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In 1938, President Roosevelt commissioned an investigation into conditions in the U.S. South – and he didn’t like what he saw. "The low income belt of the South," the study somberly concluded, "is a belt of sickness, misery, and unnecessary death."
Yet only six years later, the U.S. War Production Board made its own appraisal, and saw a completely different region: "The South has rubbed Aladdin’s lamp," they said, poised to enter "the vanguard of world industrial progress."
Connecting these warring views of the South’s fortunes, of course, was World War II – the moment where the U.S. South made the devil’s bargain of getting a quick economic fix, in exchange for becoming the heart of the nation’s military-industrial complex.
Today, the South remains at the center of the U.S. war economy. More than any other part of the country, the region is ensnared by President Bush’s anti-terror crusade, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and the expansion of U.S. military power abroad. For example:
The South represents only a third of the nation’s population, but supplies 42% of the country’s enlisted soldiers – and 56% of troops in the continental U.S. are stationed in the South.
Southern politicians are Congress’s biggest hawks, tilting U.S. foreign policy away from peace and diplomacy. 62% of Southern senators scored in the bottom fifth of the legislative scorecard for Peace Action, a non-profit watchdog.
Anchored by defense boom centers in Virginia, Texas and Florida, the South produces more weapons than any other region, landing 43% of U.S. arms contracts in 2001.
Based on these findings and more, the Institute for Southern Studies took to the road in April-May for "The South at War" tour, drawing on the Institute’s most recent issue of Southern Exposure magazine, "Missiles and Magnolias: The South at War." The tour visited such military hot-spots as Atlanta, Georgia, and Fort Worth/Dallas Texas.
"The costs of administering U.S. empire have been high," says Jordan Green, a Southern Exposure editor and Institute researcher. "Not only to victims of U.S. aggression abroad, but also in warping social priorities here at home."
As conflict spirals in the Middle East, a special focus of the tour was the South’s close ties to Israel’s illegal 35-year occupation and recent offensive in Palestinian territories, which has drawn widespread condemnation from the world community and human rights advocates including former President Jimmy Carter.
Of the $3 to $6 billion in financial support the U.S. government provides to Israel each year, up to half is used to buy arms, mostly from U.S. weapons manufacturers. Over two-thirds of the arms used by Israel come from Southern arms corporations, led by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, which recently landed a $1.3 billion award to build the F-16 jet fighter, one of several U.S. weapons used by Israel against U.N. conventions in occupied Palestinian territory.
"Southerners and U.S. taxpayers are not only footing the bill, but also supplying the firepower for Israeli aggression that most of the world is calling a crime against humanity," says Rania Masri, an Institute project director who was also a delegate to the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. "Our campuses and cities must examine their relationship to corporations who profit from Israel’s illegal occupation and violence against Palestinians."
"The South is the heart of the military beast," says Jordan Green. "The tour was a chance to not only show the deadly consequences of the war economy, but to connect with the groundswell of home-grown opposition to permanent militarism."
Chris Kromm is Director of the Institute for Southern Studies and Publisher of Southern Exposure. Copies of the recent SE issue "The South at War," and the Institute report, "Arming the Occupation: The U.S. Arms Industry and Israel," are available for $5 each by writing to SE/ISS, P.O. Box 531, Durham, NC 27702. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org