes Wide Open" was the way to show the human cost of war, and we did just that. We touched an awful lot of lives along the way, and they continue to do that.
AFSC says, "We seek to understand and address the root causes of poverty, injustice and war. We hope to act with courage and vision in taking initiatives that may not be popular." Everyone who is here this evening understands what that means. Sometimes we may not feel very courageous when we do what we do, but speaking for these values sometimes means swimming upstream. As we do, we find ourselves in good company. It has always been an honor to work with AFSC. I appreciate the opportunity to talk. Thank you for letting me talk about my son. It's my favorite subject. Thank you very much.
Posted by Karen Meredith at 12:02 PM