By Cindy Sheehan. New York: Atria Books, 2006. pp. 242.
This book is about an American mother's loss of her 24-year-old soldier son killed in action in Iraq, and how this tragic loss spurs her into becoming a prominent US anti-war activist. Her narrative covers a period of less than two years, starting on 4th April 2004 -- the day her son, Specialist Casey Austin Sheehan, was shot in the head in Sadr City, Baghdad. Reading about Cindy's life as young girl, wife, and mother, we understand how this apathetic housewife is transformed into an activist.
Sheehan's involvement in the peace movement comes when most of the United States -- its political, economic and intellectual elite three years into the war -- is denying that the American invasion of Iraq could be unlawful and a mistake. Her rage is shaped by finding that her government lied about the reasons for sending her son into that war.
Sheehan's opponents have called her many names -- nutcase, communist, and traitor. Some have said that she exploited her son's death to gain political fame. The mainstream media seems more interested in caricaturizing her than scrutinizing those in power.
The tipping point in her "Truth Force," her Satyagraha as Gandhi would call it, comes during her 26 days in August 2005 while camping outside President Bush's Texas ranch. The question Cindy wants the President to answer is: " Why did my son have to die?"
In searching for answers to this question, she finds answers to many other related questions, such as: Why do peace efforts often fail? Why do decisions to go to wars succeed?
Her Internet research reveals to her the nexus between US neoconservatives and their Project for the New Century as a prime mover for going to war. At the other end of the spectrum she seeks for answers in pacifist literature, such as War is a Racket by General Smedley D. Butler. Written in early 1900s, it foreshadowed President Eisenhower's cautionary speech about the military-industrial complex.
Describing the futility of war in Iraq, she writes to other mothers of soldiers who also lost children in the war that: "Violence and occupation do not bring liberation. ...This war is for profit."
In those 26 days camping outside the Bush ranch she never gets to meet the man himself, but her vigil brings her national and international attention. The protest that started with just a dozen people attracts thousands, and by the end of the month a crowd of 15, 000 supporters come to Crawford. A month later her Camp Casey project leads her to become part of important 500,000-strong anti-Iraq War rally in Washington. Sheehan became a catalyst for change in public opinion that made ordinary Americans question the Bush administration's motives for invading Iraq.
An activist's job is to create moments of truth. It is then for others to see how the cause impacts their lives. Coming to Cindy's support is a Who's Who of the American peace movement. For the past several months, although the US army is still in Iraq, Ms Sheehan's call for an end to the war is now embraced by a majority of Americans.
Cindy Sheehan maintains that there is a need today for "Matriotism," a term coined by the Russian-American activist Emma Goldman. She writes that wars will end when matriots around the world stand up and say, "No, I am not giving my child to the fake patriotism of the war machine, which chews up my flesh and blood to spit out profits." She feels that Patriotism is an artificially created superstition, maintained through lies that ultimately robs man of his self-respect, increasing his arrogance and conceit. Matriotism, on the other hand, stands for commitment to truth and celebrates the dignity of life.
A strong American tradition of nonviolent activism often comes to the fore, albeit gradually. Since the Second World War, the country has generated three significant nonviolent movements: the Civil Rights struggle, the Anti-Vietnam War movement, and now the Iraq War protest. Each of these periods has given the world innovative American nonviolent peace leaders. Sheehan's journey exemplifies the powerful role women play in that tradition -- a heartfelt journey to inspire others in championing the cause of peace.
Reviewed by Bill Bhaneja, a spokesperson for Canada's Department of Peace Initiative. A former Canadian diplomat, Dr. Bhaneja is a Senior Fellow at the Program for Research in Innovaiton Management and Economy (PRIME), University of Ottawa