Saturday, December 01, 2007

The War Comes Home

Just when you think things couldn't get much more screwed up in the 'War On Terror', not one, but two bizarre things happen within days of one another, and, strangely enough, they didn't happen in the labyrinthine halls of Washington, DC, nor the distant deserts of the Middle East. They happened in Sea-Tac Airport (the airport that serves the greater metro area of Seattle and Tacoma, WA), and in the tiny town I live in, Port Orchard, WA, just across Puget Sound from Seattle.

First, the airport story. Two soldiers from nearby Fort Lewis had just arrived with the body of a fallen comrade killed in Iraq, escorting it home to Virginia. On the tarmac, an impromptu honor guard was formed by Port of Seattle police, airport fire and rescue, and military personnel. One of the police officers then took the two soldiers up to security. The TSA screener checked the ID of all three, including the police officer, and sent the soldiers through the metal detector. Because both soldiers were decorated veterans, their combat ribbons and medals set off the detector. Rather than send them through again, or wand them, or even take them to a private facility, this defender of America in a TSA uniform, had them strip down to tee shirt, pants, and socks, in full view of everyone there. While I have no problem with a politician or a bureaucrat having to wait in the same lines as everyone else in airports, this begs the question: "What the fuck were you thinking?!?"

Then it gets weird. As a preface, I should give a brief overview of the town that I reside in now. It's a slightly bluer collar version of Mayberry. You're just as likely to see a postcard-picture view of an idyllic harbor as you are to see a 50 year old mobile home with weeds up to the windows. Half-million dollar gated homes may be blocks away from a working chicken farm. Bikers and brokers pass each other on the street every day. It's diverse, but the scale is small. There's somewhere around 8,000 people here, if that. And this is the county seat too.

Anyways, Port Orchard, WA got a visit yesterday from the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. Have you heard about these folks? The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies this sect as a 'general hate group'. They go around the country disrupting funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. Not because of a war protest, but because they believe those soldiers are killed because of 'divine retribution' for the U.S. tolerating homosexuality. Several Westboro Baptist members (anywhere from 6 to 15 of them, depending on the news source) came to Port Orchard to protest the funeral of Sgt 1st Class Johnny C. Walls. They carried signs that said things like: "Pray for more dead kids", and "God hates fags". Nice, huh? But then, something extraordinary happened.

Even before the Westboro protesters showed up, hundreds of counter-protesters lined the streets around the intersection. They carried flags, they carried signs. They were bikers, they were housewives. They were gay rights activists, they were truck mechanics. They hooted, they honked, they cheered, they wept. Groups that on a different day wouldn't notice one another, high-fived and whooped across the street, as well as when they passed one another.

This isn't where I grew up, and Chicago will always be Home for me.... but from yesterday on, I'll always be proud of Port Orchard, Washington.