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2004-09-10

Father of U.S. Soldier En Route to Iraq Speaks Out

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As the number of US soldier deaths in Iraq surpassed 1,000, we speak with Gary Earl Ross, a university professor and playwright whose son David was recently deployed to Iraq. [includes rush transcript]

As the number of US soldier deaths in Iraq surpassed 1,000 this week, more soldiers are deployed to Iraq almost daily. This past Sunday, a young US Army soldier named David Ross became one of those soldiers. He is normally based in Korea and already did one 3 week tour in Iraq. Before shipping off last weekend, he was back in the US, spending time with his mother in Pennsylvania and his father here in Buffalo.

  • Gary Earl Ross, professor of English at the University of Buffalo’s Educational Opportunity Center. He is also a playwright. His son David is in the US Army and shipped out for Iraq on Sunday.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we talk about who’s coming here, I wanted to talk about people leaving. As the number of U.S. soldier deaths in Iraq surpassed 1,000 this week, more and more soldiers are being deployed to Iraq every day. This past Sunday, a young U.S. army soldier named David Ross became one of them. He is normally based in Korea, and already did one three-week tour in Iraq. Before shipping off last weekend he was back in the United States spending time with his mom in Pennsylvania, and his father here in Buffalo. We are joined by his father right now. He, too, is a professor at the university of Buffalo. We’re joined by Gary Earl Ross. He is a professor of English here at the Educational Opportunity Center. He is a writer and a playwright. We welcome you as well as Bruce Jackson to Democracy Now! When did your son leave?

GARY EARL ROSS: He left Sunday from Buffalo. He came into Pennsylvania while my wife and I were on vacation, and he left Sunday. He came into Pennsylvania, spent time with his mother and then came down and spent time with us and he went back to Pennsylvania Sunday, and he left for Korea on Wednesday. Korea is his duty station. From Korea, he is shipping out immediately to Iraq. So, it’s about a day or so to get to Korea, and he should be in Iraq by tomorrow, Saturday or Sunday.

AMY GOODMAN: How old is David?

GARY EARL ROSS: David is 21.

AMY GOODMAN: And why did he choose to join the military?

GARY EARL ROSS: He did a year of college, decided that he wanted to try something else and then go back to college. He came to Buffalo to live. He stayed with us for a while. He got a job, then he got an apartment, and he went from one job to another. He made a move, he thought, to what would be a better job, but the place that hired him folded in a matter of months. And he knocked around at a couple of low-paying jobs, and no job for a fair amount of time. And he finally said, I’m out of money, I can’t get any more money from you, I can’t get any more from mom, I need to do something. I’m going to join the army. And he did, and he went to Ft. Jacksonfor basic training, which is a little over a year ago. And then he was stationed in Korea. He wound up stopping in Korea to drop his bags, basically and was almost immediately shipped out to Iraq. He was in Iraq for about three weeks. He saw some action. He called me to tell me things that he had seen. And then the President of South Korea graciously got himself impeached and David’s whole unit was moved back to Korea almost overnight, which meant that I could eat again because I spent a lot of time worrying. Then he has been in Korea since. He accumulated enough time to do a leave. He knew he was going to go back to Iraq, so he decided to come visit for a while. He spent about three-and-a-half weeks in the States.

AMY GOODMAN: What are your thoughts about David going to Iraq? What are your thoughts about the Iraq war?

GARY EARL ROSS: Okay, well — how much time do you have? My thoughts about David going to Iraq — I would feel better about it if President Bush’s daughters were in Iraq. I would feel better about it if members of Congress had their children in uniform. I know the only reason he’s in the army is the economic condition in Buffalo, and where his mother lives in Pennsylvania. She’s on the faculty of Bucknell. The jobs are not plentiful, either, in Lewisburg, PA. So, he took the army, because it was his option. When he went to his boot camp graduation, I met many of his battle buddies, and the stories were pretty much the same. They were either children of color from urban areas who weren’t able to find jobs, or they were white children from rural areas who weren’t able to find jobs. One of his battle buddies said, well, where I’m from Kansas, there’s not much going on, a lot of kids die in traffic accidents because drinking is the only thing we can do. Drinking and driving on a Saturday night. This is how we’re stocking the military. What really bothered me the most — and I wrote a short story it, which going to be in an anthology, and I don’t have the title of the book — the story is called "Battle Babies." I was going to his boot camp graduation. I said, what do you want me to bring you? He said, gummy bears. He said gummy bears, You are getting a marksmanship medal and you want me to bring you gummy bear? He said, yes, and I realized that one of the biggest sins that the human race has visited upon itself is that it sends its babies out to fight its wars. So, I am feeling frightened, frustrated, and furious. I’m enraged. I would not have felt the same way if there were military action in Afghanistan, surgically designed not to go after civilian populations but go after Al Qaeda. I would have not felt the same way. But as I believe Richard Clark said, going after Iraq for 9/11 is like attacking Mexico for Pearl Harbor. It made no sense. I am astonished at the level of apathy and ineptitude among the population of the United States, people who will not read, who will not focus on the actual issues as they develop. George Bush is working on his Freudian difficulties, his dramas with his father, and we’re all suffering for it. Now, I’m a son and I have sons. I know fathers and sons have issues. But most of us don’t get to play out our Freudian issues on a world stage, and instead of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage how about a constitutional amendment that doesn’t permit the sons of presidents to become presidents. Maybe then we might not have circumstances like this. If this war does anything, I hope that it wakes us up eventually to the ridiculousness of the idea of war as a means of peace. I understand that wars are sometimes necessary, but the idea of starting a war so that you can make a peace is patently ridiculous.

AMY GOODMAN: And how does your son feel about the war?

GARY EARL ROSS: My son was a kid who liked having a good time. He liked parties and friends and he has tons of friends. He’s a very likable kid. I encouraged him to vote when he turned 18. He wasn’t much interested in it. He said he’s voting this year, so are all of his comrades in arms.

AMY GOODMAN: Did he say who he was voting for?

GARY EARL ROSS: He told me who he’s not voting for. And he said that — the feeling is pretty strong, that among his colleagues, at their base, that this was a waste.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you supported the bombing of Afghanistan, but not the invasion.

GARY EARL ROSS: Not the bombing, bombing is cowardly. I support going in and finding Al Qaeda. Not bombing the civilians on the way to do it. That’s different. Warfare — the history of warfare is such that the more personal warfare was, the better you stake. The more you understood it, the less personal, the more impersonal the war becomes, the more ridiculous it becomes. I mean, October 25, 1415, the second battle of Agincourt, the French and British in the hundreds years war. That was hands-on battle. Arches made the difference against French cavalry. War should be up close and personal. If you can push buttons it’s not. And the sin is multiply compounded that way. Sometimes war is necessary but it really should be person to person, as opposed to, you know, my big machine against your little whatever and then you don’t have a chance. We’re bullies on the playground and on the world stage. I don’t like that feeling, I have felt that way my whole life. I don’t like that feeling. I don’t like feeling [as] a part of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Gary Earl Ross. His son, David, goes to Iraq this weekend on this third anniversary of the attacks on Washington and New York. Also with us, Bruce Jackson, another professor at the University of Buffalo, as we broadcast from here. Before we wrap up this segment and go to a new film called "Hijacking Catastrophe," you mentioned, Bruce Jackson, Steve Kurtz. I was wondering if in a very small amount of time — though we have dealt with the case — could you just quickly summarize it as a context for the kind of crackdown that we’re seeing here in Buffalo from Yemeni-Americans to this art professor.

BRUCE JACKSON: Steve Kurtz, his wife died, he called the police for help. They saw some vials of — marked with bacteriological names. The whole federal task force came, sealed off the block and they literally made a federal case out of it. It’s something in a day they should have known it was benign, but once the machinery started, it could not stop. They finally indicted him on some trivial mail fraud case, which is just a very minor thing but the thing is the whole machinery of law enforcement was here, terrorism was here, and they made something that’s really just a family tragedy into another national press conference case. It’s part of that whole environment of police thinking, of fear, and if I may, there’s one other critical thing that’s happened to Buffalo as a result of 9/11. All the support that a city like this ordinarily gets in a time of dire straits, the money is not here because it’s going to Iraq. The state support has fallen off, federal support has fallen off for health care, for schools, for infrastructure. So everything is being compounded in large part because of what’s been happening now abroad.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, and ask you professor, Gary Earl Ross, for final words, perhaps to young people the age of your son?

GARY EARL ROSS: Read Animal Farm. I have often said that if you ever want to know anything about human nature, you should read Animal Farm, but if you ever want to know anything about the Bush administration, you should read Animal Farm. This week, Vice president Dick Cheney said, if we make the wrong choice in November, we can be attacked again. And that sounds like Squealer in Animal Farm. "Whenever there is a question, you animals don’t want Farmer Jones to come back, do you? Comrade Napoleon knows what he is doing." Read Animal Farm, it tells us everything that we need to know about the idiots who are running the show.

AMY GOODMAN: The advice of an English professor whose son has gone to war in Iraq. This is Democracy Now!

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