My Father's Clouds - No Flags Wave for Them by John Borowski
Grave markers of citizens in Anniston, Alabama, will not be mourned with patriotic songs, their passing honored with scores of American flags. Terrorism on the domestic front goes unpunished, almost unnoticed, with the relatives of the victims to ponder: Isn’t protecting human life here at home patriotic?
A recent Washington Post story outlines the chilling cover-up of over four decades of PCB contamination in this rural Alabama town. The corporation involved, a chemical giant, showed a level of contempt so sinister, that the proof actually hurts. Memos read: Confidential: F.Y.I. and Destroy, and while their customers were warned about the dangers of PCB fumes & dust, they didn’t warn their own neighbors. Fish in a creek was analyzed by the company managers, ‘discovering that fish submerged in that creek turned belly-up with 10 seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin as if dunked in boiling hot water.’ What did they do?’ They kept it secret and children continued to swim these waters.
In the fervor of George Bush’s and Attorney General John Ashcroft’s America, environmental terrorism, possibly the greatest threat to national security, is left off the radar screen of ‘Big Brother’. I suggest they take advice from a fellow Republican senator: ‘Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism, are all too frequently those who ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism, the right to criticize, the right to hold unpopular beliefs, the right to protest, the right of independent thought.’ Senator Margaret Smith, from Maine, was the first Congressional member to challenge the components of patriotism as spewed by then Big Brother, Joe McCarthy. 1950 is being played all over again, and Mr. Bush looks to be the herder of a nation of sheep, consumed with fear, unwilling to point fingers at domestic terrorism, and relying on corporate “culture” to bring peace and joy and numbness. Attach a flag to the sedan, and all is good.
Will Mr. Ashcroft and the FBI request wiretaps on timber corporations to learn how they pillaged our public lands? Clearcuts have destroyed the lives of fishermen and their communities, landslides have killed American citizens, but there is no justice. Late in the Clinton administration, an investigation of massive illegal cutting, involving millions of dollars of cut trees on public lands, was suddenly, and quietly dropped. Another act of violence against humans, nature and our economy slides into oblivion.
Will President Bush issue an Executive Order to freeze the assets of those who cover the truth, at the risk to workers and citizens? Bill Moyers’ riveting expose on the chemical industries ‘Trade Secrets’, built a solid case of profit over human life, with “quarterly earnings” the reward for massaging the truth about the dangers of benzene and vinyl chloride. Corporations knowingly led their workers down the road to premature death.
Over 100 years of lies, avarice and deceit have led thousands of citizens and workers to early death. Be it black lung, cancer from asbestos, radiation, petrochemicals and pesticides to miners hand digging uranium and refinery workers lied to about solvents, those citizens, those blue-collar families, go without recognition or compensation for their sacrifices. To those who say this is the price of a modern economy, I say, walk in the shoes of those who were made ‘expendable’ by greed and lies. In our culture, there is no price tag on a father who cannot tuck his children into bed at night, or a family who grieves over a loved one who will never walk in the door again. Cost/benefit analysis of 'acceptable risk' is the immoral rationalization used by those who cheapen life.
Many Americans refuse to fall in line, electing to be the black sheep of the herd. These good Americans are raising serious questions. And though Attorney General John Ashcroft states that critics of the Bush Administration are giving “ammunition to America’s enemies”, it would be truer to say “those who knowingly exploit human life and the environment in the pursuit of money are America’s worst enemies”.
Maybe the Attorney General and the President should go to every factory or mill town where early death claimed Americans, and apologize for the decades of suffering and horror. Corporate terrorists should be punished and made to pay retribution to those whose lives were shattered, as greatly as if a terrorist’s plane had crashed into their homes. They should be loathed, like those who cared so little about the 3,000 lives they stole on September 11th.
Then, we all can sing about the land of the free and the home of the brave.
John Borowski is a teacher at North Salem High School in Salem, Oregon. [email protected] or 541-929-5224