BATH- As trick-or-treaters and Halloween celebrants scrambled for last minute costume ideas, the real fright was at Bath Iron Works, where the lionized shipyard unveiled its latest weapon of mass destruction on Saturday.
A crowd of about 50 protesters gathered outside the massive BIW complex to condemn the christening of the weapons manufacturer’s latest naval warship, the USS Rafael Peralta. Speakers included members of Code Pink Maine, Maine Veterans for Peace, Smilin’ Trees Disarmament Farm, and the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, as well as Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein.
BIW is owned by U.S. “defense” contractor, General Dynamics. Maine politicians–Republicans and Democrats, alike–frequently praise BIW for its role in “creating jobs,” in the state. Business Insider ranked General Dynamics number four in a 2012 list of the “Top 25 Defense Companies in America,” with profits of $2.6 billion. And for years the facility has paid little to no income taxes.
Several activists spoke out about the dangers these ships pose, not only to world peace, but to the planet. Indeed, the U.S. military is the greatest contributor to global CO2 emissions. This is an especially deranged irony when one considers that the Pentagon’s wars are almost exclusively about securing more fossil fuels in the first place.
“By every measure, the Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy in general,” writes Sara Flounders, co-director of the International Action Center. “Yet the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements.”
Longtime antiwar activist and blogger, Bruce Gagnon addressed the crowd on the environmental crisis facing humanity.
“Unless we quickly deal with climate change,” said Gagnon, “the scientists are saying in the next twenty years, we’re in big, big trouble.”
We need to stop using fossil fuels. We need to convert the way we live. Which means we need to use solar, and rail systems, and tidal power… But where’s the money to do that…? It’s inside that pot of gold called the Pentagon budget, eating up 56 cents of every discretionary federal tax dollar.
Gagnon and other speakers called for BIW to be converted from a naval shipyard, to a manufacturer of light rail systems, wind, solar, and tidal power, and other environmentally sustainable energy programs. Gagnon cited a recent study by the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Economic department, that found converting BIW to a green-energy facility would “double the number of jobs” created at the shipyard. The same study found, incidentally, that military-production is the “worst way to create jobs,” given how capital intensive it is.
Stein, the Green Party’s presumed nominee for the 2016 presidential election, echoed Gagnon’s concerns.
She addressed the crowd:
We have an incredible deficit of jobs and wages. We have a foreign policy that is gobbling up half of our national budget–and yet has created five failed states in the Middle East and a growing threat of terrorism, and 60 million refugees worldwide. This is a foreign policy that is not working and it’s an economy that’s not working and its a climate that is in grave jeopardy.
Stein also spoke at a campaign event at Portland’s USM campus later that afternoon.
I am not sure when, precisely, the left abandoned its antiwar activism. Though President Barack Obama has spent the last seven years proving himself to be an even greater warmonger than George W. Bush (an assessment that, though true, remains anathema to his liberal apologists), the antiwar movement has all but vanished from this country.
As Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the antiwar women’s group, Code Pink explained to Real News Network host, Paul Jay on a 2014 edition of “Reality Asserts Itself,”, the death of the antiwar left can be attributed to one name: Obama.
“We had a huge movement,” said Benjamin,
You just look at one group like Code Pink: We came out of nowhere, and suddenly we had over 300,000 people on our mailing list. And we had over 300 [Code Pink] groups around the country and, really around the world… When Obama started to gain steam as a candidate [in the 2008 presidential election], those started fizzling out. And when he won the election we had half the numbers of people we had before on our mailing list. And most of those groups started to disintegrate.
Supporters of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign casually dismiss his militant foreign policy positions–which are no different than Hillary Clinton’s or any of the crackpots vying for the Republican nomination–as a side issue, or laughably insist they will confront him on them after he is elected president. (I seem to recall liberals making a similar pledge with Obama that never materialized.)
But issues of war and empire are no “side issue.” They are the horrific, yet entirely inevitable outgrowth of global capitalism. As such, they should constitute the primary focus of those on the left.
“You cannot be a socialist and an imperialist,” Chris Hedges wrote in a recent piece titled, “What It Means to Be a Socialist.”
You cannot, as Bernie Sanders has done, support the Obama administration’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and be a socialist. You cannot, as Sanders has done, vote for every military appropriations bill, including every bill and resolution that empowers and sanctions Israel to carry out its slow-motion genocide of the Palestinian people, and be a socialist. And you cannot laud, as Sanders has done, military contractors because they bring jobs to your state.
He adds, “Sanders may have the rhetoric of inequality down, but he is a full-fledged member of the Democratic Caucus, which kneels before the war industry and their lobbyists.”
America’s imperial wars, carried out in the name of the nebulous, ill-defined “War on Terror,” have not made us safer. Quite the reverse, our imperial projects in the Middle East have only further fueled anti-American sentiment. ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq & Syria) is a monster of our own creation. The violence we impose on the rest of the world has come back to bite us.
If we are to have a saner, habitable, and more humane planet, we must get a radical antiwar movement back on the streets.