Friday, January 30, 2009

Buy No More

Reports keep surfacing about the increasing numbers of military personnel who commit suicide.

Just last evening there was a segment on Jim Lehrer’s PBS NewsHour focused on the single case of a U.S. Army Reservist who, after a year in Iraq followed by orders that his unit would be called up again, shot himself dead in his home, where he lived with his wife and two small daughters.

You don’t have to have been at the scene to imagine the psychic wounds that must have inflicted upon his family.

According to the NewsHour report, the Army is mobilizing to address the suicide problem, which it believes is exacerbated by multiple deployments without sufficient down time between them and inadequate mental health services, both before and after deployments.

Well, we can’t expect the Army to admit that the real problem is war itself. But we might expect PBS to talk to someone who would draw that conclusion.

There probably are some people out there who love war, but you don’t hear them often admit it, even if they are soldiers high in the chain of command. I forget which general it was who said “War is hell.” I’m pretty sure I heard Gen. Wesley Clark admit, in effect, that “no one wants to go to war.”

And then, of course, there’s Dwight Eisenhower’s famous farewell warning about the military-industrial complex—which, of course, he did a lot to put in place.

But if soldiers and generals do not love war and, in effect, warn us against waging it, and if we see alarmingly high numbers of veterans returning from war, if alive at all, with serious mental and emotional problems—not to mention physical disabilities that will leave many of them dependents for the rest of their lives—why will no one central to the discussion of military suicides step up and admit that the cause of the problem is war itself?

Similarly, not too long ago I tuned into a local public television program in Hampton Roads called “What Matters.” Among the several topics covered that evening in a New Year’s round-up of issues facing the current Virginia General Assembly was transportation.

Here in Hampton Roads, as in many urban areas of the country, traffic gridlock is a persistent problem, especially because the area is divided by several major rivers flowing into the mother of all large waters, the Chesapeake Bay.

Planners and legislators have proposed additional roads, bridges, and tunnels to alleviate the congestion, but in a binding referendum a couple years ago a master plan was voted down by tax-shy Virginians who feared their hard-earned dollars would be misspent by a profligate Department of Transportation.

As a result, not only does the gridlock continue but the furrowed brows have grown deeper among pundits and officials who ponder and endlessly discuss what’s to be done about “the transportation problem.”

And now there’s no money anyway, not even to fix the roads, tunnels, and bridges Hampton Roads already has.

Just about every afternoon vehicles traveling from jobs in Norfolk to homes due north across the Bay in Hampton or Newport News are backed up, literally, for miles.

The same is true at every crossing—from Norfolk, for instance, south through the tunnels to Portsmouth and Chesapeake, and on the well-traveled freeway east from Norfolk to Virginia Beach.

Yet no one in any discussion I’ve ever heard has said that the problem is too many cars or that the solution is to find a way to reduce driving.

We can’t solve problems unless we get to the core of their cause. Otherwise, we’re just blowing hot air.

The cause of military suicides and the host of personal and social suffering that accompanies them—domestic assaults, divorce, mental illness, addictions, unemployment, and homelessness—is war. Pure and simple.

Just as the cause of traffic congestion—not to mention accompanying air and water pollution—is too many cars.

We have to end war.

We have to get people out of their cars.

Any volunteers?

No, I didn’t think so.

I realize it’s no small order. The American way of life depends on war, which currently is going badly, and not just because soldiers are killing themselves or their family members.

The American way of life also depends on automobiles, which currently are choking our roads and our atmosphere and, as an industry, are taking us many miles down the highway to bankruptcy.

But I don’t believe technology—smart bombs or smart cars—is going to rescue us. I’m not even sure anything can rescue us.

But one thing that might help is to give up the American dream of world supremacy and material opulence and simplify our lives.

Demand decent public transportation. Convert those McMansions into extended family communes. Plant gardens in those suburban lawns or in porch and balcony planters. Stay home with the dogs and cats. They’ll love you for it.

Disconnect the cable, turn off the TV. Let suckers switch to digital television while you read serious books instead. Ride a bike to the public library and borrow some.

We the people on this planet have been sold a big bag of bullshit right from the start. Somehow, the worst ideas peddled by charlatans and profiteers have become the operating principles of our societies, creating enormous burdens for us all our lives.

But it’s our fault. We bought it.

The time has come to buy no more.

It won’t be easy. Conversion never is.

But when the money runs out, what better time to try?


At 11:16 AM , Blogger Imaginista said...

Hi Delaney,
I doubt you would remember me, but I am Joyce and Roland Nissley's daughter. I moved to AZ 26 years ago, but still have fond memories of LIFA and the Unitarian Church community back in the 70's. And I remember you. Anyway, my parents sent me the link to your blog and I read this entry and am looking forward to reading more. I agree with everything you are saying; we probably read all the same political blogs. Cheers, Delaney, keep up the great writing.


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