During August, Cindy Sheehan came to symbolize the controversy surrounding the Iraq War. Many encouraged her, are opposed to the war, and are despised by those who see her actions as undermining support for U.S. troops overseas. The Sheehan encampment was called "Camp Casey," named after her son, U.S. Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, who was killed in Iraq last year.
On Crawford's main street, there was another tent set in a vacant lot that some called "Fort Qualls," after its principal organizer, Gary Qualls. His son, Louis, a U.S. Marine, also died in Iraq. "The first time I had a meeting with her, she requested that, and her first request on her ground, her way or no way. No (news) media. She did not want any media."
Mrs. Sheehan says she welcomes dialogue, but that Mr. Qualls and others are not open to her view that the time has come to end the U.S. involvement in Iraq.
“Even the anti-Sheehan, Gary Qualls, one day he told me he loved me and there are several pictures of us hugging on the Internet,” she said. “Then he became the 'anti-Sheehan.' I do not know what that is all about. But I always find common ground with people and we talk and just sit down and dialogue like this."
Mr. Qualls says, as the parent of what he calls "a fallen hero" [his son], he shares Mrs. Sheehan's pain at the loss of a child. But he also feels Mrs. Sheehan is using her loss to foster the agenda of left wing, anti-Bush political groups. "I believe that she is being used for somebody else's purpose.
“Michael Moore (the filmmaker) and Move-on-dot-org (MoveOn.org), he is involved in this and there are other anti-war activists, professional protesters, and it is my understanding that she is also a member or used to be a former member of Code Pink," continued Mr. Qualls.
Code Pink is a California-based women's peace movement that holds vigils and protests around the nation, including Camp Casey.
Mrs. Sheehan acknowledges there are political groups who support her, but she is not their "tool." "It is my message and my vision and I want to say the same thing to them [pro-war groups]. They are being funded by the GOP [Republican party] and one of their main strategists is a good friend of Karl Rove, so they're the same thing. They are tools of the right, just as I am a tool of the left, and I am not."
Mrs. Sheehan says she has found common ground with a wide range of organizations and individuals who oppose President Bush, and who believe the lives of soldiers, like her son, are being wasted.
Mr. Qualls disagrees. "President Bush has brought back the utmost respect and honor and dignity back to the office of president of the United States. Sometimes even a president can make a mistake because he is human just like the rest of us, but this is a good man, he is a just man."
Gary Qualls and Cindy Sheehan are among several hundred parents across the nation who has lost sons and daughters in Iraq. Although united by their grief, they remain divided by their views on the war and their political views in general. Their campaigns for and against the war will continue. There will be demonstrations against the war and for the President later this month in Washington DC.