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We Live or Die Alone and Together

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Candidates! Can we focus on worthy issues?

We hear about each candidate’s tax return but almost nothing about each US taxpayer contributing half of her or his withholding to the Pentagon.

We hear about the relative attractiveness of candidates’ spouses but silence about the daily existential threat to destroy life on Earth with a grotesque number of nuclear weapons.

Mother Nature gives us all life and if we attack her—even unthinkingly—she will make us eternally sorry. She bats last.

We spend an awful lot of time valorizing, lionizing, and sacralizing warriors, as though they are the defenders of democracy. In truth, our democracy is eroding just about proportionally to that obeisance, that fawning bowing and scraping many now expect as we interact with military men and women. “Thank you for your service.” It is emetic.

Community service comes in constructive ways too, not just destructive. Some farm. Some provide health care. Some educate. Some build. Do we thank the farmer, the nurse, the teacher, the home or bridge builder?

To the logger who brings us pulp for paper and timbers for building—thank you. You have the most dangerous job in America. Fishers, miners, roofers, trash haulers and recyclers, drivers, pilots, repair workers, maintenance workers—all with higher rates of on-the-job fatalities than, for example, police.

More than 4,500 Americans are killed on the job every year. By sharp contrast, fewer than 2,000 American troops have been killed in battle in Afghanistan total in the last 15 years, averaging actually some 114 US troop battlefield mortalities annually. No offense, but a US soldier in Afghanistan is far safer than some lone logger running his saw until a widow maker nearly kills him, hopping on his skidder that might buck him down a nasty hill, and trying to scratch out a living running popple pulp out roads that can pitch him to his demise.

I refused to go to Vietnam as a young man, telling my draft board that I was already doing my national service as a “Psychiatric Technician” (orderly) in a lockdown mental health unit. Lots of young men had uglier draft boards who threw them in prison instead. I decided later that I would extend my tour by offering nonviolent but vigorous resistance to nuclear weapons. I used simple hand tools (twice—once in Michigan and once in Wisconsin) to dismantle  portions of a thermonuclear command center, turned myself in, and earned two felony convictions and time in three prisons, all of which I consider national service—well, service to humankind. No one is trained to thank me for my service. Ha. The last one was Earth Day 1996, so this is my sentimental 20-year anniversary of a special Earth Day in my life.

As peace musician Charlie King sang about the US veterans who were ordered to march straight toward the nuclear fireballs in the era of open-air nuclear bomb testing (while the military assured us all that we shouldn’t worry), “We all go out together, but we pay the price alone.”

Like Dr. King writing from Birmingham jail about praying long prayers and thinking long thoughts while paying his price alone after being arrested with 50 others, I think about EMTs, social workers in rough neighborhoods, the nonviolent resisters, the loggers, the cab (or Uber or Lyft) drivers, and I think about how we shower all our gratitude on those who kill, who bomb, who kick in doors, who drone to death and who pollute more than any other sector, and I just shake my head.

Save some gratitude for those who preserve life or provide you with the goods of life and stop the overweening, abject displays of mewling groveling at the altar of militarism. Historian William McNeill called the war industries and the military in general the first example of macroparasites on Earth. They take and destroy. Everyone else has to produce, create, and give.

Happy Earth Day. Peace.

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Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice

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