Exclusively in the new print issue of CounterPunch
GOD SAVE HRC, FROM REALITY — Jeffrey St. Clair on Hillary Clinton’s miraculous rags-to-riches method of financial success; LA CONFIDENTIAL: Lee Ballinger on race, violence and inequality in Los Angeles; PAPER DRAGON: Peter Lee on China’s military; THE BATTLE OVER PAT TILLMAN: David Hoelscher provides a 10 year retrospective on the changing legacy of Pat Tillman; MY BROTHER AND THE SPACE PROGRAM: Paul Krassner on the FBI and rocket science. PLUS: Mike Whitney on how the Central Bank feeds state capitalism; JoAnn Wypijewski on what’s crazier than Bowe Bergdahl?; Kristin Kolb on guns and the American psyche; Chris Floyd on the Terror War’s disastrous course.
Support the Troops...Sell Your SUV

Those Patriotic Magnets

by RICHARD JOSEPH

As the war in Iraq perpetuates, and American casualties increase, so does the popularity of the slogan "Support Our Troops." These 3 words are highly visible on American roads, and can be readily found on the rear-bumpers of vehicles, as part of that familiar ribbon logo. But with this war of multiple dimensions, I’ve often wondered: "why would someone place a statement of support on an object of cause?"

Just to clarify, I’m a driver myself. As most would agree, driving to work everyday affords many opportunities to observe other vehicles. Of course this opportunity increases as drivers rear-end each other, or plow into guardrails, dividers, snow banks, etc. When gridlock abounds, a great deal of patience and cool headedness is required, as any commuter can attest to.

Personally, I find that I can stave off the urge to utter profanities, or pound on the steering wheel by creating observation games. For example, there’s been the "Bad Boy" observation challenge, which entails counting how many sawed-off delinquents are on the road at any given moment, as indicated by the window sticker. There have also been projects dedicated to identifying how many commuters would "rather be fishing," or "riding a Harley," or who’d like me to call 1-800-EAT-SHIT to critique their driving skills.

But nowadays, I have to admit that I’ve had my hands full. The new "Support Our Troops" logo has hit the scene, and I just can’t stop from scanning the road, be it standstill traffic, or smooth sailing commutes. In short, for months now I’ve had my eyes peeled for those ribbons, and have some observations that I’d like to dole out a few pages for.

For starters, I’ve found that the ribbons themselves come in a variety of color patterns. There is the standard yellow ribbon with "Support Our Troops" embossed on the surface. There are also red, white, and blue ribbons with the same statement. I’ve encountered solid blue ribbons, and camouflage ribbons as well. In addition, I’ve found that these logos are not stickers as one might initially conclude. On the contrary, they are magnets. Or at least the better ones are.

More importantly, I’ve noticed that the types of vehicles that display the "Support Our Troops" logo are often of larger physical proportions. In dividing vehicles into the two categories of "small/midsize cars" and "large vehicles," I’ve been intrigued to find what seems to be an equal, if not greater, distribution of ribbons on the latter. With my curiosity perked, I started compiling a list of what I initially labeled: "large vehicles."

On this list, I recorded: Plymouth Voyagers, Jeep Grand Cherokees, Ford Escapes, Jeep 4X4 Exels, Hyundai Santa Fes, Ford f160 pickups, Isuzu Ascenders, Nissan Xteras, Chevy Blazers, Ford Grand Caravans, Path Finders, GMC Sierra Pickups, GMC Yukons, Toyota Forerunners, Toyotta Land Cruisers, Ford Explorers, Honda CRVs, Chevy Ventures, Chevy Luminas, Mercury Villager GSs, Mazda Tributes, Hyundai Pilots, Honda CR-Vs, Mitsubishi Endeavors, Nissan Quests, Mercury Mountaineers, Toyota Hylanders, Doge Ram 1500 pickups, Luxus 300s and even a Mercedes monstrosity to name a few.

What is interesting is that this collection of mini-vans, Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and pick-up trucks all fall within a blanket category ironically referred to in the automobile industry as "light trucks." Contrary to what the title might suggest, it is these "light trucks," which are some of the most fuel in-efficient vehicles on the road.

As sales records show, light trucks are incredibly popular with the American public. In 2004, 16.87 million new vehicles were sold in the U.S., with 55% of this figure (or 9,343,263 vehicles) accounting for light truck purchases. In addition, there was a 3% sales increase in new light trucks from 2003 to 2004, and a 1% increase in new car sales from 03 to 04 respectfully. This demonstrates that there is a steady stream of new vehicles on the road, with a substantial percentage being mini-vans, SUVs, and pick-up trucks.

Accompanying this fact; however, is the issue of oil dependence. As we all know, the United States consumes vast amounts of oil per year in order to uphold the American standard of living. Specifically, the U.S. chugs oil at a rate of 20 million barrels a day. With a little arithmetic, this amounts to seven billion, three hundred million barrels a year, or roughly 25% of the world’s annual oil resources. Yet the U.S. only accounts for 5% of the world’s total population.

Of our total oil consumption needs, vehicles demand 8.7 million barrels a day. These barrels are burned up, bit by bit, every time we place our foot to the gas peddle. This means that of the 20 million barrels that we use daily, 43.5% goes solely to our cars, mini-vans, SUVs, pick-up trucks, and industrial vehicles. To gaze upon the bigger picture, our daily vehicular gas consumption on the home front amounts to 11% of the world’s oil production.

Yet here in the United States, we don’t have the resources to supply our own vehicles with our own oil. America accounts for only 2% of the world’s known oil reserves. So in a nutshell, 5% of the world’s population, needs 25% of the world’s oil resources, but can only account for 2%.

Of course, a great deal of oil comes from the Middle East. On more precise terms, this tumultuous part of the world accounts for 65%, or two thirds of the world’s known reserves. Equally significant is that the remaining 35% can be found in other unstable nations such as Angola, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, and Venezuela.

All of this information is not new to any of us. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Oil independence (or lack thereof) has been blaring on the media since 9/11. It has popped up in sensational documentaries, and was wet on the lips of both John Kerry and George Bush during the 2004 elections. The message that has been ringing loud and clear is that "oil dependence compromises our national security, and forces us to rub elbows with unpopular regimes that are hated by their own people." Logically, after such a relentless barrage of information, one would think that every red-blooded American, by now, is painfully aware of these oil implications.

So why is it then, that the "Support Our Troops" logo appears on so many vehicles nowadays? More paradoxically, why do some of the largest passenger vehicles on American roads ones that get the worst gas mileage of all possibilities on the market also confidently display "Support Our Troops" logos? This is a question that boggles my mind. Frankly, I’ve spent many a day behind the wheel trying to figure this enigma out.

Could it be that many of us have forgotten all the years of oil-induced U.S. involvement in the Middle East? Might memories of the gas shortages of the seventies, or burning oil fields in the first Gulf War be long forgotten? Is it possible that we’ve become completely distracted from the deeper cause-and-effect relationships intertwined within this current conflict in Iraq? I mean, it’s not exactly brain surgery to connect the dots after considering that the world’s second largest oil reserve next to that of Saudi Arabia is under Iraqi soil. The natural progression of these dots arrives to the notion that "if we turn our backs and bring the troops home now, then there is no predicting what would eventually become of that petrol supply. But if we stay, and mold the new Iraqi government into American allies, we will have ultimately secured another vital source." Whether this is an explicit goal or not, it’s still a very important factor that keeps our military engaged in the fight.

Therefore, it’s a mistake to place a "Support Our Troops" logo on the back of an object that is preventing those troops from coming home right now. How are any of us supporting the troops, if by using our vehicles, we maintain the daily demand for 8.7 million barrels? Let’s not kid ourselves. Through indifference to our oil dependence, we are keeping the troops rooted in place, and fortifying a formidable barrier in their quick return. This gesture of "Support Our Troops," when placed on the back of any vehicle, is a paradox of the most disheartening of natures. And it is a complete travesty when such a logo lands on the back of a gas guzzling "light truck."

As for myself, I drive a vehicle that is 16 years old. The car is nothing less than an eyesore. The body is dinged and scuffed. It has a busted taillight that I’m unable to replace since the part isn’t manufactured anymore. My driver’s side window doesn’t open. The cloth cover on the ceiling is falling down. Nor do the heat or A/C functions work unless I remove and insert a fuse located in the glove compartment. My plan is to drive this car as long as I can. In the meantime, I’m saving as much as possible; cutting corners, and brown bagging it to work everyday. My future goal, when this bomb craps out, is to invest in either a Hybrid or the next best fuel-efficient option. Technology changes quickly, and I’m open to suggestions. So long as I can get respectable gas mileage, while being able to afford it. And why am I explaining this? The reason is because I have an idea.

At the present time, experts in fuel usage conclude that if petrol efficiency was raised in each vehicle by 7.6 mpg, then the nation could eliminate 100% of its Gulf oil imports. At the present time, the technology to achieving this exists. The options at our disposal include: hydrogen fuel cell cars (vehicles that run on hydrogen); bio-fuel (ethanol and biodiesel which derives from corn and soy, and thus can be grown); and hybrid vehicles (a combo of electric and gas combustible engine propulsion). As some argue, there is room for improvement in these technologies. Nevertheless, science is progressing rapidly, and implementation on a broad scale can still begin with what we currently have.

What does seem to be the greatest obstacle; however, is the political will by government representatives. For some reason, they just can’t bring themselves to pushing car companies toward the massive production overhaul needed.

So what if every American, for the space of one year, refused to purchase a new vehicle? Used vehicles would be fine. But new vehicles would be completely off limits. That would mean at least 16 million cars and trucks sitting idle in showrooms collecting dust. Without a doubt, this would be very painful for all auto manufacturers. But you can also be damned sure that the industry would feverously begin working on new plans to accommodate a changing market. The process of converting our economy toward oil independence needs to gain momentum soon. The nation needs it, and most importantly, our troops need it. Maybe this relatively easy idea could get that ball rolling.

Or we can continue to proceed at a snail’s pace. And if that’s the case, then we’re going to need these ribbon magnets around for quite some time. After all, there is plenty of room for further conflict in The Middle East. Or maybe one day our troops will find themselves slugging it out in Nigeria, Angola, Venezuela, or any of the other unstable source nations mentioned earlier. Then when we are really used to war, we can go toe-to-toe with China; the most populated nation in the world! After all, they are now our largest competitor for oil, and their demand will only increase.

So for those who feel patriotic by placing "Support Our Troops" ribbons on the backs of automobiles, please consider how the maintenance of that vehicle is keeping the troops entrenched in harm’s way. Before placing such a logo on that perfect spot, think about young guys and gals that should be home living the best years of their lives, without fear of being shot or having limbs blown off.

Instead of a ribbon, how about supporting our troops by demanding greater fuel efficiency, and getting them the hell out of there. Now that would be patriotic.

RICHARD JOSEPH is the author of the book: Transcend, and is an advocate for off-the-beaten path travel as a means for positive social change. Check out www.transcend.ws for more info.