From Iraq to Appalachia

WHAT DO the Iraq and Appalachia have in common? More than you may think. Both are occupied by U.S. energy corporations, resulting in colonization. It’s oil in one case and coal in the other, but make no mistake about it: The modus operandi and consequences are strikingly similar.

Soldiers and coal miners have a shared camaraderie as both are enforcers of the will of the oil and coal corporations for the purpose of increasing bottom-line profits at any cost. This is depicted on a billboard in Beckley, W. Va., showing soldiers and coal miners arm in arm. The major difference being that coal miners do not have to kick down the doors of Appalachians to get the coal, as the coal companies already own most all of it.

In Iraq, private contractors (working for Halliburton and Blackwater, for example) are killed and not counted as U.S. casualties. In Appalachia, independent contractors killed are also not tallied as coal company deaths.

Innocent Iraqi women and children killed are termed “collateral damage,” and innocent deaths in Appalachia are treated no differently. What are the differences between a 4-year-old child in Iraq killed with a bullet, and a 4-year-old child in Appalachia killed by a rock blasted off the mountain, or by a flood resulting from a breached sludge/slurry pond, or in an accident when the family car collides with a coal construction vehicle.

There will be long-term civilian suffering in Iraq by virtue of the more than 400 tons of debris from depleted uranium shells that we spread over the cradle of civilization in Iraq. This has already resulted in severe and repeated birth defects in Iraq, and among our own troops, who come home and infect their husbands and wives.

The irony here is that over 80,000 MOP chemical protection suits designed to protect our troops from exposure were defective–they were made in Rainelle, W. Va., with no consequences for the now-bankrupt company.

Likewise, long-term ill effects are occurring in Appalachia due to the use of tetryl, a banned Second World War-era substance used to detonate the ANFO explosives that daily to blow up the mountains. This also results in the spread of arsenic, selenium and other toxic substances released when the mountain is blown up, and the rock exposed and pushed into the valleys.

In both arenas, we are getting rid of our toxic wastes without regard to the fact that Iraqis and Appalachians and coal miners are becoming sick and being killed. Outside colonizing forces (the oil and coal companies) are providing inadequate protection to the soldiers and coal miners who follow their orders. When oil and coal companies care so little for their own workers, how much concern can they have for Iraqi and Appalachian residents?

The culture and history of Iraq and Appalachia are of no consequence as far as the occupiers are concerned. Our tanks run over archaeological sites in the cradle of civilization, and the dragline excavator in Appalachia obliterates historic sites, cemeteries and artifacts in the oldest mountain range in the world.

* * *

APPALACHIANS ARE displaced and become refugees in major cities and neighboring states, never to see their home again. And should Appalachians go back home to their mountains, they discover that even the mountain is gone–currently, a one-quarter-mile-wide road could be constructed from New York to San Francisco with mountaintop removal sites. Meanwhile, the millions of Iraqi refugees also can’t go home, or come home to find those homes destroyed.

Yellow-dog journalism influenced by both corporations and their political allies tries to convince the public that the people and culture of Iraq and Appalachia aren’t worthy of respect, admiration or protection. “Ragheads” and “hillbillies” don’t deserve rights when it comes to the extraction of oil and coal.

To justify going after the oil in Iraq, the occupiers are trying to convince the world that it is part of a “war against terrorism.” To justify going after the coal in Appalachia, the occupiers are trying to convince the world that “clean coal” is one of the best offenses against terrorism.

The consequences of both wars against terrorism have left the people of both theaters without water, homes, food, family infrastructure, culture, health and peace and justice. On the bright side, the occupiers’ bottom line has soared.

There are permanent U.S. bases along the proposed Caspian Sea pipeline, and Iraq can boast about having the lartest American embassy in the world. But we all know that Iraq harbored no terrorist responsible for 9/11, and we all know “clean coal” is an oxymoron (not a single home in this country has electric from “clean coal”).

Toxic waste sites dot the landscape in Iraq (not even counting DU), while toxic sludge and slurry ponds sit in Appalachia, with one harboring billions of gallons of toxic sludge sitting above the Marsh Fork Elementary School When these impoundments are breached, residents are killed, aquatic life is destroyed, and the future of the oldest mountain range in the world is threatened.

And it just so happens to be that the first strike our U.S. Air Force made after its inception was against the coal miners at the battle of Blair Mountain, where Mother Jones was engaged in union organizing.

Our soldiers are subject to “stop loss” orders, which forces them to stay deployed in iraq even when their deployment is up. This is similar to the coal miner having to give up the 40-hour work week that thousands have died for.

There are many other subtle parallels, such as the fact that West Virginia sends a higher percentage of our sons and daughters to the Middle East than any other state. And since Appalachians are losing their homes and being displaced by the occupiers, the military becomes an attractive alternative.

When I see a popular sign in Appalachia that states “Clean coal: Fighting terrorism for America’s future,” I am convinced of the shared goals of the energy corporations who support and buy our political system to help carry out the goal of increasing bottom lines at any cost.

Living in Appalachia with the coal companies at my door makes all this more visible and real to me. We need to empathize with Iraqi citizens and Appalachian residents and put ourselves in their shoes for a while to more fully understand the devastating consequences of these corporate occupations. Then, and only then, will we think twice about buying an automobile that does not get at least 35 miles per gallon, or buying that electric hand cream warmer, or leaving a light on.

Then, and only then, will we see that perhaps we have strayed so far away from a representative social democracy that to get it back would require all of us to assume our responsibilities as “We the People”–and not become victims ourselves of the “increasing bottom line at any cost.”

RONALD TESKA lives in West Virginia.

This article originally appeared in the Socialist Worker.


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