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Personal Perspectives On The Day The War Began: January 16, 1991 : The Brother

January 20, 1991|Roberto Rodriguez | Roberto Rodriguez writes a column in Washington

WASHINGTON — For the last few months, not a day has gone by that I haven't paused to think about a brother who enlisted during the height of the Vietnam War and whom I've seen but a half-dozen times in the past 20 years.

For the last few days, I haven't stopped thinking about him. When I last heard from him, two days before the U.S. attack on Iraq, he was in Army fatigues somewhere in Saudi Arabia.

As the bombings have intensified and as U.S. troops have massed near the Saudi/Kuwaiti border, anticipation looms over the possibility of "the mother of all battles."

Memories of my 41-year-old brother John are from the streets of East Los Angeles. I've never forgotten that it was he who received the brunt of the worst racism when we first arrived, 30 years ago, from Mexico.

But right now, my mind takes me back to Tijuana, when he was still Juan and an altar boy. My mind keeps going back and forth from the nation's capital, to war, to childhood.

Here there is heightened tension. Security is extremely tight around the White House, the Capitol, the Pentagon and all federal buildings and monuments.

But despite the heavy fortifications around the White House, thousands of protesters have been permitted to gather daily in front of it since last Sunday. While the President has said we are in the Middle East to liberate Kuwait, the protesters march to chants of "No blood for oil."

As I passed by the White House the morning after the war began, the mood of the protesters seemed angrier. But when I went by later that same day, after word arrived that Israel had been attacked, the mood had become more somber.

The protesters have been calling for peace yet, as the bombings continued, all I thought about was my brother's safety. I know the war is wrong and I know that it is black and brown soldiers that will bear the brunt of the casualties.

And normally, I'd be out with the protesters--not as a journalist but as an outraged taxpayer. I've done that so many times in opposition to U.S. policies toward Central America and South Africa. But right now, I'm not thinking the way I normally do.

I'm thinking that, like a generation ago, a war threatens once again to rip the nation apart. The majority seem to think Saddam Hussein is evil. The protesters on the other hand, speak of George Bush as the reincarnation of Genghis Khan.

I don't care who's the most evil and I don't care who's right or wrong. I just want it to stop. Actually, I do care, but the mesmerizing news of the escalating war and the non-stop ringing of my telephone does not permit me to debate the issue rationally. There's a chain of concern about my brother that extends from Los Angeles to Mexico City, to El Paso, Texas to Aguascalientes, Mexico, where most of our relatives live.

The thought reverberates in my mind that our family is not alone. The chain of concern is endless, uniting families across the country--perhaps broken only in the halls of power.

I keep remembering that only two members in Congress have sons fighting in the Middle East--Reps. Jerry F. Costello (D-Ill.) and E. Kika De la Garza (D-Tex.).

In the congressional debate regarding the war, De La Garza voted to support the President while Costello voted to allow the sanctions to work.

I agree with Costello who acknowledges that he can't be objective, but is convinced that if all the decision-makers had family in the gulf, they would have thought twice before acting.

For the moment, I envy all those who can remain objective.

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