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Eugene Weekly : Views : 09.22.05

Business of War

UO student plans protest strike against war.


When I came to Eugene in 1991 after working 15 years in Silicon Valley, I thought I was as far as I could get from weapons research. The last thing I thought about was the Pentagon having a presence here. Then, after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, I began my Peace Studies program and learned a whole lot more about our country's addiction to war.

Since January 1950, America's top industry has been the manufacture and sale of weapons, and there have been more than 200 wars in the world. When the Cold War ended, this industry faced a crisis called peace. So, the Pentagon began outsourcing every aspect of war, from bombs and bullets to fried chicken and underwear, and that's why we are so deeply invested and entrenched as companies, communities and citizens in the business of war.

The Army used to make its own tuna sandwiches, but today Bumble Bee has a lucrative Pentagon contract, and therefore a stake in conflict and a good reason not to speak out against war. The Navy used to make its own soup, but today Campbell's has a Pentagon contract, and therefore a stake in conflict and a good reason not to speak out against war. The Base Realignment and Closure hearings were not only designed to deploy our forces and bases around the world — read the Pentagon's National Defense Strategy — but the sentiments stirred up among workers here who want to keep their jobs create that many more reasons for Americans not to speak out against war.

Americans are being hired and trained as cogs in the war machine, paid to be silent workers and accomplices, paid to participate in the industry of war while being influenced to ignore the violence of war.

The Pentagon's plan for the next 20 years is an arms race when we're already at the top. We're telling the rest of the world to build up for war because we're the world's Wal-Mart of weapons.

Foreign policy is what a few men make it, and that is terribly wrong. Today the Pentagon is pressuring Japan to rescind Article 9 of its constitution. The first nation on Earth to use weapons of mass destruction, the U.S., is urging the only nation to suffer nuclear attacks, Japan, to re-establish a military and arm itself with nuclear weapons. On Wall Street, war is good for business. But America's business should be its people's prosperity; our global business should be life's prosperity.

Some 310,000 companies supply the Pentagon; 56 in Eugene. At least 50 percent of our taxes support the war industry. Over one trillion taxpayer dollars are spent annually on defense, not counting Homeland Security, Army Corps of Engineers, NASA, and education programs for defense, foreign policy, and national security. America has 6,000 military bases domestically and nearly 1,000 bases overseas. But the sorriest example of our priorities are the more than 350 schools serving as weapons laboratories. Just two of these, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University, take in a combined $1 billion a year and rank among the top 50 defense contractors.

Resource sharing or resource warring is a choice that rests in the hands of the American public. With the Pentagon willing to kill on a massive scale to secure world domination, and with conventional mechanisms for citizen control of the government broken, universities have an opportunity and an obligation to do whatever they can to facilitate restoration of democratic control. Universities can start by announcing that they will no longer serve the Pentagon.

Making just one part of a weapon 10,000 miles from conflict contradicts the core meaning of education and hinders domestic prosperity. America cannot be just, or truly know freedom, or ever learn peace while making war in its schools.

At the EMU Amphitheater at noon Monday, Sept. 26, the first day of the new academic year, I will refuse to study inside the classroom of any school that sells itself to war, and deliver my Petition for Peaceful Priorities to President Frohnmayer at the same time it's being delivered to the White House. I will stand all year from noon to dusk, and I will speak against war to focus public attention on statistics that reveal America's obscene war-for-profit economy, and my university's deepening participation in it.

It's time to change our disordered priorities, and we can only do so by popular demand.

Brian Bogart worked in the defense industry for 15 years. In 1997, he earned a BA in Japanese history from the UO, and is now entering his final year as its first graduate student in peace studies. See his series of three commentaries in EW archives in late July and early August.



2050 Fantasy

Katrina, Lane County and peak oil


In the 1990s, the Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana governments crafted "Coast 2050," a plan intended to restore coastal wetlands to buffer New Orleans from the impacts of severe hurricanes. Coast 2050 hoped to spend billions on restoration projects to reverse ecological damage caused by river channeling and oil and gas development that eroded the natural protections sheltering the Crescent City. The Katrina disaster is a severe example of the gap between planning and the failure to implement solutions.

Despite the known risks of flooding to New Orleans, very little planning was done to mitigate the obvious threats. Similarly, our society's leaders know about the pending peak and ultimate decline of petroleum, and the climate shifts from burning oil and coal, yet virtually nothing has been done to mitigate these impacts and shift toward a more sustainable civilization. This myopia is shared by politicians of both parties, who pretend that business as usual can continue for several more decades, even though there will not be enough oil to construct what is euphemistically called "growth."

The Lane Council of Governments (LCOG) has a program called Region 2050, which purports to study how the southern Willamette valley will look in the year 2050, outlining three options to absorb outlying rural areas into the Eugene/Springfield urban growth boundary.

Region 2050 is a theoretical exercise disconnected from reality, since it ignores the fact that by 2050 the oil age will be over. The issue is not when the oil "runs out," but when demand exceeds supply.

Last fall, LCOG predicted gasoline prices would climb to $2.50 per gallon by the year 2025. This mistake was caused by the refusal of local government to include geological reality (petroleum supplies are not infinite) into their long range planning. While it is not possible to predict petroleum prices decades into the future, after we pass the peak of oil production, it is obvious that the era of cheap oil will be over long before then.

In April 2005, Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury told the Sustainable Business Conference at the UO that we are now at peak oil. Bush and Cheney have admitted to peak oil, and it is the reason the U.S. took over the Iraqi oil fields.

Any planning for the year 2010, let alone 2050, must analyze the social and economic impacts of declining fossil fuel supplies.

There are two scenarios that are more likely for the Eugene area than the Region 2050 proposals. We might play the role of Houston, hosting refugees from the desert Southwest after climate change combined with energy shortages (no power for air conditioning) make that region less habitable.

A worse scenario is that Eugene will resemble New Orleans if we continue to ignore official warnings that Lane County's dams are not strong enough to survive earthquakes. The city of Eugene's website has a report about "Multi-hazard mitigation" that admits that the dams upstream of the metro area were not designed to withstand a large quake. These failures would obliterate Eugene and Springfield with a "Willamette Valley tsunami." These dams need to be strengthened or removed.

LCOG should stop crafting schemes to pave more subdivisions in the woods around LCC and Pleasant Hill. Instead, our local governments should strengthen the local economy to be more resilient to peak oil and climate change. The region could invest in renewable energy factories (solar panels and wind turbines), instead of Hyundai tax breaks and ultrahazardous liquid natural gas terminals on the coast. The area's RV factories could build buses, which will be more relevant when gas is $10 per gallon — and they could be powered by biofuels grown on converted grass seed farms. We have the pieces to help the region achieve energy and food security, and a strong economy, but the components are disconnected and denial dominates the planning processes.

Will local governments help prepare our region to survive and thrive after the end of cheap oil, or will they continue to spend our money on more boom and bust illusions?

Mark Robinowitz of Eugene is publisher of www.oilempire.us(a political map to understand Peak Oil) and www.permatopia.com(a graceful end to cheap oil).