[FOUNTAIN]When a child goes to war, parents count

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[FOUNTAIN]When a child goes to war, parents count

Parents’ Day, recently celebrated here, had to have been an uneasy one for at least 3,600 Korean families. These include the mothers and fathers of sons and daughters who are either serving their country’s military in Iraq now or who may soon be sent to aid the effort.
I know how they must feel, on Parents’ Day or any other day. My son, a member of the U.S. military, could be headed for duty in Iraq as well.
As Koreans continue a difficult debate over a decision to help the United States, infamous photos of cruelty meted out to Iraqi captives by American military prison guards have scorched the moral ground of the war.
I suspect the Korean families are wondering what their children will be able to accomplish at this point.
In front of Congress last week, Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. defense secretary, seemed defenseless in trying to answer how high-minded American goals of bringing democracy and freedom to a benighted Arab country meshed with evidence that U.S. soldiers were torturing people in Iraq and laughing about it.
Though he argued that the Americans involved in the inhumane, indecent and illegal treatment were few, he confessed that there was more bad news to come.
Several weeks ago, before the recent revelations made headlines worldwide, I wrote to Mr. Rumsfeld about my 26-year-old son, saying that while I was worried about his safety in the war zone, I also would be proud of him if he somehow helped to make Iraq a better place.
The letter was sent just as the national commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was documenting the massive U.S. government failure to detect the terrorist plot, an event used as a justification for the invasion of Iraq.
Given the past mistakes, I asked Mr. Rumsfeld for his assurance that the U.S. military was doing everything its leaders could think of to protect the young men and women who are carrying out U.S. policy in Iraq.
Because the Defense Department’s Web site was not taking correspondence from the public, U.S. Embassy officials in Seoul kindly agreed to make sure my letter was directed to the defense secretary.
Mr. Rumsfeld is a busy man, so I would have been surprised to hear from him, but I did expect a response from someone. No word yet.
Korea’s Ministry of National Defense says flatly that it has not received letters of concern or inquiry from any parents of the soldiers who all have volunteered for duty in Iraq.
That’s a bit hard to believe, but if they do get any, the decent, humane thing for the officials to do is to write back.

by Charles D. Sherman

The writer is the editor of the JoongAng Daily.
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