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Vermont's Dirty Secret

Bedding Down With the War Machine

by RON JACOBS

A couple weeks ago I wrote about a Pentagon contingency that would place a ground based missile defense site in Jericho, Vermont. Meanwhile, another weapons system basing is already being hotly contested in the state. Unlike the missile site, which is currently opposed by all of Vermont’s elected representatives in Washington, this weapons system-the F-35, enjoys the support of Vermont’s entire congressional delegation, along with that of the Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin. Despite this support, the movement against what the Pentagon euphemistically calls the “bedding down” of the fighter planes is broad and certainly a player in the debate.

Stop the F-35 includes homeowners, local schoolteachers and professors, small business people, students, environmentalists, socialists, anarchists, Democrat and Republican rank and file and local elected officials from the Burlington region. Over its almost two-year existence, it has held rallies, lobbying efforts, and campaigns focused on gaining opposition to the F-35 basing from local city councils and citizen groups. In the opposite corner are those who support the “bedding down.” This group, which is also organized, includes the aforementioned elected officials, the chamber of commerce, , various military members, some local college administrators, some local businesses and a number of civilians who seem to have never met a military proposal they didn’t like.

So far, the debate over the Pentagon’s basing decision has led indirectly to the defeat of an outspoken opponent and retired military officer in a city council election in the town of South Burlington. It has also created uncertainty in the area housing market. This uncertainty exists since several blocks of homes in the flight path are likely to be condemned because of the noise the planes make during flyovers. Other concerns abound, with those regarding local children’s health at the forefront of the schoolteachers and parents opposed to the plan.

Furthermore, questions about whether or not the process used to select Burlington as a possible site was corrupted by political pressure have not been adequately answered. These questions were raised after news articles quoted Pentagon officials claiming that Burlington “was selected before the scoring process even began.” As it currently stands (and as is always the case with the military), the Pentagon is telling the people of Vermont that, while it takes note of the local population’s opinions regarding the location of its hardware and troops, it retains the right to use its own criterion to make a decision. In other words, if the Pentagon (and the sycophantic politicians it relies on) decides to “bed down” the F-35s in Burlington, it will, the locals be damned.

I currently work at a college in the projected flight path of the planes. These days, F-16s do flyovers a few times a week. The noise they make is enough to render all conversation pointless. Buildings shake and eardrums ache every time the jets do their acrobatics. The noise the F-35s will make is considerably louder than that made by the F-16s. Despite this, a spokesperson for the president of this college has expressed support for the introduction of F-35s into the region.

Vermont is not alone in its opposition to these planes. In almost every burg rumored to be involved in the construction or basing of these planes, opposition has arisen. From Canada to Italy, people are organizing to prevent the planes from being built or being placed in their towns. Naturally, the usual suspects have lined up to belittle the Pentagon’s opponents. That list of suspects includes politicians, media and businesspeople, most of them in it for the money.

The F-35 is a very expensive project, with plenty of cash for everyone willing to sell whatever part of their soul it requires. After all is said and done, it is estimated that each plane will cost close to $219 million dollars. The lead contractor is the nation’s number one defense contractor Lockheed Martin. Other major corporations involved in the planes construction include BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and United Technologies. All of the corporations involved in the project are nothing more than vampires, sucking much-needed tax dollars from human services, military benefits and infrastructure repairs and putting those dollars into machines built for the sole purpose of spreading death and destruction. Of course, there’s a good deal of just plain old corporate profiteering going on, too.

On October 7, 2013, the Burlington, Vermont City Council will vote on whether to support the F-35 basing in Burlington. Councilors from the Vermont Progressive Party are calling for the vote. In addition, they are arguing that, because the Air National Guard leases its airstrip and base from the city of Burlington, the city can cancel the lease if the Pentagon decides to “bed down” the planes at the base if the vote opposes the “bed-down.” It was barely two years ago that antiwar/anticorporate activists forced Lockheed Martin to forsake its plans to build a research plant in Burlington that was advertised as a green energy project.

Already, other nearby communities have weighed in on the “bed-down.” The town of Winooski voted to oppose it, while South Burlington originally opposed the basing, then reversed its decision after supporters of the F-35 pumped money into the campaigns of two candidates in favor of the proposal. So, that leaves Burlington itself, the city with the most say in the matter. As community activist and local worker Paul Fleckenstein wrote me in an email: “And now with the need for pressure on Sanders and Leahy, everything rests on the Democratic majority Burlington City Council. …A win in Burlington would resonate far beyond the city of Burlington.”

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.