Kathleen Parker

Moral authority is about to have a showdown in Crawford, Texas, where the parents of soldiers in Iraq will square off in the heat-shimmering periphery of President George W. Bush's averted gaze.

Cindy Sheehan, the bereaved mother who has gained international attention by posting herself outside the Bush ranch and demanding a (second) meeting with the president in the wake of her son's death, is about to have company of a different sort.

Not the supporters she's grown accustomed to - television crews, anti-war demonstrators, Democratic consultants and America's political left - but a small cavalry of opponents who feel as morally engaged about the war as she does.

Every movement has its backlash, and now Cindy Sheehan is getting her turn. Her sudden departure from Crawford to tend to her ailing mother in California changes only the characters in place, not the nature of confrontation.

On Aug. 27, a caravan of military families who support the war in Iraq is scheduled to arrive in Crawford. The backlash battalion, which is calling itself the "You Don't Speak For Me, Cindy" tour, is starting in San Francisco Monday and is composed of parents whose sons and daughters are in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among those leading the caravan is Deborah Johns of Northern California Marine Moms, whose son, William, is a Marine in Iraq. Her sentiments are typical of other military families who sympathize with Sheehan but feel she's hurting others.

"I am deeply sorry for Ms. Sheehan's loss," said Johns, who also is starring in a commercial she is producing. "However, Ms. Sheehan's actions are only causing pain to those of us who have loved ones serving in the war against terrorism."

There are plenty of others like Johns, apparently. Blogger Arthur Chrenkoff has compiled a list of equally bereaved parents who have lost children in Iraq, but who hold a different perspective.

Some of those critical of Sheehan feel that her public display is damaging to military morale and, therefore, dangerous to those still serving. Others have said she dishonors her son, who not only joined the military voluntarily, but who re-enlisted in August 2003, five months into Operation Iraqi Freedom. Whatever his mother may feel, Casey Sheehan apparently was not ignorant of the risks he faced.

Nevertheless, her message resonates with those who oppose the war. Sheehan has put a face on loss and provided an icon for dissenters. Strolling through Camp Casey, named for her son, she gets hugs and has her picture taken with new friends, prompting her to say she knows how Mickey Mouse feels at Disneyland.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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