Ronan: Welcome to Dublin!
Cindy: Thank you. It’s nice to be here. I wish I could stay longer and it was under better circumstances.
Ronan: We wish you could, too. Cindy, my name is RONAN SHEEHAN, and I come from Dublin, and my family come from Dublin–on my father’s side for a few generations, then from Kerry, and on my mother’s side for many generations, and believe it or not, we can go back in law to the sixteenth century.
Ronan: That’s a lot of law cases. My father was a lawyer, four of five of his sons are lawyers, my sister Kathy’s a theologian and my son Luke just qualified from Trinity in Biblical Studies. But we’re all Sheehans, and when we saw you on television, we wanted to know what happened to one of us. In Dublin, there is a church called the Pro-Cathedral which is the chief Catholic church, and on the front of that church there is an inscription from the St. John’s Gospel: Perhibere testimonium vertitate–“bear witness to the truth”; we Sheehans would like to know what happened to our kinsman, our brother; would you care to give us your testimony?
Cindy: Casey was 24 years old when he was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004. He was . . . the Sheehans’ can be very proud of Casey. He was an altar boy for 10 years; he was an Eagle Scout; he wanted to be a Deacon in the Catholic Church–we all thought he would be a priest, but he wanted to get married and have children. He was a virgin when he died; he wanted to save that for his wife on their wedding night as a wedding present; he often told me that, and I though that was a real amazing thing. You know in the United States, that’s not usual, even if boys stay virgins, they don’t usually talk about it. I know a lot of kids in the U.S. lie about their sexual conquests just to say that they’ve had them. But Casey was very adamant. He said it was against his moral beliefs to have pre-marital sex.
He was a big brother to Andy, Carly, and Jane; he wanted to be a Chaplain’s Assistant in the military, but when he got to bootcamp, they said that specialty was filled, so he would have to be a humvee mechanic or a cook, and he chose to be a humvee mechanic–and that’s what his specialty was the day he was killed in Iraq.
He cam through Shannon when he was going to Iran, and there was an employee there who noticed his name, and so they talked about the Sheehan family name, where they came from, that they were law enforcement officers in Ireland. We had basically known a lot of that, but it was nice that someone took the time to be kind to Casey.
Ronan: So he was identified in Shannon because of his name?
Cindy: (weeping). Yes. I wonder if she thought that he was going to be killed. But she knows [now] because someone from The Irish Times talked to her about it. I wonder if those people in Shannon think about it–which ones of those kids are going to come back in a body back, and how many innocent Iraqis are they going to kill before they are killed?
But Casey was proud to be an Irish-Catholic, proud to be an American, and he was a good boy. He volunteered on the mission that killed him. He wanted to go save his buddies.
Ronan: Where in Iraq was he stationed?
Cindy: Well, he got to Iraq on March 31, 2004, he was stationed in Sadr City, Baghdad, and he was killed April 4, 2004, so he was barely in the country for five days. He was killed on Palm Sunday, and it was also the same day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 35 years before.
Ronan: How did Casey come to be in the Army?
Cindy: He was in college for three years, and a recruiter got a hold of him.
Ronan: What did he study?
Cindy: He was studying Theatre Arts, and he had planned on going to university because he was at a junior college–that’s a two-year university–and he planned on transferring to a four-year university to get his degree in Elementary Education; he wanted to be an elementary school teacher. He was also on the school newspaper in college, so he was a writer, and an actor, and he also did a lot of behind-the-scenes things in theatre.
Ronan: You say a recruiter “got him.” What do you mean by that? That someone persuaded him that it would be a good idea to join up?
Cindy: Right. Recruiters in our country are known for lying to people. They made Casey several promises in writing that they broke. His recruiter promised him he’d never see combat because he’d scored so high on the military entrance exam. He said even if there were a war, Casey wouldn’t see combat, he’d just be in a support role. Well, you know, Casey was technically in a support role, but all soldiers are combatants when it comes to war. And he wasn’t killed in an accident, he wasn’t killed in a roadside bombing, he wasn’t killed by a missile going onto his base, he was killed in combat. He was actually in combat when he was killed. He was just really gentle and kind and sweet, and it was such a shock to us that he even joined the military. And I tried to talk him out of going to Iraq, but he wouldn’t be dissuaded because his buddies were going, and it was all about being there to support his buddies.
Ronan: It was the esprit de corps?
Ronan: In a lot of American war movies that I’ve seen like Saving Private Ryan, they stress the idea of fighting for your “buddies” and the “togetherness”. Is that something the military promoted?
Cindy: I think it’s the way they exploit soldiers into doing things because what they [the military] do in bootcamp is dehumanized them and then they build them into a soldier. And they do–they train with their buddies, they live with them, they eat with them, they work with them, and to me, they make the military and the mission more important that the family. It’s exploitation–especially in a war that’s based on lies and deceptions. The only reason we’re fighting in Iraq is to make people rich and to control Iraq’s natural resources. To me, that’s deplorable and despicable and monstrous.
Ronan: I think the Catholic Church–and I suspect your family–promoted family values and would have done so above things like military values.
Cindy: Oh, exactly! I’m very disappointed in the Catholic Church, too, that they haven’t been outspoken against–in America, I don’t know about in Europe, but our American bishops, our American cardinals, have not come out strongly against the war; they talk about social issues and abortion, and gay marriage, and thinks like that which are important, but to me the most important thing as people of faith and people who are followers of Jesus Christ is peace. And what we’re allowing to happen in Iraq, what’s happening in the Sudan . . .
Ronan: And that’s what Casey’s name means–“peace”.
Ronan: I think the same could be said of the Church of England which has not been notable for making any declarations, say, in favor of the fifth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill”.
Cindy: Right, except if it comes to “pre-birth”.
Cindy: You know, to me, these people–they’re “pro-birth”, but they’re not “pro-life”. My country executes people–we just executed one in California today, and my understanding of the Catholic Church was that we honored life from womb to tomb, not just from womb to “out”.
Ronan: Yes, that’s what it’s supposed to be. Cindy, listening to you, I get the impression that you hold many views that certainly in America would be considered “radical” about a number of issues. Is that something that has come about since your son’s death, or did you always hold these views?
Cindy: I have always been against killing, but I was of the view that maybe some wars were justified, and I am now “no war”–that killing to solve problems is not justifiable, it’s not the way to solve problems, it’s not the solutions. To me, that my views are extremist in my country is very ironic. I would think everybody would be on board for not killing. But our government also exploits our fears; they try to demonize people and marginalize people, so many people in my country don’t believe that when we kill an Iraqi baby that that’s an innocent human being. It’s like back in the Indian Wars when Sherman said, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” So I just can’t believe that my views are extreme because we are supposed to be a civilized society.
Ronan: Fostering dissent?
Cindy: Yes, like your Foreign Minister [Dermot Ahern] said to me, “you know, you do have a democracy, and you elected George Bush,” and I just raised my eyebrows because nothing that’s been going on in my country since George Bush was “selected” as president the first time has been democratic.
Ronan: Do you feel that–this is what a lawyer would call a “loaded question”, but it’s quicker–do you think that this war which has been caused by Bush’s policies has really poisoned the moral climate of your country?
Cindy: Bush has poised the moral climate of my country; they [the Bush Administration] have co-opted Jesus to make it seem like Jesus would be for what’s going on in Iraq. It’s almost like 1984, you know? “War is peace,’ “the Ministry of Truth”–we don’t have a free press in our country, they’re propaganda tools for our government. To me, the people of America are really good-hearted, and, really, after Camp Casey in August, the perception of this war and the perception of George Bush has changed: he’s got a very low approval rating and the war has a very low approval rating. And almost two-thirds of my country agree that this war was a mistake, and they want to troops to start coming home. We’re reclaiming democracy and morality. Everything I say comes from my heart–and it’s the truth.
Ronan: Yes, it is. It was appalling–everything Bush does is appalling, perhaps, but it was exquisitely appalling that he should have been so frightened by one unarmed woman asking to talk to him.
Cindy: Right! Well, he’s a coward. He’s a coward, and he can’t morally support what he’s doing. He knew he couldn’t face me and tell me what “noble cause” he killed my son for. And he couldn’t tell me for what “noble cause” he’s keeping troops over there because there is no noble cause. And he knew that I wouldn’t buy any of his bullshit. He was afraid to meet with me, and you know, I don’t agree with everything your Foreign Minister said or does, but I think it showed incredible integrity of him to meet with me, and he told me it was because it was the right thing to do. And it would have been the “right thing” for George Bush to meet with me.
Ronan: Yes, it would have. But he hadn’t the integrity.
Cindy: He doesn’t have as much integrity in his whole body, as much courage in his whole body, as Casey did in the tip of his pinky finger. And to me, that is the greatest irony and tragedy–that someone like George Bush is responsible for my son’s death.
Ronan: Cindy, if I may, just of the benefit of some readers who might be reading this, I want to tell you a story which illustrates the power of the American government in this country. Ten years ago, I organized a protest when President Clinton shelled Baghdad and killed an Iraqi painter called Laila Alataar–who was the leading Iraq painter of the Middle East–and all of her children. That evening, I got an invitation to the American Embassy to an exhibition of paintings including one by my son James, who’d won a Texaco art competition. I happen to be a copyright lawyer, so I saw they were in breach of copyright, thus I wrote to the American Embassy saying “Take my son’s painting off exhibition” because I didn’t want the name “Sheehan” to be associated with murderers. I said the reason I’m doing that is to protest the unlawful killing of Laila Alataar, something that our present Minister for Justice [Michael MacDowell] condemned in the Dáil. So they had to take the painting down because it was in breach of copyright–they hadn’t got permission. But no paper would publish the fact that I’d done that.
Ronan: No Irish paper would publish the fact that I had made a protest against the unlawful killing of an Iraqi woman painter. I’m not trying to intrude upon your evidence, as it were, but I wish to make a point that’s apposite to show the power of the United States in the country–as in other countries.
Cindy: Well, you know, I think that Irish need to break from that. We are really good friends with Ireland, and our people can be friends with your people–we don’t have to endorse what our governments are doing. Your government doesn’t have to endorse what my government is doing, and I know they [the Irish government] didn’t participate in the killing, but by allowing the planes to land [at Shannon], I think they are complicit in war crimes.
Ronan: It’s called being the accessory before the fact to an illegal killing. The invasion is illegal; therefore, everything that flows from it is illegal.
Cindy: But your Foreign Minister wanted to support it based on the fact that [your] Parliament approved it, and he says the U.N. approved it. But like I said, just because something’s “legal” doesn’t make it moral.
Ronan: That’s what you said to the Foreign Minister?
Ronan: Did you feel that the Foreign Minister gave you a fair hearing?
Cindy: Yes, I think so. He had a little dossier on me, very well researched; he’s in a very difficult position; you know, I think he’s probably a good man struggling to do the right thing for Ireland. But he has to be convinced that what he’s doing or allowing to happen in Shannon is the wrong thing for Ireland and, really, for the world.
And about Bill Clinton . . . . You know, I really think he should have been impeached, but not for a blow job. His policies are responsible for killing more Iraqis that George Bush. I don’t understand why to rise to the level of being president of my country one has to be a monster. I used to say that George Bush was defiling the Oval Office, but it’s been held by a long line of monsters. We don’t have to support our administrations to love our country. True patriots of my country dissent when our country’s doing something so wrong.
Ronan: Samuel Johnson said in his Dictionary: “Patriotism is that last refuge of a scoundrel.”
Cindy: Exactly! That’s what they try to do! They hold the flag with one hand, and the hold shining keys with the other hand to distract us, and really, loyalty to symbols is false patriotism. Loyalty to the true, core values and roots of democracy is what makes a true patriot, not loyalty to a symbol of the country.
Ronan: Thank you, Cindy Sheehan, for bearing witness to the truth.