The cold nature of fire

Expanded from the 1-9-2005 Daily Sparks Tribune
1-14-2005 Comstock Chronicle

"You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake."
                         – Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, R-Montana

With U.S. troops currently involved in both earthquake relief and a couple of wars, her insight has not lost its timeliness.

If the wholesale carnage sweeping southern Asia hasn't made you stop and reflect upon life in general and yours in particular, you're obtuse.

As Nevada suffers through her worst winter in perhaps a century, the time is right for cold contemplation.

First and foremost, why should we be so intent on destroying each other when Mother Nature, God, Allah, Zeus, Neptune, Jehovah or Whomever are already so efficient at doing so?

United Statesians prefer to think of themselves in terms of Hollywood cowboy movies, the good guys in the white hats riding in with guns a'blazing to save the day. That's always been a grotesque oversimplification, but let's allow that it's been true on several occasions. (World War II, yes. The Civil War and American Indian genocide, no.)

That was then, this is now. If, as Dubya's dunces assert, the free market is the best regulator, then we have invested in Mars rather than Venus. We currently spend about half a trillion dollars a year on war. We have produced and paid for the greatest killing machine in the history of the world as we know it.

We use our military might in all its forms to export the will of our greedier individuals and organizations. The hills of many countries lie littered with the bones of those who dared to oppose the lusty avarice of the American empire over the last 100-plus years. We've fostered so many shooting wars that we've forgotten some of them, like the Philippines at the turn of the last century.

From the besotten tsunami zone, stories are already starting to leak about warring factions using the chaos of human misery to further their own aims. We are not above using missions of mercy as cover for more nefarious activity. Such depredations will be reported overseas long before they trickle into U.S. corporate media, if they ever do.

We are big, fat, rich and strong, able to do so many great and good things, as well as the great and terrible. Such is the nature of fire to contemplate on an ice-cold day.

PEACEFUL MEMORIES. On Jan. 9, 1961, peace activist Emily Green Balch, probably the least known Nobel peace laureate, died in Cambridge, Mass., at the age of 94. She lost her professorship at Wellesley College because of her opposition to U.S. entry into World War I, during which she worked in military hospitals.

"Miss Balch, who described herself as 'only the plainest of New England spinsters and ex-teachers,' was a founder of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. One of her closest associates was Jane Addams, who served the league as president while Miss Balch was its secretary-treasurer," the New York Times reported at her death.

She donated the $17,000 cash award from her 1946 Nobel Prize to the organization.

"In 1930, Miss Balch accompanied a commission appointed by President Herbert Hoover to study conditions in occupied Haiti. She wrote much of the final report, and her subsequent writings, lectures and other persuasions were said to have greatly influenced the withdrawal of the United States Marine Corps from that country," the Times reported.

"Wellesley made its peace with Miss Balch on Armistice Day in 1935, when she was invited to be the college's official speaker. In 1946, when she was nominated for the peace prize, which she shared with the late Dr. John R. Mott, she was recommended for the honor by Mildred McAfee Horton, Wellesley's president…

"When World War II broke out, Miss Balch reported she 'went through a long and painful mental struggle'. Her pacifism did not prevent her from opposing Adolf Hitler, but her opposition took the form of help to sufferers from Nazi cruelty," the Times noted.

Despite the Nobel award, Ms. Balch remains even more obscure than Rep. Rankin, R-Montana, 1880-1973, the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Rankin voted against entry into both world wars and paid a tremendous political and personal price for doing so.

A web search for Rankin returned 49,600 items. A search for Balch found only 21,500.

Peace remains a lonely and personal pursuit.

TWO IF BY SEA, THREE IF BY LAW. If the road to the capital is passable next week, consider attending a patriotic soiree about the Orwellianly-named Patriot Act. "Balancing Security & Individual Freedom: A Community Forum on the USA Patriot Act" is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 18, at the Brewery Arts Center Performance Hall, 519 W. King Street in Carson City. The program will air a short film entitled "No Check, No Balance." Principal speakers will be Sara Jones, Administrator of the Nevada State Library and Archives, and Matt Bowles, National 9/11 Field Organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union. Admission is free. For more information, call Bob Tregilus, (775) 826-4514.

Be well. Raise hell.

Emily Green Balch item courtesy of Poor Denny's Almanac.

An exchange with Nevada anti-war activist Jeanmarie Simpson

SIMPSON: I enjoyed your column very much, and I'm glad it will be in two papers. Of course I agree with most of it, but, like Jeannette Rankin, I disagree that WWII was justified.

BARBWIRE: Any war can be avoided with enough courage, foresight, lead time and good will.

SIMPSON: Yes, yes, yes!!!

BARBWIRE: Timing is everything.

SIMPSON: No kidding.

BARBWIRE: Had the Treaty of Versailles not been so punitive, the European war could probably have been averted. Had the Asian-Pacific Co-prosperity Sphere (I forget the specific name) not been put in place, the warlords would not have been able to assume power in Japan. Both alliances fostered economic privation and anger, which the warmongers used to advantage.

SIMPSON: Indeed.

BARBWIRE: With Pearl Harbor as with 9/11, we had plenty of chances to change policy to defuse the causative animosity. Even with the cauldrons of war beginning to boil, we had ample opportunity to stop the attackers. We failed across the board and went to war.

SIMPSON: And got rich in the process.

BARBWIRE: The Hitlerian Holocaust and Vietnam both brought forth cries of "never again." Turned out they were empty words, slogans preceding more suffering.

SIMPSON: That's exactly right. When will it end? When we stop creating generations of bitter children whose fathers have been killed by American armed forces? And when we stop letting people make money from the business of war?

BARBWIRE: As e.e. cummings said, pity this monster mannunkind.

Be well. Raise hell.


SIMPSON: Best regards, jm

PS -- I think it's important to note that Rankin might have won a second term in 1920, had her district not been gerrymandered. Her constituents supported her vote on the war resolution 16 to 1.

BARBWIRE: I did not know that. Did Montana have two congressional seats back then?

SIMPSON: Both Jeannette Rankin and John Evans were elected, at large, in 1916. In January of 1917 they had created districts, to ensure that a woman wouldn't stay in Congress. Montana had two reps until 1993.

This is my favorite subject!!!


EDITOR'S NOTE: Ms. Simpson has won critical acclaim for her portrayal of Jeannette Rankin with the Nevada Shakespeare Company.




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Copyright © 1982-2005 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 36-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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