Camp Death

Camp Death
The site of Cindy Sheehan's war protest is crowded with opinions and ghosts

CRAWFORD--There's a bunch of people standing across the street from the Yellow Rose, waiting to see if it'll blow up.

An hour earlier, someone called the Crawford Police Department and said the general store was going to go up in smoke. If it blows, it will incinerate the giant bell and Ten Commandments tablets displayed in front. It will destroy the cannon and red-white-and-blue horse perched upon the white cement-block structure, which looks like an old military fort.

A sheriff's deputy stands in the middle of the four-way intersection at the town's entrance. The roads are partially blocked, but there's no evacuation. Across the street, families fill the tables at a restaurant-gas station-convenience store called Coffee Station. No bomb is going to keep them from their fried chicken and burgers.

Vans from Camp Casey I and Camp Casey II (they're called "peace shuttles") take a side street before the four-way to drop off passengers at the Peace House.

The shuttles run all day from the camps to the tiny white house across the railroad tracks, where protesters can take a break from the camps eight miles up the road.

Cindy Sheehan--the military mom whose determination to meet President Bush (for a second time) resulted in her setting up camp next to his vacation home here--has gone to Los Angeles to tend to her ailing mother. But her absence has done nothing to dampen the spirit in the camps. If anything, the movement has grown bigger each day. Steve Earle and James McMurtry performed the night before; Joan Baez was planned for tonight. Unless, of course, the Yellow Rose blows up, in which case everyone might just pack up and go home.

The bomb threat also has cleared Fort Qualls, the Camp Casey antithesis adjacent to the Yellow Rose. According to his father, Gary, Lance Corporal Louis Wayne Qualls was part of a convoy ambushed by insurgents in Fallujah in November 2004. During the silence after the firefight, the 20-year-old Qualls ran toward a series of houses to flush out any remaining attackers. Qualls startled an insurgent who was loading a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. As the insurgent fled, he was able to get off one shot, which is all you need with a grenade.

Every time Gary Qualls removes a white cross with his son's name on it from Camp Casey I's memorial, the protesters put up a new one. Gary Qualls doesn't want them using his son for their cause. But, like Cindy Sheehan's son Casey and 1,800 others, Louis Qualls is dead, and their deaths can be appropriated by anyone for any reason. That's all this is about now, regardless of what Cindy Sheehan wanted when she first came to Crawford.

Swirling around the W-is-dumb and freedom-isn't-free blather is an atmosphere of death and the giant sucking sound you get when you try to apply meaning to it.

And now there's a bomb scare, and the cameras are raised. But I'm hungry, and it looks like this is one tardy time bomb. I head into Coffee Station for a sandwich to tide me over until the explosion.

A triangular patch of gravel and dying grass separates the Camp Casey I booths and tents from a dozen or so pro-war folks.

Both sides respect the fact that the triangle is for the deputies, who are forced to stand around in long pants, maintaining the peace in 480-degree heat. Neither side yells at the other, but they both hold up big signs boasting about how many family members each has lost in various wars. It's school-yard politics. If they did shout at each other, both sides would probably chant something like "Nyah-nyah-na-boo-boo." Because when it comes down to it, minds are made up, and it doesn't matter who has the sweeter slogan. Their picket signs might as well be blank.

Fortunately, there is one thing the factions agree on, and I am proud to be part of that bridge. Both sides hate the media. The Camp Casey I contingent flipping veggie burgers on one side of the triangle will have you know that a handful of kowtowing corporations runs the media. The media are afraid to challenge the administration, lest they get hit in the pocketbook.

On the other side of the triangle, the folks who cannot grasp the concept that Camp Casey is against the war but for the troops will complain about the Liberal Media. The Liberal Media love to tell you how many soldiers die each day, but they leave out stuff about the electric grid and shiny new classrooms. It's a wonder anyone wants to talk to me, since they're all certain the media twist the facts. But give them the chance to talk about dead soldiers, and it's on.