Camp Casey, TX: The Village is the Answer

By Susan Van Haitsma

Every village has its cemetery, its collection of spirit inhabitants who invoke memories of village history and remind the living that death and remembrance of the dead are essential to the natural order of things in human society. But cemeteries usually are found on the edges of town, away from the goings-on of daily life.

The memorials of carefully arranged and named crosses, stars of David and crescents comprising ‘Arlington South’ in Camps Casey I and II are not relegated to the edges, but instead form the heart of the community that has sprung up near Crawford, Texas this month. Memorial crosses hug the three original tents of Camp Casey I and line the road leading to the camp. The field of crosses at Camp Casey II adjoins the large community tent and is the first thing visitors encounter as they approach from the road. In a reversal of the natural order of things, the dead represented by these memorials are society’s youngest adults. The doctrine of pre-emptive war forces members of a society to do the unthinkable: to sacrifice the lives of their young to protect their own.

After her address at Camp Casey II on Saturday, Cindy Sheehan stepped into the cheering audience to greet supporters. As she shook my partner’s hand, she studied the image on his T-shirt: a line of people with arms linked and the message, “Guns don’t protect people … people do.” She said, thoughtfully, “I like your shirt.”

One of the many gifts Cindy Sheehan and her energetic supporters have given the country this August is a living, breathing example of what an alternative to war looks like. It’s an alternative led and shaped by women with a message focused on children. Behind the stage under the big tent of Camp Casey II, the handmade cloth banner spanning exactly the width of the tent states in bold, pink, block letters: MOTHERS SAY NO TO WAR. During the rally on Saturday, a long banner held by about 25 persons in rotating crews in front of the crosses read in bold, blue letters: SUPPORT OUR TROOPS, BRING THEM HOME ALIVE. Many smaller signs displayed around the camp contained similar messages: “Hands off God’s hildren.” “Greed is not a lesson for our children.” “War leaves all children behind.”

The village that has grown at Camp Casey contains the essential elements of what is life-giving and life-sustaining: food, water, shelter, clothing (mostly T-shirts), health care, education, communications systems, spiritual direction, visual art, music and dance. It’s all there, sprouting from the earth, brought into being by hundreds of people pooling talents developed in their own communities around the country. People have come with children and pets, often staying longer than intended. “It felt so much like family, I couldn’t bear to leave,” said a friend who spent the night in her car with her daughter so they could stay an extra day.

The remarkable kitchen at Camp Casey II has served thousands of wholesome, delicious meals made by volunteers with donations of food. Marveling at the lunch served one weekday, a Codepink volunteer said, “I eat better here than I do at home!” Bottled water is delivered by the caseload and regular announcements remind older visitors especially to drink at least one bottle an hour during the heat of the day. A medical tent has been staffed with volunteer professionals. Trained counselors also have been available. A special tent has served as a chapel, hung with symbols representing a variety of faith traditions. Tables and chairs were rented to accommodate the crowds under the large tent, and on Saturday, every table contained a vase of fresh flowers.

This village has embraced all ages and abilities. Chartered busloads arriving at the camp from Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio on Saturday were greeted and cheered. Calls were frequently made from the stage requesting volunteers for various camp tasks, and people jumped up, ready to be of service. At one point, overflow volunteers who answered the call for an ice brigade formed a line behind the ice handlers and applauded.

Visitors listened to speakers, read materials and engaged in discussion. Nonviolence training was held. Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) described experiences in Iraq that led them to speak out against the invasion and occupation. Said one young veteran from the Camp Casey stage as he surveyed Saturday’s crowd, “This is the single largest patriotic gathering I’ve seen in my life.”

If President Bush really wants freedom, democracy and compassion to spread around the world, he would do well to observe the phenomenon just outside his gate. Noble causes require noble means. The Camp Casey community has been characterized by good organization, flexibility, hospitality and an abiding sense of care.

At dusk on Saturday, taps were played in the field of crosses at Camp Casey II. Earlier, Joan Baez had sung ‘The Ballad of Joe Hill’, concluding with the line, “I never died, said he.” The large canvas portrait of Casey Sheehan waved in the wind. From a field of crosses grew a village filled with life that has become its own answer to war. Guns don’t protect people … people do.

—-

Susan Van Haitsma is active with Nonmilitary Options for Youth in Austin, Texas

All of Us: A Poem for Cindy Sheehan

Geraldine Green 18.8.05

ALL OF US

and i she replied in a watery voice as she slung her hips forward over avalanche

and ice and i she cried on the hillsides crumbling soil and i she replied to herself

as she stepped like an antelope over the wall of the dead. the dead that lay like sandbags against

an oncoming river or tidal wave they could not stop they could not be stopped. and i they replied

as they marched side by side over elongated river beds like crocodile teeth and i we all cried as

we leant forward against the wind’s long breath that took ours away as we lighted our candles

each day by slow day.

and i she called to the ones who won’t return and yes they all cried in voices uncertain yet louder

and louder and i they replied to their mothers and fathers and their families called back fervent

and loud and the clouds lifted their voices into the skies

and the rains came and the rains came and the rains came down.

and the doctors sighed and the medics tutted and they all did their best and they all

did their very best because they have been trained like the soldiers who march into war and they

have been trained to be humans after all and all and all and all of us cry.

—–
Submitted by the poet via email to Peacefile ‘to share with Cindy’; forwarded to AfterDowningStreet. The poet replies:

Greg

Hello there and thank you for posting my poem on Peacefile and afterdowningstreet.org websites. I’ve been keeping up to date with latest happenings. It’s just great that Cindy Sheehan has provided a focal point for people’s own feelings and thoughts on the matter.

Thanks again

Geraldine
Cumbria
UK

Eyewitness to Aug. 20

An official with the “coalition” that makes up Camp Casey had been talking to the ISO to diffuse the situation. I caught snippets of what he was saying… He said things like, “If it were up to me personally, I’d have no problem at all with you guys being here. What we need to do is all meet and discuss this, and figure out how we can all come together on this… The problem some people are having is not your presence here, but that you set up a rather large book table, with large signs and banners promoting the ISO, rather than the antiwar effort and Gold Star Families for Peace… All the money we raise here is to keep the peace effort here in Crawford going [free food, beverages, tents, shuttles, etc.], while some are objecting to your selling your books which goes to the ISO…” etc. It seemed that he was saying that they would be able to stay on, but that the ISO might have to do tone it down a bit.

At a few points on Saturday, members from the ISO *did* jump up on the table, trying to get everyone’s attention, shouting things like, “We’re getting arrested,” and “They are kicking us out.” This was at the beginning, when they were told rather forcefully by someone that they had to leave. (There was a guy who was being [aggressive] about it, apparently he was a Vietnam vet; after he initially stirred it up, he disappeared from the scene. Someone told us that they thought *he* was arrested.) A few times the cops (there were two of them) did pull someone aside, to talk to privately, but insisted that no one was being arrested unless they refused to pack up their books. We watched them pack up their books in boxes, and carry them to the trunk of their car. It seemed everything had calmed down, the cops kinda faded away, it was just the Camp Casey official talking with the ISO, so [the two of us] left, figuring it was being worked out… Personally I didn’t like the presence of the cops at Camp Casey, but I have to say that they seemed to handle it professionally; they tried to calm things down, and insisted over and over, “We are not the ones kicking you out. It is the Camp Casey people who object to your presence. We are here serving them; if they don’t want you here, then it’s our job to see that you leave…”

–received via email Aug. 27, 2005

A Response to Thomas Palaima

By Susan Van Haitsma

I always read with interest the columns of UT classics professor, Thomas Palaima. He and I have visited together concerning issues related to his course on war and violence studies. I appreciate his insight and experience.

Palaima’s American-Statesman commentary, “A grieving mother asks an impossible question,” (8-23-05) states that Gold Star mother, Cindy Sheehan and the hundreds of supporters who have traveled to Crawford, Texas to join her, are asking a question which “has no factual answer.” Palaima suggests that families of soldiers killed in Iraq must deal with their grief as all of us must when confronted by “death and severe trauma” in our lives. Palaima recounts several personal brushes with death in the context of accidents that he has survived, reminding us that there appear to be no satisfactory reasons why, in accidents, some die and others are spared.

But, soldiers who are killed in war do not die as a result of an accident. Most of the killing that is done in war is neither unexpected nor unintentional. The decision by US government leaders to invade and occupy Iraq involved certain knowledge that US soldiers and Iraqi civilians would be killed. US government leaders did not know how many persons would be killed or what their names would be, but they chose instruments of death as their method and knew that death would result. Somehow, leaders decided that the deadly human consequences would be worth the imagined gains of their cause. Sheehan and thousands of other ordinary Americans are asking President Bush and his administration to explain their cause and name those gains. If there are no factual answers to this straightforward question, US leaders are not leading.

Even if one thinks of the deaths of Iraqi civilians and US soldiers in Iraq as unfortunate accidents, what does that say about our culture of life? Most accidents assume a calculated risk – a gamble. Is a culture of life furthered by deciding that some lives are expendable? By willingly wagering the lives of the youngest adults in the US and the lives of young and old in Iraq, praying that certain family members and friends are not killed or injured, physically or mentally, whose lives are being traded for whose? What parents would give the lives of their children to protect their own?

As Sheehan has said many times, her son, Casey, was not ‘lost’ in war, he was killed. Killing does not happen accidentally. I appreciate the way she has often stated that her son was an “indispensable part” of her family. Love for our children is something we know deeply; it is the fiercest love of all. Our children are indispensable parts of our families and our larger communities. Why would we allow our 14 – 18 year-olds to be wooed by military recruiters? Why would we decide that our youngest adults should bear the brunt of war?

We would do well to listen closely to soldiers who are returning from Iraq. During the annual Veterans for Peace convention held August 4 –7 in Dallas, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) shared powerful testimony of their experiences in Iraq and their reasons for calling for withdrawal of troops. Said one member of IVAW from the stage during a plenary session, “When people tell me they are proud of what I did in Iraq, I say, “Well, I’m not. You don’t even know what I did over there.’”

Iraq war veteran and conscientious objector, Camilo Mejia, spoke candidly about the prison term he served for desertion when he refused to return to Iraq because of human rights violations he witnessed. He reported receiving support from other soldiers for his stand against the war, yet warned against the “culture of silence” within the military that discourages truth-telling about the costs of war.

From prison and since his release last February, Mejia has been an eloquent spokesperson for the rights of conscience. “By putting my weapon down,” he says, “ I chose to reassert myself as a human being.” He has helped mobilize support for other GI resisters, including Army Sgt. Kevin Benderman, who has recently begun a 15-month prison sentence for refusing to serve a second tour of duty in Iraq. Amnesty International has adopted Benderman as a prisoner of conscience.

Palaima suggests there is no human plan that explains why persons are killed in war. Veterans and family members of soldiers killed in Iraq are speaking out and suggesting otherwise.

Susan Van Haitsma is active with Nonmilitary Options for Youth and is an associate member of Veterans for Peace