Emotions over war with Iraq are splintering the General Assembly, where Republican lawmakers are pushing a resolution to support soldiers in battle while a group of Democrats have written President Bush calling the war "wrong and ill conceived."
Eleven Democratic legislators released a letter to Bush and the state's congressional delegation yesterday calling the war "morally and fiscally reckless to our own Maryland citizens."
"It appears the administration has had one goal from the very beginning: going to war and imposing its hegemony," said the letter, written on Maryland General Assembly letterhead.
Del. Elizabeth Bobo of Howard County, one of the signers, said it is the responsibility of those who oppose U.S. policy in Iraq to speak out.
"It is a fundamentally democratic action to express our disagreement with the way it was done," she said.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky of Prince George's County likened the Iraq war to Vietnam. "It took eight years of protests, and 45,000 people came back in body bags. I don't want to wait," he said.
Other delegates who signed were Joanne C. Benson of Prince George's, Salima S. Marriott of Baltimore, Karen S. Montgomery of Montgomery County, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam of Baltimore County and Frank S. Turner of Howard. Senate signers included Joan Carter Conway and Verna L. Jones of Baltimore, Sharon M. Grosfeld of Montgomery and Nathaniel Exum of Prince George's.
The letter was criticized by other legislators, some with military backgrounds.
"This is disgraceful of my colleagues," said Del. David G. Boschert, an Anne Arundel County Republican and ex-Marine. "If they don't have the courage to stand on a wall, put on a uniform, and carry a weapon to protect something as valuable as an American life, then I don't want to see any of this."
Del. Herbert H. McMillan, a Navy reservist and Naval Academy graduate, said opponents should not be raising objections during a sensitive juncture in the military campaign.
"There is a time and a place for disagreement, but at this stage in the war, now is not the time," McMillan said.
"In this information age, this letter will be read by troops on ships who are working 20-hour days. ... To read that your elected official feels this way, you come very close with a letter like this to implying that they are war criminals," he said.
Bobo rejected that interpretation, saying that many soldiers probably also question the need and motivation behind the war.
"Is there anyone who would say that they believe all of the thousands of U.S. personnel over there all support the policy that put them there?" she said. "It doesn't take a letter like this to generate discussion."
Earlier in the day, McMillan introduced a resolution that expressed support for the armed forces "and their liberation of the Iraqi people."
"The General Assembly of Maryland offers its strong support for our service men and women, particularly those from Maryland, who are fulfilling their patriotic duty with bravery and professionalism," reads the resolution, which was referred to a committee for consideration.
An identical resolution has been filed in the Senate.
Shown the Democratic letter, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. responded: "Thank God George Bush is president."
"To placate a dictator is bad policy," Ehrlich said.
Referring to the letter, he said: "It is an exercise of First Amendment rights. I just have a very strong, different view."