Seth, 24, was in debt after he graduated from Rutgers University in 2002. He joined the army for money and skills that, he was told, would help land him a job with the CIA or FBI — his dream jobs. "Not for patriotism," said his mother, Sue Niederer, who is now an anti-war activist. She advised her son to get the recruiter’s promises in writing. When Seth asked, the recruiter told him, "Your mother wears your pants for you?"
Seth, who had no training with explosives, was assigned to find enemy remote-controlled bombs. He would then call in experts to deactivate them.
He was killed by a bomb in February 2004, after five months in Iraq. Below is a conversation with Seth’s mother, Sue Niederer:
When did your son join the military? Why did he join?
June 2002, right after he graduated college. He wanted to go into the FBI or CIA. He was informed by the recruiter that this would be a good way to get into the FBI or CIA. When you put it on the resume it jumps you up a little bit. His father refused to pay last 2 years in college. He was in debt. If you’re looking for me to say patriotism, I’m not. They [the Army] offer you the world. They give you signing bonuses. Give you college, upfront money, health insurance [recruiters are] great salesmen.
How long did he serve for before going to Iraq?
Nothing. He had just finished training at end of July. He went to Fort Drum on Monday. They told him on Tuesday, you’re gone, you’re out. He never had experience being in charge. He definitely did not have training in what ended up killing him.
In mid-October he started going out with his platoon on missions, on finding remote- controlled bombs. They are supposed to call for experts in explosives. By the time you call for an expert, you’re deadThese guys are sitting ducks every single day. They didn’t have proper vests, the helmets are questionable, they didn’t have computers
What were your thoughts on the war before your son left?
I was totally against the war then. My feeling was that it was religious war, guerrilla atmosphere. They could care less about human lives. When you don’t care about lives it’s a war you can’t win. I thought it was Bush’s vendetta — cleaning up his father’s mess.
How did you cope while he was away? What were the most difficult parts?
My husband and I did a hell of a lot of talking to each other, a lot of praying, constantly being with friends. I needed something to have a little bit of faith in. At my son’s wedding, a gentleman came up to him when he was leaving the restaurant. He walked over to my son, pulled a medal out… He said, "Young man I have no idea who you are This medal got me through Vietnam. This medal will get you through Iraq. Take it. I honestly felt that was the omen I needed. I felt it was going to bring him home. We buried him with it.
All the praying, none of it meant anything.
There was a recent controversy about showing soldiers’ coffins on the news. Do you think those types of images should be shown?
It absolutely should be shown. This is the cost of war. This is reality. You hear a number. Numbers don’t mean anything but when you see a coffin you know there’s a family behind this coffin. That’s impact
What is your response to the recent evidence that this war was waged on the basis of "misinformation"?
I wanted to rip the president’s head off. Curse him, yell at him, call him a self righteous bastard and a lot of other words. I think if I had him in front of me I would shoot him in the groined area. Let him suffer. And just continue shooting him there. Put him through misery, like he’s doing to everyone else. He doesn’t deserve any better
Are you worried that Bush could win in November?
Extremely concerned. If this country allows him, we are the fools. We deserve everything we get or do not get from him. We are allowing him to get away with anything he wants to do. He flat out lied to us, killing our troops. He doesn’t face the fallen family. If this is what we reelect, we deserve everything we get.
Are traumatized soldiers getting the help they need?
I have friends who have children in IraqThis is taking one heck of a toll upon the men. I’ve heard this many times from many friends. It’s the same thing–that they become mentally unstable. He’s not only a danger to himself, he’s a danger to the men in his platoon. This is what they don’t care about, the affect it can have on men fighting.
Had you been politically active before?
No, I’m not a political person. I vote for the person, I don’t vote for the party
What would you say to a young person who was thinking about joining the military? Get whatever these recruiters tell you in writing and make them sign it and take it to an attorney. And make copies, lots of copies. You’ve got to remember the recruiters have a certain number they must meet for their recruit allotment. To them it’s a number.
If you could speak to Bush or members of Congress who support this war, what would you tell them?
Trade places with the troops over there now. You go over there. You send your children, husbands, wives. Let them come back in a coffin. Let me know what you think. You aren’t worth being called president. You’re not even worth being called Mr. Face me, talk to me the victim of your war. But you don’t have the guts to do that.
Were you surprised by the abuses at Abu Ghraib?
No, absolutely notNo one is being trained. Soldiers are getting totally frustratedI think we’re gonna see a lot more of this. It stems from the fact that no on one wants to train these people. No one cares to take command of the troops.
Anything else you’d like to discuss?
One thing that’s very important is to make sure that we keep up the morale of our troopswriting letters, sending necessities they need–deodorant, soup, food, candy The minute you lose [morale], boy these guys are going to get hurt. [You] have to support out troops. Their lives are on the lineI want them to come home to a country that considers them heroes.
Sue’s family has set up a scholarship fund in Seth’s name, for students going into the humanities. Please send donations to:
c/o Hopewell Valley Community Bank
4 state highway route 31
Pennington, NJ 08534
Elizabeth Weill-Greenburg is a graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism. Her work has been published in In These Times, The Nation and Counterpunch.org. She working on a book about military families who oppose the Iraq war.