Former Soldier, Now a Professor, Loses His Only Son to a War He Actively Opposed
BOSTON, May 15 — The father, a longtime military man, from West Point to Vietnam to the first Persian Gulf war, became an early public critic of the war in Iraq, writing frequently and potently about its causes and effects.
But when his only son joined the Army and was sent to fight in that war, the father, Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, expressed only support, said a family member and colleagues.
“My father, he was first and foremost a father to his son,” said Jennifer Bacevich, one of Professor Bacevich’s three daughters. “They loved each other very much.”
On Sunday, two soldiers came to Professor Bacevich’s home in Walpole, Mass., with the kind of news that a military man knows is always possible: First Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, 27, the son, had been killed by a bomb while on patrol in Balad, Iraq.
“My father,” Ms. Bacevich said in an interview on Tuesday, “is heartbroken.”
Michael T. Corgan, an associate professor in Boston University’s department of international relations, who also has a military background, said Professor Bacevich knew the risks his son was taking.
“Having been in combat himself, he knows the amount of chance involved,” Professor Corgan said, “that no matter how careful you are, no matter how well prepared you are, bad things happen.”
“But what can you say to somebody who’s lost his only son in Iraq?” Professor Corgan said. “What makes it hard is we all know how Andy feels about this war.”
Professor Bacevich declined to be interviewed on Tuesday, but his views on Iraq are well known, and they appeared to be given a certain weight in public discourse, in part because of his background as a retired Army lieutenant colonel, an observant Roman Catholic and a self-described political conservative.
Last month in The Los Angeles Times, he wrote: “The truth is that next to nothing can be done to salvage Iraq. It no longer lies within the capacity of the United States to determine the outcome of events there. Iraqis will decide their own fate. We are spectators, witnesses, bystanders caught in a conflagration that we ourselves, in an act of monumental folly, touched off.”
And in the May issue of The Atlantic Monthly, he called the conflict a “disastrous war,” and noted that “the thousands of Americans killed in Iraq include no members of Congress and not a single general.”
Colleagues said such opinions came from deliberative research.
“He was not a sort of ideological, hard-line critic,” said William R. Keylor, a professor of international relations and history.
“I got the impression that his stance on the war was the result of very careful study and analysis of the information that he had,” Professor Keylor added. “When he finally came to that conclusion, he spoke out vociferously.”
Professor Bacevich did not, however, speak out vociferously to his son, Jennifer Bacevich said.
“My father, although he makes no secret of what his opinions are, believes that when his children become adults they can make decisions for themselves,” she said.
The younger Andrew Bacevich, like his siblings, was steeped in military life. He was born at West Point, his sister said, and spent his first 13 years moving with the family to military postings in Kansas, Virginia, Texas and Germany.
“The army, it takes over everything: where you’re going to live, go to school, who your friends are,” said Ms. Bacevich, who is 34.
As a student at Boston University majoring in communications, her brother joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps but was taken out because he had asthma, Ms. Bacevich said.
After college, the gregarious young man, who ran marathons, worked in politics, as an aide to State Senator Jo Ann Sprague and later to Gov. Mitt Romney, but when he learned that asthmatics were being allowed to enlist, he signed up, his sister said.
Professor Corgan said, “I think young Bacevich joined because of what he saw in his father.
“I think he felt as his father did, that regardless of what you think of the particular politics of the administration, that service to the country is a pretty high value.”
In October, the younger Mr. Bacevich was deployed to Iraq with the Third Brigade Combat Team, and was scheduled to return home next January.
When her brother visited in February, “he was very tired,” Ms. Bacevich said. “He described his life as being one day of actually being out doing patrols, one day of rest, one day of getting ready for the next patrol. It was very grueling.”
The politics of the war never came up, she said, adding, “My brother was very aware of military duty being a duty, so it was not something that he would feel” was appropriate for him to focus on.
His father, with whom he frequently exchanged e-mail, kept his views separate from his feelings about his son. Professor Bacevich insisted that journalists quoting him about the war not mention that his son was serving in it. And when colleagues asked how his son was doing, “he always indicated fine, no problem,” Professor Keylor said.
Professor Corgan said: “He didn’t go around wailing or gnashing teeth — it’s just not his way. Stoic, I think is the word. He was proud that his son chose to serve his country and so forth. What I saw was a parent sort of holding his breath.”
Andrew J. Bacevich is Professor of History and International Relations at Boston University. His most recent book is The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War. His son also named Andrew J. Bacevich was killed in Iraq on Mother's Day!
NEWS RELEASES from the United States Department of Defense
No. 582-07 IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 14, 2007
Media Contact: (703) 697-5131/697-5132
DoD Identifies Army Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
1st Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, 27, of Walpole, Mass., died Sunday, May 13 (Mothers' Day) in Balad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit during combat patrol operations in Salah Ad Din Province, Iraq.He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
BACEVICH, Andrew J., 27, First Lt., Army; Walpole, Mass.; First Cavalry Division.
FARRAR, William A. Jr., 20, Pfc., Army; Redlands, Calif.; 127th Military Police Company, 709th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade.
FRANK, Michael K., 36, Specialist, Army; Great Falls, Mont.; 82nd Airborne Division.
SAUSTO, Anthony J., 22, Pvt., Army; Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; Second Infantry Division.
ZEMBIEC, Douglas A., 34, Major, Marines; Albuquerque; Headquarters Battalion, Marine Corps National Capital Region.