Sue Niederer grieves over a memorial called Eyes Wide Open, created by the American Friends Service committee, which includes a pair of boots for every U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.

The Home Front

BY Hans Johnson

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On September 17, it came to pass in New Jersey that party faithful applauding a chipper talk about the war by Laura Bush shouted down a mother in their midst and made sure she was arrested. She had come from a nearby town to ask a simple question: Why was her only son, Seth Dvorin, 24, sent to Iraq like a sitting duck? And how many more families will be forced to make a needless sacrifice like hers?

“When they reacted to the question I shouted by surrounding me and shouting me down, it felt like ignorance,” says Sue Niederer. “People have a right to speak. They could hear my question. Maybe they could learn something if it ever got answered.”

Anyone seeking evidence of the Iraq war’s lasting impact on small-town America need look no further than this mom from western New Jersey. Niederer has become a vocal critic of the war and the Bush administration after losing her son to a bomb he was disarming south of Baghdad while on patrol with his division.

“I can’t go back to how I was,” says Niederer. “Now I see what this war is. I can’t accept it. I have to be a forceful voice for what we need to do as a country. Supporting our troops means getting them home before more are killed or maimed.”

The explosion that killed Dvorin in early February came just days after his return to the occupied nation from a two-week stateside visit with his family.

During that break, Niederer overheard her formerly mild-mannered son telephoning his commanding officer to beg for additional resources. He needed better tracking systems to summon specially trained troops who could disarm the bombs that his unit detected. She recalls his rising voice as he had to repeat himself, as if not being heard. “‘I need computers and GPS systems. My men need these or they’re going to be dead!’”

It was not the first stonewall he had encountered. Dvorin entered the Army two years ago after finishing his degree from Rutgers in a financial hole. He saw enlistment as a chance to pursue intelligence-related work later on, a hope that his recruiter inflated with vague pledges. Niederer urged him to get these job-placement pledges down in black and white. He tried and got ridicule instead, according to a conversation Niederer recounted in an interview with Counterpunch. “Your mother wears your pants for you?” the recruiting agent asked.

After her son’s death, Niederer ran into more stonewalls. She tried to meet her son’s coffin, which the Army flew back to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Her request was refused, but her protests helped break down barriers to other families’ requests to gather their loved ones’ remains.

Niederer has become a leader in Military Families Speak Out (www.mfso.org), which now encompasses more than 1,900 households. In their continuing quest for answers, she and several other relatives of the dead and the deployed kept vigil outside the Republican convention in New York. Her own husband, once loyal to Bush, has had a marked change of heart.

After her arrest in New Jersey, Niederer saw the charges against her dropped. Still, the GOP issued some parting shots: A Republican member of the state assembly sniped that she should “find something better to do with her time.” And on September 22, five days after her arrest, the Secret Service honed in on Niederer’s Counterpunch interview in which she vented anger against Bush, saying she “wanted to rip his head off.” Niederer insists she meant no harm by the comments. She was only thinking of her son.

Hans Johnson, a contributing editor of In These Times, is president of Progressive Victory, based in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. He is a columnist and commentator on labor, religion and trends in state and national politics.

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