Home Front: Life during wartime

In the Republican ranch lands of West Texas, the peace movement keeps a silent vigil.

Topics:

Home Front: Life during wartime

Alpine, Texas, population 5,786, is a two-and-a-half-hour drive to the nearest frappuccino, and support for the president and the troops is strong. Texans make up 18 percent of the U.S. Army, so many residents have family and friends in the military. On Holland Avenue, Alpine’s main street, a huge American flag has replaced the Lone Star State banner at Pam and Ken Clouse’s Cowboys ‘n Cadillacs gift emporium. Jan Smith, who records the conversations heard at her quilting club for the weekly “Alpine Avalanche”, concluded her March 27 column by asking God to “bless America and those who protect her.”

But even here, in the straight-shooting Republican ranch lands of West Texas, the peace movement has found purchase — on Holland Avenue across from the Amtrak station. Every Friday at 12:15 p.m. for the past four weeks, anywhere from six to a dozen people assemble in a parking lot. For a half hour they stand in front of lunch-hour traffic holding signs painted with slogans such as “NO WAR KNOW PEACE” “A JUST CAUSE NOT A JUST WAR” and “JUSTICE NOT JUST U.S.” There’s a plastic beer pitcher filled with origami peace cranes and miniature peace poles — seven-inch-tall cedar pegs with peace messages in several languages.

Unlike the loud and theatrical acts of civil disobedience in New York and San Francisco, the Alpine protesters keep a silent vigil. Hectoring police or stopping commuters is not the way to win hearts and minds in West Texas.

“Block traffic?” asks housewife Dee Perkins, holding a poster board with the famous slogan “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” “They’d run us over!”

“We don’t want to be aggressive,” explains another middle-aged protester, “because we don’t support aggression.”

Their 30-minute vigil serves as an emotional thermometer, showing the temperature for war and peace. Today, most drivers just stare. A few honk their horns in approval. An equal number become irate.

A young man with a baseball cap in a gray pickup truck drives past. He screams “Shut the fuck up! Shut the fuck up!”



“What did he say?” asks Perkins. She sighs when told. “Usually they say things like ‘crawl under a rock’ or ‘get out of America, you communist fucks.’” With combat raging, the protesters say they’re unsure of what should happen next in Iraq. Should the bombings stop? Coalition troops return home? Leave the Iraqis to face their dictator? No one knows.

“Personally, I’d like to see a cease-fire,” says David Corbin, a physics professor at Alpine’s Sul Ross State University. “Give Iraq back to the U.N. and see what they can do with it. We have to stop killing civilians. We’ve done ourselves a lot of damage with this. We’ve squandered our prestige and credibility. And I’m not sure there’s any solution that involves the U.S.”

But the majority of Alpine doesn’t seem to believe that peace is the answer now. Not with American troops already there.

“No matter what you think about the war, we’re at least supportive of the troops,” says Allyson Santucci, owner of La Tapatia Cafe. Santucci said she was originally opposed to the war but now just wants the troops home. “I think it’s unfortunate they have to do the job that’s asked of them; they need our support and love even if I don’t support the policy behind it.”

What Santucci doesn’t want to see is protests blaming soldiers for any problems.

“I watched my friends in Vietnam come back and saw how the protests hurt them,” she said. “They had a job to do and did it admirably.”

Even in remote Alpine, tourists have been concerned about travel safety. Carla McFarland, proprietor of the historic Holland Hotel, a legendary ranching hostelry, said she’s fielded a few calls from worried reservation holders.

“Yesterday I talked with some guy who wanted to know if it was safe to come to Alpine,” she said.

“Since Alpine’s in Brewster County which adjoins Mexico, it seemed they were concerned about fedayeen infiltrating over the border from Chihuahua,” she snorted. “Security? I didn’t tell him the Holland’s housekeeping keys have gone missing for nine years.”

What people do worry about is what comes next — like the costs for occupying and reconstructing Iraq.

Joaquin Guerra wants Washington to level with taxpayers. “It bothers me,” said the Sul Ross senior. “We need to pay for our military’s salary, supplies and backing, and we’ve got so much need in this country. Now we’re taking on this extra burden of colonizing, protecting and providing services for Iraq. It’s going to be like taxation without representation.”

Pete Smyke, another Alpine resident, wondered if the conflict will change the way future enlistees think about the military and its benefits.

“We don’t think about it, but a lot of the kids who went into the Army did so to get money for college,” Smyke said. “Whether you support the war or not, that’s an important point, that we don’t allow kids to have money for college unless they’re willing to fight.”

On Holland Avenue the half-hour vigil nears its end. The protesters make plans for returning next Friday. They say they’ll stick to their schedule as March becomes April and heads into May. Before they leave, they hear one last comment.

“It’s not the ’60s, you hippies!” Another baseball-capped youth has popped out of an SUV moon-roof with the vocal force of a Fox TV pundit. But when a reporter asks him to explain his views for publication, the talking head and torso stop talking, apparently surprised by the request.

The vigil watches him disappear down the street.

“I feel dissent is a big part of what America is all about,” says Corbin. “That’s what I think our troops should be over there fighting for, our right to dissent here.”

Later in the day five high school students stage a demonstration of their own. The group walk down Holland Avenue holding signs supporting the president and his administration’s war efforts with slogans such as “ANARCHY’S GAY; IRAQ MUST PAY” and “BOMB BAGHDAD.”

Yet one of their slogans summarized Alpine’s conflicted mood these days.

“BUSH IS # 1,” the sign said. Below it, in smaller letters, was another sentiment: “BUT WAR SUCKS.”

Andrew Nelson is a writer in San Francisco.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>