The Iraq Dead: A Mother Left Behind
Sue Neiderer (credit: Dith Pran/NYT)
Sue Niederer is just another Jewish mother in suburban New Jersey. But that’s where she parts company with all the rest. You see, her son, Seth Dvorin, 24, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in February. Sue never supported the war and didn’t want Seth to go. But he felt duty bound to honor the commitments he made not only to the Army, but to his comrades.
Chris Hedges has written a compelling acount of the anger, grief and surprising political voice of Sue Niederer in Mourning the Warrior, and Questioning the War. When Ms. Niederer heard that Laura Bush was to speak nearby, she dutifully stopped by the local Republican campaign headquarters and secured a ticket. Let’s let her tell the next portion of the tale:
“I wanted to confront Mrs. Bush because she, too, is a mother,” she said at the small office here where she works as a real estate agent. “I thought she might understand the pain we mothers are undergoing. I thought she might be able to hear me.”
Lt. Seth Dvorin KIA (credit: East Brunswick Sentinel)
As Mrs. Bush was lauding her husband’s war on terror, Mrs. Niederer slipped on the shirt, which bore a photo of the lieutenant and the words “President Bush killed my son.” Standing at the back of the crowd, she interrupted Mrs. Bush, shouting that if the war was warranted, “Why don’t your children serve?”
“She did not answer,” Mrs. Niederer said. “She looked stunned.”
Suddenly, Mrs. Niederer recalled, she was surrounded by “men in dark suits with little earpieces” as well as angry Bush supporters. She was escorted from the hall, and as she tried to speak with reporters outside, she was arrested, handcuffed, taken to the Hamilton police station and charged with trespassing. She was released soon afterward, and prosecutors later dropped the charge.
Imagine, a woman whose son died in George Bush’s war gets ARRESTED for interrupting Laura Bush! Removing her from the hall I could understand. But arresting her?? Either the local police or Republican operatives must’ve completely lost their minds.
Dvorin family at Seth’s funeral (credit: Barefoot & Naked)
Niederer’s grief at losing her son has been infinitely compounded by either the Army’s callousness or a deliberate attempt to conceal information from her about the manner of Seth’s death. Chris Hedges continues the story:
After he was killed, she said, she learned that he had been ordered in October to lead a platoon to search for homemade bombs left on roadsides. Lieutenant Dvorin was wounded in an explosion in November. When he returned on home leave in January, three weeks before his death, he wept in the arms of his stepfather, telling him he was afraid and did not want to return. He said nothing to his mother until they were at the airport in Baltimore.
“I asked him if he wanted to go back,” she said. “Seth said no. He told me we were losing the war. He told me we could not win a war when we did not know who our enemies were. He told me it was a waste, but he also told me he had to return to get the 18 men in his platoon home safely.”
Soon after he died, Mrs. Niederer said, she and her son’s widow ran into a wall of military bureaucracy. As an observant Jew, Mrs. Niederer asked that her son not be embalmed or undergo an autopsy, requests that she said were ignored. She asked to go to Dover Air Force Base to meet her son’s coffin, but says she was told that was against the rules. And she says she has tried reaching members of her son’s platoon to learn the circumstances of his death, especially after the Army told her he had been killed trying to defuse a bomb.
“He had no training in bomb detection or in defusing bombs,” she said. “He did not have proper equipment. When I complained in public about the inadequate training and lack of equipment, the Army changed the story. They told me he was not trying to defuse a bomb. I still don’t know how he died. They won’t let me speak to or contact members of his platoon.”
After reading Friendly Fire, a gripping non-fiction account of the deaths of U.S. troops in Vietnam at the hands of friendly fire and the military’s dogged attempt to conceal the truth, one can only wonder why the Army is not giving this woman the information she needs, and indeed deserves. For shame, Army.
Richard Dvorin too is involved in the struggle to make sense out of his son’s death. He wrote a heart-rending letter to President Bush which, you guessed it, our President never answered. Some touching condolence notes appear at Seth Dvorin’s portion of the FallenHeroesMemorial.com site.
10 thoughts on “The Iraq Dead: A Mother Left Behind – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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So you’re upset that, what? She faced consequences for her actions? What would have like to have seen? The First Lady invite the woman up on stage with her for an impromptu debate?
I’m am as saddened by anybody by her loss. But I’m bothered by the line that her son “decided” to go to Iraq… he decided to go whereever ordered the day he *volunteered* to serve.
What’s interesting about all these stories is that there’s always this huge focus on the mother’s reluctance to have her son go to war. Like this is something new…some kind of surprise. My mother gets worried and uptight when I fly to Europe and back. She was upset when I left home. She was bothered the first time I went to school alone. So should I have not done these things simply because my mother would be worried? Mothers worry – it’s their jobs!
I understand, being a military wife, that our sons, daughter, husbands,wives have signed the paper stating that they will serve their country, and DIE for their country. The problem is that these men and women are dying for someone eles’s country that within days if not hours of our troops FINALLY leaving their land will return to the uncivilized nature that they were raised in.
SO I ask why should our people die for people who don’t care about them. SEND OUR TROOPS HOME SAFE NOT IN BODY BAGS
I really think your attempts to interpret and establish peace and make sense of Seth Dvorin’s life does an injustice to our Country, Servicemen & women, Judaism and our beloved way of life here in America.
Please read up on “our” enemies: Global Jihad. Do you think protesting about matters you hardly understand (military planning and US politics) will really bring anyone back from the dead?
Maybe you forgot the 3,000+ families of the dead from the Twin Towers…oh, you say, “That has nothing to do with Iraq.” Well, Jihadist-strategists of war love passing the illusions that there are “no connections” while they use media in Hollywood to spread anti-American hatred toward our way of life. It’s amazing that those in Hollywood who are so stinking rich to begin with due to America somehow resent America…well GOD bless them too, however, siding with those that state that there is and were LIES about this war ARE DANGEROUSLY MISGUIDED PEOPLE.
Why do you think there was an “oil for food” scandal…and that during those SEVERAL YEARS that the ARMS INSPECTORS FOUND NOTHING…THEY WERE BOUGHT OUT!!!!! I was there in the Combined Air Operations Center in Saudi Arabia. There was much more that went on behind the “closed doors” of IRAQ in those years. If you think disarmament and thoughts of peace and harmony will bring it about just meditate on the disaster of the tsunami…this is what the enemies of America and Israel would have for us.
There was, is and will continue to be WMD, Bio-Terror weaponry, bomb factories and international and GLOBAL JIHAD elements in IRAQ…will Syria, Jordan, Saudi and Lebanon be next…who are the true WAR-MONGERS? Not America, nor American political parties or presidents.
We must dismantle the powers of war. There are MANY THANKFUL PEOPLE THROUGHOUT IRAQ AND ITS NEIGHBORS FOR OUR CONTRIBUTIONS TO GIVE THEM HOPE AND FREEDOM…
Please end the madness against OUR LEADERS and Soldiers…please stop confusing sorrow and loss for a justification of anger toward those who protect you and serve you. Please remember that countless thousands of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers throughout the Middle East have lost their own people due to TERRORISM–NOT DUE TO AMERICAN INTERESTS.
THE INTERESTS OF GLOBAL JIHADISTS IS TO SPREAD CONFUSION AND DISLOYALTY, WHILE PERPETRATING THE IDEA THAT THEY ARE THE SAVIORS…IF SOMEONE DOES NOT STOP THEIR MADNESS MORE PEOPLE WILL SURELY DIE.
I find your remarks deeply troubling. I find the fact that you are a U.S. Army officer even more disturbing. You so distort, twist & misunderstand every issue you address that I just don’t know where to begin. I have never seen any evidence whatsoever that the reason the UN arms inspectors did not find WMD is that they were “bought off.” Not even the most ardent supporters of the notion that there is or was WMD in Iraq have made such an outrageous claim. What is your source for it?
Hollywood as apologists for Islamic jihadists? Man, you are off the deep end. Precisely what movie are you claiming is anti-American or pro-jihadist?
You appear to believe that all dissent against U.S. policy plays into the hands of our terrorist enemies. How much do you know about our Constitution and Bill of Rights? I presume that as part of your service you do spend at least a minimal time learning something about the documents upon which our nation was established. If you did, you’d know that the dissent & “disloyalty” which you decry is at the heart of American rights.
Every region, city or town I’ve lived in throughout my life in this nation has honored the right of residents to protest what is viewed as wrong. What part of this country do you live in? Does everyone there view protestors & dissenters as hostilely as you? If so, I want to make sure I never take up residence there as you and your friends will sure make me unwelcome fast.
What is your evidence that there are legions of thankful Iraqis grateful for what we’ve supposedly done for them. I can’t believe that with 10 more more bombings every day you persist in your blindness regarding our occuptation & conquest of Iraq. How can you possibly say the Iraqis want us there. Such a view clearly flies in the face of reality on the ground in Iraq.
And please do not EVER tell me that my views do a disservice to Judaism. No one gets the right to tell me that. By what right do you arrogate yourself that privilege? Do you claim to know someting about Judaism I don’t? Highly unlikely. And by what right do you say I don’t understand U.S. politics? And you understand it better than I do? And what does “military planning” have to do with anything. I’m not basing my criticism of U.S. policy in Iraq on military planning or any such thing.
Your comment is so disjointed, fragmented & barely coherent that I just don’t know what to make of it. But it sure does scare me silly that you will be among those prosecuting our future wars ( of which there would appear to be several in our immediate future to judge by Bush’s inaugural).
Open discussion has never done an injustice to our country, our troops, any religion, or our way of life. Showing compassion toward another mother would have been a small act of kindness for the First Lady. My family has fought for the right of speech, and yes that means we should be studying US politics and questioning always. As far as military planning….do you know every minute whats in the works? I doubt it.
There’s a very age old saying within the military…..”Your’s is not to question why, your’s is but to do or die.” Yes, you may be told and follow orders but wake up little sheeple and think on your own. Since when should any family member be barred from going to Dover, or religious practices requested be denied?
No one has forgotten 3,000 + from the Twin Towers, but may we also not be blinded to the number that has perished since then.
I, too, favor an open discussion of this war in Iraq…Each side makes forays…usually futile…to wise up the other side…
I stand on the side of “Let’s bring our troops home NOW”…I am a vet who works for this cause every day…I was for the invasion of Iraq at first…(yes, I am one of those infamous flip-floppers) and would have been fearful but proud if my son, who is in the Air Force, would have had a role in Operation Iraqi Freedom…but not now…
“We had to destroy the village to save it” was a haunting expression from another era… sometimes associated with another lieutenant…Calley…We had an opportunity to “save” Iraq with it being reasonably intact…that time seems to be long gone…I am not going to get into the blame game as to how this opportunity was lost…I, as an American, am willing to accept my fair share…But now we are neither saving Iraq or ourselves by remaining there…
We need to swallow our hubris…and get on with regrouping…we regrouped after Vietnam…and let the USSR take their turn at foreign nation building in their own image… watched the fiasco of that…and eventually the crumbling of the once feared “Soviet Empire”…
Strength takes many forms…We need to have the strength to acknowledge our fiasco…The most useful learning is from mistakes…not from successes…We do not need to continue throwing away the lives and limbs of young warriors such as Seth Dvorin…let’s stop the sorrow…and the foolishness…
I am so sorry for the death of this woman’s son. Any military officer who would think that the treatment she recieved is right obviously has no business leading soldier’s or anyone else for that matter. This woman gave HER SON in the defense of our country and she had every right to request a conversation with the highest levels of government. The government is OURS, the PEOPLE’s. It is not the private domain of the Bush family or any other person who is elected to public office.
I also think that, in addition to asking the first lady why her children don’t serve, this mother should have also asked the question: “WHY DIDN’T YOUR HUSBAND SERVE?”.
US ARMY Veteran (medically retired)
Each and every newspaper that has interviewed Mrs. Niederer has fogotten one key ingredient inherent to a credible news story–fact checking. Serving with me at Fort Drum, NY, is the Platoon Sergeant, and several Soldiers from 1LT (posthumously promoted) Seth Dvorin’s platoon from Battle Battery, 3-62 ADA (now inactivated during Army Transformation).
Ms. Niederer complains that she cannot “check the Army’s facts,” about whether or not he was disarming a roadside bomb. Numerous people, from Soldiers, Commanders, LT Dvorin’s Platoon Sergeant, and even LT Dvorin’s wife of less than a year, have not been able to convince Mrs. Niederer that her son was killed from the backside, the key to determining whether he was “disarming a bomb” or whether he was facing away from the IED, warning his platoon (the actual account from the Casualty Feeder Report and from 1-32 IN). She is seeing “red” because she is politically motivated. We have talked with Mrs. Niederer at length about her son’s death. LT Dvorin’s Platoon Sergeant was at the site where they burned his bloodied helmet which had a huge area on the backside ripped by a large fragment from the IED, and several articles of his TA-50 that were torn into shreds by the roadside bomb. But all this does not matter.
No-one calls us anymore. No-one cares to interview those who were there. Mrs. Niederer marches around constantly, spewing forth rhetoric and hatred for those who she deems as responsible for her son’s needless death, and people believe her story. She has fabricated a “fact-finding mission” to search for the “truth” about her son’s death, yet the wounded Soldiers who were less than 10 meters away from her tell the story of a bitter woman who won’t listen to them. She weaves a story of “they wouldn’t let me be at Dover AFB” and “they wouldn’t bury him immediately,” but fails to talk about the timeline set to bury LT Dvorin and accomodating not only HER, but his wife, her family, his Soldiers, etc.
But I see it differently. I see the media not checking their facts, sharing a biased view of a woman who has been wronged by the Army “machine” (it’s actually made up of people like myself, who put their pants on just like you), and failing to call our Public Affairs Office at Fort Drum to arrange for a phone interview (only take a few moments) with the Soldiers who were right there–at the site where he was killed. A bit of fact checking, a moment to interview, and an unbiased opinion would prove that LT Dvorin was warning his platoon of what he found on the side of the road, during a foot patrol, and was killed from blunt-force trauma to the back of his head through his helmet in February of 2004.
I feel sad that Mrs. Niederer challenges the intent and the selfless service of our Soldiers in a veiled “let’s bring them home” mantra, while she outwardly harbors resentment and unsubstantiated claims of wrongdoing against our Soldiers and our President. God bless those who serve, under any president, under any circumstance, with courage and strength and the resolve to not let the Sue Niederer’s get under our skin. Climb to Glory—CPT A
First, you haven’t bothered to read my weblog to know that I am NOT a journalist. Do you even know what a weblog is?
And just what “facts” do you claim that I have not examined? Who cares precisely how Seth Dvorin died? While it may be important to you or perhaps to Mrs. Niederer to know whether he was attempting to dismantle the bomb when he died (facing it) or whether he was turning around to warn his men, this is totally irrelevant to my own post on the subject. The fact that he died is what’s important. Why he had to die–that’s what’s important.
And I notice you neglect to mention the harshness & rudeness with which Mrs. Niederer was treated when she attempted to question Mrs. Bush in a public setting. Are you defending this maltreatment as well?
Just who’s the one who’s “politically motivated” here?? I maintain it is you just as much or moreso than Mrs. Niederer.
I ask you to imagine your own parents attempting to deal with your own battle death. Who can say what is the right or wrong way to mourn when your own child is killed in battle? You are being presumptuous in telling us that Mrs. Niederer is being wrong or unfair in the manner she has chosen to mourn. And if you chose to mourn the death of your child in battle in a way diff. than she, that does not make you better or more correct in your mourning than she.
You, with your total endorsement of our war in Iraq and the blighted policies of ‘our’ commander in chief are the one who is at least as politically motivated as her. In fact, I wonder how you ever came to read this weblog? You certainly didn’t do so independently & on your own. Perhaps Army public affairs folks directed you here to leave your comment? If your coming here was anything but a happenstance of fate, then your very coming here to leave your comment is an attempt to rebut & refute Mrs. Neiderer’s claims and concerns. That too is politically motivated.
The truth is that while Seth Dvorin & your fellow soldiers are honorable folks and doing your job–the job you are doing in Iraq is not one that the majority of your own countrymen & women want you to do. A majority of Americans want you home & not occupying, killing & being killed by another people. The sooner that happens the less likelihood that more of you will have to die as Seth did.
I still find it appalling that any parent who sacrifices a child in the defense of this country is supposed to somehow just “suck it up and drive on”. Does this woman have no right to grieve? Does she have no right to question the events of her son’s death, especially given the fact that we were wholly sold a rotten lie which was the basis for going to war in the first place.
People look at this mother and they think that she is some resentful harp who only wants to spew a bunch of rhetoric. Yet, perhaps they should look at it a bit differently. I see in Sue Niederer’s anger a desire to ensure that no other soldier’s die needless (never mind the issue of “questionability”…the basis for the whole war is “questionable”) deaths in a war we have no busines fighting to begin with.
I recently read an article where a journalist did an interview with Joe Galloway of Knight Ridder (and the author of the Vietnam Memoir “We were Soldiers once…and Young”) and he said in effect that we have sacrificed the best men and women making up the best military our nation has ever known…and he said also that this war is not worth a single one of their deaths, or maimings. Pretty powerful statement coming from the only jounralist ever to have been awarded the Bronze Star in Vietnam (or ay other war) for what he did to save American lives there. (oh and he did 4 tours as a combat journalist there as well)
You can find the article about these comments by Joe Galloway at
I dont think anyone ever means to deliberatelycast any soldiers in a bad way. If soldiers feel that way when someone protests against this war then they must be still suffering from some type of Vietnam hangover because that has never been the intent of anyone I have known who has spoken out about this war. None of us wish to spit on any soldiers or call anyof you names. Any of the radcial elements who might want to do that are the minority. Most of us truly dont want to see anymore of our soldiers dead or otherwise. The only thing anyone wishes for is that lives are saved by stopping a war that is needless and only being waged based on a bunch of lies. No one’s death is worth making Halli-Burton richer or building the image of George W. Bush as being some “No-BS-taking” type of president (which is mostly to satisfy the needs of his own ego and nothing else).
If the Iraqi’s wanted rebellion then they should have gone about it ontheir own…we could have armed them and all that but their revolution was theirs to achieve…just as it was the responsibility of a ragtag bunch of American militiamen back in the late 18th century…so it is the responsibility of any people when they are oppressed to throw off the chains of oppression THEMSELVES (read the Federalist Papers)…otherwise freedom is simply on its way to becoming another commodity to be traded for or bought or begged for on the street…There will be a declining value of freedom as long as people think that someone else will be there to come in and shed foreign blood, sacrifice foreign sons, and fight their own native battles for them. We tried it in Vietnam and it did not work and we are trying it now and you know what? It is not working. Even the Washington Post and the New York Times wrote stories today about how the new Iraqi government, based on the just released results of the elections, is going to be a government closely allied with Iran and not at all resembling the “secular, but free, democracy” that Bush and Co. hoped for.
Bottom-line….and this would piss me off if I was still in uniform (proudly served for ten years and did my time in the sandbox in 90-91…fortunately George Sr. was smarter and realized the disastrous consequences of going “all the way to Baghdad”[read his memoirs]..too bad his son does not listen very well) and heard this too..but it does not make it any less true….We were used to come into Iraq, spend our money, and shed our children’s blood to overthrow a despot that the other countries in the region were too chicken-s**t to do anything about. Cannot say I blame them, since 100,000 Iranian troops were gassed by Saddam (after he tested the arsenal we supplied him with on the Kurds) back in the 80’s; however, this was simply NOT our war to fight. Yet we were led like puppets, by false intelligence reports, con-men like Ahmed Chalabi, and others like him, who were directly under orders from intelligence sources of the Iranian Government, and hyped up fears over what the UN Weapons inspectors “could not” find in Iraq….and so we went to war. And more than a thousand young people, just like Sue Niederer’s son have died as a result…I think her ire is warranted and I dont think any soldier should take it personally. We all have a right to feel angry about being lied to and treated like a bunch of mindless chimpanzees.
Honolulu, HI USA