Wednesday
May262004

« Art Project »

For my art class, I presented this huge matting board with three of my anti-war and anti-blood for oil posters, the letter to the army recruiter, and a bunch of artifacts of my grandfather’s—the flag from his memorial, seven spent bullet casings from the honor guard salute, pictures and stuff. It went over well. I had printed out the essay below for people to glue the elements together somewhat. My display was pretty huge. There were about two others that were this big. This caught some attention, and people I didn’t even know came up and complimented it. My essay attached to the display was as such:

My grandfather Norman was a chief on the USS Yorktown (CV-5) aircraft carrier when it was sunk in the battle of Midway in June 1942. He escaped to safety and was looked after in Hawaii in the immediate aftermath. He stayed in the Navy for 20 years and retired, ultimately settling in San Diego in 1952. The Navy made his life possible, being the ticket out of a farm in Ohio. Norman was a patriotic man. I’m sure before he went into the service he was proud, and he never stopped being proud of his service and of his country.

The country he supported then was different than it is now. The war he was in was different than the war we fight now. The war he fought in was the most brutal that humankind has ever known. There was nothing to be cheery about. There was however, a perception of who was definitely right, and who was definitely wrong. The Germans, Italians, and the Japanese were forces that needed to be stopped in that war. More specifically, let me say the underlying ideologies needed to be stopped. Anyhow, my impression of the national position on the war was that there was unity in purpose, because there was a clear enemy to face off against. Ah, the good old days. Now who knows the enemy we face? Is it the Taliban? Is it Iraq? Is it the Muslim world at large?

Or is it that which we never stop to think about—the reliance we have on resources to sustain our way of life? Our population is about 300 million in a world of over six billion. Yet our consumption of resources is outrageously out of proportion. Our tentacles reach all around the world, and seemingly any resources are ours if we can legislate, litigate, or now, launch a war to get what we want. Oil is obviously the hot topic now, but we use too much of almost any resource available. What we have is an unsustainable way of life. And worse.

We have gotten a long way from where we were when my grandfather was young. His farm life, something that his ancestors had lived, was modest but sustainable. People could go on living that life as long as history itself, just like they already had. The war in which he fought turned the world upside down, and left this country in a position of power, which went to its head, apparently. The postwar boom gave us the prototypes of much of what we see and experience as life today, from suburbs to fast food to automobiles for everyone. In good times, such as we experienced, no one thought the need to be sensible about consumption. As long as we ordered something and it came to us, this would be the case. Automatic this and a pre-made that made a lot of people happy, but over two generations has left a lot of us unable to imagine a world without all the accoutrements we know now. It has also led us to an unconscionable amount of hubris, which has provoked the ire of the people who need to give up their ways of life so that we may live ours.

poster with gas octane stickers indicating the effect of gas use: some soldiers lose an arm, a leg, or a life.September 11, Afghanistan, and Iraq didn’t just happen. They may or may not be related in the details, but are related in the big picture. Our national thirst for oil has led our government to act on our behalf, and as we all know now, sometimes rather foolishly. The capital the government has at its disposal is great, but the moral case for going to war is weak. Stripped of pretense, this war is being fought for oil. It is being fought so that some people (remember, only a 5% portion of the world’s population) can live large, at the expense and frustration of everyone not invited to that party. Blaming the government is fun, but remember, they are going to bat for us after all. Our reliance on oil is driving their foreign policy, and their foreign policy is having a disastrous effect. We have had many opportunities and developments that could reduce that dependence, but no one talks too loudly about actually just using less. That is a personal decision. It is a personal decision to carpool, ride a bike, take the bus, or walk. It is a personal decision to make fewer trips, or to buy fuel-efficient cars. It is a personal decision to (as that bumper sticker says) “live simply so that others may simply live.” The president may be dumb as a doorknob, but his industry is great because we have decided to use their product, and, as you can see, the oil men will literally go out of their way to supply us with their product.

This war in Iraq is utterly unconscionable. It is founded on bad evidence, conspiracy and greed. The democracy we supposedly were to bring is only to ensure a certain stability in the region so that we might be able to have freer access to the oil. Democracy, as an ideology, doesn’t take root in a country because it was delivered at the end of a gun barrel. It develops because the people choose it. There may be Iraqis who want democracy, but they want it on their terms, at the pace they can be comfortable with. Our war is not going to be an instrument of that. This is the first aggressive war we have fought, and this, on a sovereign nation that only tangentially had anything that might threaten us. Pearl Harbor was a threat. Saddam Hussein was not.

My grandfather fought on the side of a nation that believed in freedom, justice, and all that great stuff we read about in government class. He served proudly, the same as our men and women in uniform serve even today. But what are these new soldiers defending? If my grandfather’s generation fought to defend their farms and communities, what are we defending? If my grandfather’s generation fought to keep the world safe from aggressors, what do we defend, now that we are the aggressors? If my grandfather’s generation fought so that forces of good could unite against evil, then what does it say when the USA unilaterally acts without conscience against the more sober and considered judgment of the United Nations?

The United States, though never innocent of much, did have a reputation in the world for being the peacemaker or the fairer judge, based on our founding principles of equality and justice. Few nations in the world have what we have—respect for at least attempting to do the right thing. This war in Iraq was not the right thing. This has run up a karmic debt so high our grandchildren won’t be able to pay it off.

Norman died on July 4th, 1996 at the age of 83. It was an appropriate day for a man like him. Independence day. It was something he believed in, something he fought for, and something he ultimately gave us.

Please don’t squander the gift.

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